Priests and their bishop

Priests and their bishop

I was thinking about the terrible case of Fr. Minkler and what would drive a priest in his situation to suicide (if that was indeed what it was). I’ve known and heard of priests who have gotten themselves tied up in knots over some perceived slight toward their bishops and worry abut the bishop would respond. It was way beyond what you’d see from an employee toward and employer.

But then that’s not really the relationship. In fact, a priest is usually completely dependent on his bishop both personally and professionally. He relies on him for room and board and for his income. And he is almost always alone. Sure he may have friends and family, but especially in big dioceses, he can often be far away from them. Even, if he isn’t, at the bishop’s whim he could be uprooted and sent to a distant part of the diocese anyway.

If there was ever an argument against a celibate priesthood that would sway me, this might be it. A priest who has someone to confide in, who can counsel him (or as a married friend put it, “constructively nag”), be a second income, and provide a solid base could go a long way to combating the feelings of frightening solitude and vulnerability. Of course, it could exacerbate some problems: Now, not only can you be uprooted by the bishop’s whim, but your whole family. The kids would be pulled out of school, the wife would have to quit her job, and so there’s greater pressure not to anger him.

Still, I think I understand better how a priest could be caught up in despair and destructive behavior, whether it’s alcoholism or even suicide. It doesn’t make it inevitable; good spiritual direction, strong efforts at forming friendships with other priests and laypeople, and perhaps even therapy would seem to be indicated. Even so, it makes me appreciate the difficult life of priests even more.