Priests need support – but many don’t let their humanity show
Tony, thank you so much for your honesty and openness here. If cyberhugs are acceptable, consider yourself hugged!
When I read your words, I immediately felt my heart go out to you and a strong desire to be of whatever help and support I could be. As Ger Gleeson and others have said so many times, there are many, many of us who truly want to be fellow travellers with our priests – walking along the road with you side by side – reaching out a hand when you falter and having you reach out a hand to us when we do. We don’t want to be putting unbearable pressure on you to be superhuman and to be all things to all people at all times.
But, and I say this with all the gentleness I can muster, a lot of you don’t let us see that you are human. You may say the words, but your behaviour doesn’t mirror those words. You are constantly in role – a priest, a very firmly barricaded being, acting in a way that I can only presume you have been trained to act. Maybe it’s as a woman that I find most priests to be unapproachable as human beings? I can’t have any other experience, so I can’t know if priests behave differently with women than they do with other men. I have very strong suspicions though!
All I can state is that it’s not very easy to show (or even feel!) compassion towards a mask, a role. But when I see the person behind the mask, every fibre of my being feels compassion for any suffering that person may be experiencing.
You, Tony, by writing about your depression, have shown great courage and true leadership, in my opinion. Surely almost every single person who reads these postings is only too familiar, either personally or within his/her intimate circle with what you describe. The “black dog” is no stranger to my own person or my immediate circle. And we all also know how difficult it is for men in general (and, is it fair to suggest, priests in particular?) to open up about such “failings” and “weakensses” .
But by constantly hiding your human frailty and trying to carry life’s burdens all alone – by staying in role and only showing the mask of “holy priest” to the people around you , you are cutting yourselves off from a rich source of support.
God, how I wish you men could see how keeping women out is hurting you! How I wish the institutional church could see how vital and urgent it is for everybody’s sake that the whole area of human relationships and sexuality is brought out from the dark, forbidden place it currently inhabits in the Catholic church and is looked at in a mature, adult way.
And no, I am not trying to suggest that I think priests necessarily need intimate sexual relations in order to be fully functioning men, but while so much is denied to priests – in that they’re not even allowed to THINK about a non-celibate way of life practically – then how can they allow themselves to avail of the emotional support that honest, truth-filled relationships with women could bring.
I truly believe that, until men and women occupy equal status within Catholicism – whatever that may mean – that women too are priests/bishops/ cardinals, or that priesthood is utterly redefined so that we are all “priests” and there’s no special caste – the institution will continue to become less and less relevant to people’s lives and will become a small, pure sect.
I don’t want to belong to a sect – I want to be part of the world and help the world to see that God’s love is there for all of us and that such a love is way beyond what our wee human minds can even conceive of – not a narrow, judgmental kind of love that’s only there if we follow certain rules. Even my human love for my children doesn’t demand that – how could I possibly imagine God’s love isn’t as strong as my love for my children is?
(Normally, I take a lot of time over writing things on this site – I keep going back over them to try to get them just right. I’m going to try to have some of Tony Butler’s courage here and let this one go as is. I hope it make some kind of sense!)