If you feel your priest needs menatal assistance, what do you do?


#1

I do not know where to turn. I do not know what I should do.

I have great concern for my parish priest. I believe he suffers from a severe personality disorder, and I worry that his inability to get help with it is going to have long term impacts on his future as a successful Catholic priest, and the people of the parish who have had to endure under the severe stress his problem has created.

My pastor has all characteristics of the narcissistic personality disorder as outlined by the DSM-IV. I cannot describe in detail for you all the many interactions that I, and others, have shared with him that lead me to that conclusion, but they are many and widespread. As parishioners and pastorate leaders have drifted away, he has begun to lose control, lashing out at others for various reasons. Every member of the parish staff has been released or has found other work on their own. Those now in those positions seem to exist in a state of perpetual fear of upsetting the pastor and drawing his wrath. We are on our third Catholic school principal since he arrived five years ago, and now must replace a Director of Faith Formation he forced out. A recent pastoral council meeting began with the pastor demanding no minutes be kept, then continued by publicly excoriating a former member of the council who was no longer present (her term ended) in a 20 minute, personal rant because she had asked questions about a proposed budget. He claims he does not know who to trust, that everyone is against him, that evil is at work here. We have often received missives of this sort in emails that are wholly inappropriate for anyone, much less someone with pastoral responsibilities. He has used intimidation tactics and bullying to force others to come into line. It has alienated parish leaders, staff, and individual parishioners who have had the misfortune of dealing with it.

I have struggled with how to deal with this issue for a long time. I feel I have a responsibility to act, to speak with him—and nearly have on several occasions–but fear the rage that would follow. I do not know how to go about it. How do you convince a man who believes he is an ideal priest that he is not? It is complicated by the fact that he has spoken from the pulpit about dealing with issues of depression and anxiety at different times in his life. I do not want to make matters harder for him! Clearly, an evaluation by a licensed psychologist and experienced counselor would be better, but I do not know how to help him take that first step.


#2

Kindly contact your bishop.


#3

You also might want to send copies of the e-mails he sent to you and ask other parishioners to do the same. These are serious concerns but if presented wrong it could just seem like a personality clash. You also might want to contact the priest personnel office in your diocese as they are the ones who would handle these kinds of complaints. If your pastor has mentioned that he has some mental health issues perhaps he needs a change in medication. I wouldn’t diagnose him in your letter to the bishop. Simply state what has been going on in the parish, perhaps send the letter signed by a number of parishioners with proof of his actions. Is there another priest in the parish you can speak to about your concerns?


#4

I agree with the other posts. Present your concerns to your Bishop in a respectful manner and let him handle it. Make sure you have your bases covered, however. If there are others in your parish who have expressed similar concerns, encourage them to do the same. I wouldn’t go out of your way to seek out additional negative reports about your priest though, as this could cause unnecessary division within your parish.


#5

The situation changes slightly if he happens to be a religious priest. Then, as well as the bishop, you often have to contact his superior. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize this and it can result in a delay in getting care. We’ve seen it happen with a priest with a serious alcohol problem. His Superior doesn’t think it’s bad because he’s never heard from the parishioners.

Several years ago we saw it happen a couple of times in our own parish where the local religious community closed its eyes to the goings on with some of its members. In wanting to be charitable and accommodating, they failed or chose not to act when members started having emotional problems. Parishioners complained to the bishop but he had really had no say in what happened to those people and when the religious community’s response is to minimize the problem, the bishop starts to think we’re over dramatizing the situation. In one case a man who should have been hospitalized and medicated went without treatment for months, because ‘oh, he’s just being John’. Nothing was done until ‘John’ had a meltdown at Mass, gave a horrible, embarrassing ‘homily’ one day at which time he was sent on an early holiday from which he never returned. He was hospitalized and treated and is now doing well but not in a parish situation.


#6

The Archbishop and Vicar General are both aware of the situation, and have chosen to do nothing at this point. I assume they will move him from here at the end of his term next year, but his problems are such that I would see these problems causing trouble at his next assignment as well, and I don’t want that for him, or that congregation.

Our priest has cited “exhaustion” as a reason to take a 2 month sabbatical at the end of the summer. I hope he is using the time to get treatment, but I have no idea if he actually is.


#7

The only thing that I can suggest at this point is an old saying -
“It’s the Squeaky wheel that gets the grease”.
If you are certain that the Archbishop and Vicar General are doing “nothing” then continue to charitably nudge them about the ongoing problems.
On the other hand - if you are NOT certain of this - You might consider that it was not the pastor’s unilateral decision to take the sabbatical, but his is doing so at the “strong recommendation” of the Bishop/Vicar General…Many times those involved in such matters will try to handle these things quietly.
Just a thought…

Our priest has cited “exhaustion” as a reason to take a 2 month sabbatical at the end of the summer. I hope he is using the time to get treatment, but I have no idea if he actually is.

I pray that he does indeed get help.

Peace
James


#8

I have considered this, and I can see that this is a possible outcome. However, if that were the case, why has the priest recently ratcheted up his abuses, if he has been placed on notice by the AB and VG?

I want for him to realize and accept the scope of his problem so that he can become the priest he envisions himself to be. A two month vacation doesn’t do that, only professional help really will.

Am I obligated to tell him this?


#9

Um, maybe because he is mentally ill? A notable characteristic of mental illness is not reacting in a sane way to what happens. I think that if the bishop knows and the priest is scheduled for a sabbatical it is very likely that he is beginning to get the help he needs.

Pray for him, and for the therapists he will see.


#10

If he has been “placed on notice” and more or less “forced” to take this sabbatical, then his response could very well be hostility towards those whom he feels are responsible. This might explain the “ratcheting up” of his abusive behavior. Such a response would not be uncommon in anyone who feels they are being attacked.
Again - if you feel concerned that the AB and VG are not sufficiently aware then by all means contact them again, charitably, and bring them up to date.

I want for him to realize and accept the scope of his problem so that he can become the priest he envisions himself to be. A two month vacation doesn’t do that, only professional help really will.

I know that you wish to help him. But you must also recognize that you are severely limited in what you can do. Unless you are a health care professional yourself and he is willing enter treatment with you, there isn’t much you can do other than to be a good friend to him - pray with and for him (and for the other parishioners) - be willing to talk and listen as a friend and fellow Catholic and to be supportive, not of his abuses, but of all things good in him.

Am I obligated to tell him this?

Cannot answer this question. Your obligation can depend on your relationship with him and your particular training.
The only real obligation you have is to be the best Christian you can be toward him. To Love him as you love yourself and to try to see Christ in him.
I realize this is not simple or easy advice…but then Jesus never said that being an apostle would be easy…

Pray - Pray - Pray for guidance

Peace
James


#11

Please don’t. If the man is as deep in his disease as you seem to suggest, it will do no good at all. He won’t listen to you, you will become one of the “enemies,” and it won’t help him in the least. Even professional help may not create the man you want him to be. I advise you to grieve for the priest you would have wanted this man to be, and let go of the outcome. His superiors are aware of the problems and will pay attention to his management or mismanagement of his parish. Try to protect the vulnerable parishioners as best you can.

I hope your priest can get the help he needs, but I also hope he’s removed and replaced.


#12

I continue to pray for guidance every day.

I understand and accept that our pastor has limitations. For him, I wish only that he gets the assistance that he needs. our secondary problem is healing. In the future it will be difficult to trust the deacons and staff members who allowed this issue to exacerbate by supplying his narcissistic profile. Whether they did it because they were afraid, saw an opportunity to benefit, or maybe genuinely feel Father is right, I have a hard time reconciling that they have taken in some cases pastoral vows and sat there, never saying, "Stop."


#13

Are you a psychologist or someone who has formal training to use the DSM-IV to diagnose people? It’s not simply a book for your Average Joe to read and make diagnostics of people because he thinks he has seen the symptoms listed. A person requires training to use it in order to understand what is actually meant by the symptoms and how to make accurate diagnostics.

If you’re concerned about your priest, you can make a general concern to your bishop, but leave everything about the DSM-IV, narcissistic personality disorder, and any reference to your untrained and unfounded diagnosis of him having a mental disorder. He could very well just be burned out and needing a warranted break.


#14

The best thing to do is continue to inform the bishop and send any weird emails his way. The two-month vacation, may turn out to actually be treatment and his coming back may be contingent on the outcome of that treatment. Pray for him and get on with doing your part to heal the parish. I would try my best not to harbor resentment toward those you percieved to support his behavior. I don’t see what good would come from that. Some people with narcissistic tendencies can be very charasmatic and it is easy for people to get on board with them at first. That’s what makes it so frustrating for the people who are getting dumped on because everyone else looks at them like they are the one who’s crazy. “You mean you don’t like Father So-and-so? But he’s so funny and cool! What’s wrong with you?” Hopefully, either your pastor comes back ready to function properly in his role or they find someone else who is better able and they assign your former pastor some sort of task that better befits his personality.


#15

Look, if you priest really is a narcissist, which you probably aren’t qualified to diagnose, then you need to understand that these people are VERY difficult to deal with. Yes, they can be treacherous if you cross them. People of all flavors will placate them or flee in dismay. They also attract other weaker personalities who benefit from their nastiness without actually carrying out the nastiness themselves. It’s a mess.

Pray for all involved, and let go of the outcome. Cut your fellow parishioners a break - some of them may have other people like Fr. in their lives and have never come to grips with it. Also, these people can be charming in the extreme before you truly get to know them. Even once you DO know them, the charming side can still fool you, but the scorpion stinger is waiting…


#16

Aside from Prayer and contacting your church authorities methinks there is little you can do, except to continue to monitor.


#17

A priest does not usually take a two month sabatical on his own initiative.

I think you may be wrong in assuming that the Archbishop and his staff are doing “nothing”. It sounds like they are addressing the issue in a discrete manner. You should not be privy to how they are addressing this anyway. Not only is it a private, personnel issue, IF there really is a health or mental health issue, they must be very careful to protect Father’s privacy.


#18

Please understand, I am not trying to be cavalier about this. I understand any diagnosis would be a serious matter for professionals.

I have prayed, I have read, I have spoken with others who are better informed to form such opinions than I would be. It is a very difficult and trying thing to be in such a situation, where those with whom one would ordinarily seek counsel under these circumstances cannot be confided in because of their involvement.

That has led me here, to make this anonymous post. I value all of your opinions. As a Christian and a Catholic parishioner I have struggled with the question of “What is the right thing to do?” for so long, I worry that my compass is not pointed in the right direction.

Thanks to all for giving me more to consider!


#19

Whether or not your supicions are correct, it seems to be clear that the priest is not doing his job well and some action from the diocese is required. Hopefully, it will all work out.


#20

Actually the book is very easy to read and use. I am a mental health social worker. I cannot give a legal diagnosis and neither can this individual unless they are a licensed psychologist or doctor but…the law DOES allow a person to say exactly what this person said, “They have all the symptoms as outlined in the book.” As a social worker I can even put in my progress notes, "Mr Smith has a, b, c, TRAITS of (name disorder). I can say they have the TRAITS but I cannot “diagnose” them. What the OP did IS allowed by law. I had a priest recently who had all the TRAITS of bipolar disorder. One minute you were his best friend. The next minute he hated your guts. He was moved and I’m relieved. Sadly since it’s pretty mild, possibly a low-grade form of whatever he actually has, the odds of him getting help are not high.

Does anyone know if priests are required to have psychiatric testing? I know in most Protestant churches a candidate for ministry has to be screened. Just curious since I have heard a lot of problems in this area.

It could be burn out as well. I hope he gets help.

Lorrie

I do agree that it would be best not to say this to the Bishop, just forward all the letters from as many people as possible and one letter detailing the history of the problems and leave it at that.


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