Priests and alcoholism

Every week or so, Father Ray toted a suitcase past the rectory offices. “Dry cleaning,” he’d say.

“Liquor bottles,” feared both the pastor and Mary Catherine Meek, who worked in the suburban Chicago parish. People caught whiffs of alcohol on Father Ray (not his real name) at Mass. He had undergone treatment for alcoholism before this assignment.

Confronted by the pastor, Father Ray denied relapsing. The pastor expressed his concerns to the diocese.

“Then Father Ray had it out for the pastor because he was getting him in trouble,” Meek says. “Father Ray took it upon himself to go out and visit the sick so that he could say, ‘Look, I wouldn’t be doing this if I were drinking.’ He had the parish secretaries bedazzled with his charm and easygoing humor. He would sit chitchatting for an hour and actually interrupt their work, but he was forming a protective shield around himself.”

Unresolved tensions mounted, and the diocese reassigned Father Ray. He was to move a week after Meek left for a retreat. She phoned the parish on the first day of the retreat and heard Father Ray was sick. She suggested someone take soup to him. She called the next day. No one had seen him.

“I said, ‘You guys all live together, you need to check on him.’ ”

A priest found Father Ray lifeless in his room, which was strewn with bottles and soiled with vomit.

The strife didn’t end there. Days afterward, the pastor’s teenage niece answered a phone call in the parish office: “We hope the pastor is happy now that he has killed Father Ray!” the caller said. Continue reading

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