The cry of a priest

The suicide of Father François de Foucauld of Versailles has deeply affected the Catholic community in this Western Parisian suburb.

We must be careful not to jump to quick conclusions or make judgements. The “reasons” for a suicide are intimate and will always retain, even if it is painful for those around them, their share of mystery.

But this suicide touches all of us. Not only because it involved a prominent, brilliant, and enterprising priest. But also because he was known to be in the grip of difficulties with his bishops and deeply unsettled by accusations that he felt were very unfounded.

This suicide also touched us at La Croix, because we had given this priest the opportunity to express himself in an article in which he gave an unvarnished analysis of the difficulties of ministry in a diocese.

The cry behind the tragic act

This is not the place to look for the causes or to accuse his bishop. Neither is it the place to point out this or that personal psychological fragility.

But there is a cry behind this tragic act that we must pay attention to.

It is the cry of a priest, which is in line with the deep malaise of many others in the Church in France today. Is it not time to question ourselves, collectively, on the way we treat priests in our Church? We celebrate the hero on the day of his ordination, but then what?

No one is concerned about how they are supported and what mediation structures are provided, other than those created by the goodwill of the bishop, who acts as both “father” and boss…

Do priests have time to catch their breath? Are they afforded psychological help? Continued human formation?

There is a lot of talk about the “sense of resignation”, an attitude that affects employees in companies who refuse to work without seeing the meaning of their task.

For priests, this “sense of resignation” began fifty years ago, with a drastic drop in vocations, without anyone really caring about it.

Some have blamed it on a lack of faith: we need to pray more! Others blame the lack of marriage opportunities — at a time when marriage is increasingly discredited!

But, instead, shouldn’t we be wondering about the opportunities that are opening up before priests?

Guilty indifference towards priests

The way in which they are appointed to a parish, often with a certain amount of arbitrariness, is perplexing. We no longer manage people today as in the past…

The only model that still attracts people is the one of the 19th century, with priests who are very committed but according to a rigid, hierarchical type of Church that no longer corresponds to reality.

The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) spoke a lot about bishops and laity. But very little about priests. Benedict XVI decreed a “year of the priest”, but as a model he gave the holy Curé of Ars, St. John Vianney, who – to say the least – did not encounter the same problems as today’s priests.

For that is the urgency. Our indifference to what priests are going through is sinful because they are at the forefront of the very deep crisis of the Church.

If the disaffection of the practice and the eradication of Christianity from society are hard for all of us, imagine how terrible they are for the priest who embodies the institution!

“We know what we are losing, but we don’t know what we are going to become,” a priest confided to me.

The transition is violent, brutal. Many priests are showing great creativity, but others are exhausted.

Who can face such a crisis alone without real support from the community? This is a question that concerns us all, not just the bishops.

During the synodal process that just took place in France many people voiced opinions. But not many spoke of priests, except to criticize them.

Moreover, few priests participated in the proces. There was a significant silence. And that is disturbing.

  • Isabelle de Gaulmyn is senior editor at La Croix and a former Vatican correspondent.
  • First published in La-Croix International. Republished with permission.

Where to get help:

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Additional reading

News category: Analysis and Comment, Great reads, Palmerston.

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