Tapestry

The emotional toll of being a priest

Psychologist Paul Midden spent 30 years helping priests deal with difficult feelings - from depression to falling in love.
(Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images)

For more than 30 years, Paul Midden counselled priests and provided clergy with psychological guidance to help them cope with a host of different issues. 

"Psychiatric and psychological disorders such as depression, various forms of anxiety were prominent. We would treat addictions, alcoholism, sexual addiction that sort of thing and we would also treat cases of sexual misconduct."

Priests who were a threat to children were not treated at his centre.

Paul Midden

Midden would routinely see priests who were involved in romantic or sexual relationships with consenting adults and who had broken their vow of celibacy. He says priests are not always adequately prepared for the challenges and rigours of a celibate life.  

"Some people just can't do it. Some people are just constitutionally or genetically or psychologically unable to maintain a celibate lifestyle."

Priests often arrived at Midden's door when prayer was no longer enough.

"The vast majority of priests that I know are very serious about their spiritual lives and they try prayer and sacraments to manage their depression, their anxiety, their involvements, but by the time they showed up at our door, their very showing up was evidence that those things did not work."

However, Midden acknowledges that a spiritual outlet was vital to a priest's recovery. Every priest received both psychological and spiritual counselling while in treatment.

Midden says that in recent years, the Church has made an effort to provide priests with the tools and services needed to deal with the many burdens that come with priesthood. However he believes there may be consequences for priests who choose to open up about certain personal matters, such as if they come out as gay.

"Everybody wants the seminarian to be candid, but if you're a little too candid about your inclinations you may find yourself out of the program."

Click Listen for more on Paul Midden's work rehabilitating priests who'd broken their vows.

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