for New Life after Drug Conviction
By Linnet Myers
Perhaps the priest's attorney said it best.
"A priest is like these baseball players" who have recently admitted to using cocaine, said Sheldon Sorosky. "They're both looked up to so much. They're put on a pedestal."
His client, a Catholic priest, acknowledged the pain he caused his parishioners when he pleaded guilty Monday to possession of cocaine and possession of Valium without a prescription.
Rev. Daniel Mackey, who was a parish priest in Iowa City, was caught in a hotel near O'Hare International Airport on March 2 with about 8 grams of cocaine and 3,000 Valium tablets. He was sentenced to two years of probation by Criminal Court Judge James Bailey.
When Father Mackey was arrested, a fellow Iowa priest watched the news on television. That priest, who accompanied Father Mackey to court, said that "when I saw it I thought, 'Finally, at last, thank God.' His problems weren't taken care of. This was inevitable. It took every bit of this for him to finally stop his world and realize that he couldn't go on that way."
The priest, who asked not to be named, said he and Father Mackey, 36, had taken illegal drugs and had drunk together for several years.
"Our public image, our preaching, was better. Our popularity soared," he said. "But inside, the chemical dependence ate away at our ability to be full human beings."
Bishop Gerald O'Keefe of the Davenport, Ia., diocese noticed a change in Father Mackey's colleague and "came to me and said, 'I'm worried about you.' I said, 'I'm chemically dependent.' "
The bishop guided the priest to Alcoholics Anonymous and substance abuse meetings. "They were just what I needed," he said. But after he overcame his own dependence, he watched as his friend Father Mackey became less able to end his habit.
Father Mackey said Monday that he does not believe his acts were immoral. Rather, he said, they were the result of a deep psychological addiction that he has finally overcome.
"It interrupts your ability to concentrate, and your anger is at
the surface all the time," Father Mackey said. Though his sermons
seemed to improve, his friend said, he began to lose touch with the feelings
Father Mackey said he realizes that he shocked and hurt members of his parish who had counted on him and admired him. "I've disappointed people and I am sensitive to their pain," he said.
But once his parishioners got over the shock, they realized that their priest was human, too, Father Mackey said. "They are very supportive, just completely supportive," he said. "No one condemns me. They just want me to be happy and healthy."
He said he thinks the experience has made him a better, more compassionate priest. "I am more able to cope with other people's problems," he said.
Father Mackey said he also has learned that "it's difficult--impossible--to legislate morality.
"I don't think this is a moral question. It's a dependency question. People become dependent on different things. Some are dependent on alcohol; some are dependent upon anger or hate."
He said he started doing drugs in 1970, before he became a priest. His doctor prescribed amphetamines for his weight problem, and he dropped from 300 to 180 pounds in six months.
But he had developed a strong dependency on the energy and "up" feeling that the drugs gave him. After doctors refused to prescribe it anymore, he turned to a combination of cocaine and Valium, he said. He bought the drugs from an acquaintance.
His habit continued through his years in theology school, which he entered eight years ago, and until his arrest. He has been a priest for four years, and he was preparing Monday to return to Iowa and to reassignment to a new parish or a teaching position, he said.
He no longer fears that he will succumb to drugs. Nor does he believe
that he will set a bad example for young people. His arrest and his fight
to become independent of drugs are "an adequate lesson" to the
youths who know him, he said.
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