‘Reviled’ priests’ morale at all time low, conference hears

By Patsy Mcgarry
Irish Times
November 16, 2016

Fr Brendan Hoban said priests were being bullied and were prone to depression with an increase in suicide rates over recent years, at the Association of Catholic Priests’s annual meeting.
Photo by Alan Betson

The diocesan priest in Ireland today was “often pitied, patronised, reviled, insulted, disrespected, ignored and resented,” Fr Brendan Hoban said at the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) annual meeting in Athlone on Wednesday.

“A gale-force wind is now in our faces, it’s the middle of the second half and we’re 6-0 down,” said Fr Hoban, a co-founder of the association.

Priests were “the equivalent of Plymouth Argyle, struggling to stay in the third division.”

They were being bullied and were prone to depression with an increase in suicide rates over recent years, he added.

He said that with “no vocations, congregations melting before our eyes, collections declining by the year” morale was “at an all-time low.”

He asked: “How can the last priests in Ireland survive the final years of their lives with comfort, esteem and affection?”

As they aged they were “expected to work longer and harder” while the effect was that “we morph into sacrament-dispensing machines” with “progressively little or no engagement with our parishioners”.

Meanwhile, “the level of distrust between priests and bishops is such that a build-up of resentment and anger is increasingly obvious in some dioceses.”

Some bishops were “using their positions to force their personal authority on priests.” He felt “the word ‘bullying’ is not inappropriate.”

This distrust was “exacerbated” by the papal nuncio who ignored “the traditions of dioceses, the preference of priests and the rights of people to genuine as opposed to mock consultation” in the appointment of bishops. The consequent “unhappy and sometimes bizarre choice of bishops” added “unnecessarily to the burden of priests” as did pressure to serve beyond the retirement age of 75.

Referring to situations in which bishops automatically reported anonymous allegations of child abuse to gardaí, he said this was “a practice that would be unconscionable and much resisted “where other professions were concerned.

“We elderly priests live increasingly isolated lives, a condition exacerbated by age. We live alone. We often have few close friends, diminishing as we grow older.”

Combined “with the implosion of our church” it meant “we’re prone to depression in one or other of its manifestations.”

As old age beckoned “there’s a growing sense, almost of desperation, when we realise how little care, esteem or affection may be in our lives.”

In the media they were now “ritually presented as bad news people, controlling, oppressing, limiting, obsessing.”

He acknowledged he was painting a bleak picture. “And I will no doubt be accused of being negative by the usual suspects, including some bishops.” But he believed the question that needed to be asked “is not whether my presentation of the landscape of our lost tribe is bleak or negative, but is it true?”


Dr Marie Keenan of UCD’s School of Applied Social Science urged the priests “to mourn the loss of what has gone, individually and collectively so that it can be let go without trying to cling on, and to enable the new light of renewal to shine. Renewal comes in the wake of our grieving.”

International studies had shown that that “while the majority of priests are coping, they show signs of needing professional or emotional attention and organised help if they are to adjust adequately to the challenges of modern priesthood.”

She urged them “to consider a nationwide campaign of healing circles involving clergy – and later involving laity, victims and offenders. I urge you to reinstate forgiveness and redemption as being of God and something which we might all work to with courage.”

Most of all, she urged them “to take care of yourself in this time of uncertainty and challenge”.


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