Perhaps because I have been “blog-tending” for a while now I am seeing a great deal more cases where Catholics believe that their rights under the aegis of Church governance have been violated. If it is any comfort, priests as well as laity share this concern. A robust 68% of Catholic priests interviewed in the CARA study, published as Same Call, Different Men (2012) expressed issues of distrust with their bishops and chanceries. The analysis of this study indicated that a large number of Catholic clergy resent an absence of due process in the so-called Dallas Charter of 2002 which calls for an immediate suspension of a priest upon the receipt of an abuse complaint.
In 1983 Pope John Paul II approved publication of a revised Code of Canon Law. I reviewed the portions applicable to rights of the laity per se, specifically Canons 208 through 231. Some of the rights may surprise you: Canon 212 (2) states that “…the Christian faithful are free to make known their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires to the pastors of the Church.” Canon 217 declares the rights of a Christian education. Canon 221 states that “Christians…can legitimately vindicate and defend the rights which they enjoy in the Church before a competent ecclesiastical court in accord with the norm of law.”
Unfortunately there are 1700 other Canons with multiple subsets that in many ways nullify the little specific recourse available to laity. Canon Law, and the American practice of incorporating dioceses under the category of corporate sole, renders the powers of a bishop, and to significant degree a pastor, as virtually unimpeachable.
How does this impact the Catholic parishioner, staff professional or catechetical volunteer? One of the most basic rights of the baptized is access to vital information. If Mass attendance is falling in a parish, or collections are dropping, the matter needs open discussion as this is a matter of joint responsibility in terms of the parish’s assessment of why this is happening, what needs to be corrected, and how evangelization efforts can be brought to bear.
Financial obfuscation is perhaps most viscerally troubling. A few days ago I cited a National Catholic Reporter in-depth analysis of shortfalls in priests’ pensions and the generally poor accountability practices of dioceses. Professor Jack Ruhl argues that “every diocese should post a full set of audited financial statements on its website within 60 days of the close of the fiscal year, and that such disclosures should include the entire diocesan accounting entity (including, for instance, seminaries and pensions). He also suggests that priests and laity should assume the roles of financial watchdogs over diocesan resources, and that all dioceses with projected pension shortfalls should initiate a plan to fully fund the shortfalls within a reasonable period (he suggests three years).” Without this kind of openness, donors are correct to be cautious and direct funds to Catholic institutions whose practices are marked by transparency.
Another highly troubling feature of parish life that may directly affect many readers of this blog is the matter of workplace rights. Except for those cases specifically outlined in federal law (age, illness, handicap, race) bishops and pastors may and do fire at will with no recourse open to a parish employee. There is some rumbling now in the press about this state of affairs. The firing of whistle blowers in child abuse cases, and the more recent efforts of bishops to classify Catholic school teachers as ministers (essentially ending whatever state worker regulations might be in play) are beginning to awaken concerned Catholics (but unfortunately driving many more from the fold).
Many of you who volunteer under the guidance under a competent religious education coordinator would naturally find it difficult to see your coordinator unexpectedly terminated. In the current climate there is the unfortunate tendency of some to immediately suspect moral turpitude. In truth the reason for the firing might rest with the pastor’s issues: his “gut” perception that the administrator is too liberal, or less than enthusiastic about the pastor’s eccentric spiritual whimsies, or his discomfort in working with a strong woman. How does an employee find redress in the current structure?
These kinds of issues add worry and stress to an already demanding lifestyle of Church ministry whether you are paid or volunteer. I have counseled many individuals caught in a mesh of ecclesiastical unfairness that was not of their making. I generally made these points; (1) workplace imbalance and injustice is not constitutive of the Church of Jesus Christ; (2) The errors of a pastor or administrator do not invalidate the competency and commitment of a Catholic worker; (3) there is something to be said for Jesus’ advice about shaking the dust off one’s feet.
And I also would remind them of a provision that is not included in the 1983 Code; an individual is not bound to worship or serve in the territorial parish in which he or she lives. The good of souls (specifically your own) takes precedence.
First of all, apologies for today’s late entry. I try to get posted by 1 PM each day. On Thursdays, however, I celebrate marriage, namely my own. For two years now Margaret and I reserve Thursdays as “date day.” Today we hiked several miles around the newly regenerated Lake Apopka, a geographic Lazarus raised from the dead thanks to restored wetlands. After a long hike, a picnic, and a brush with a sunbathing alligator, I am refreshed and ready to work, even at this late hour.
Every now and then I do get a question about my future as a psychotherapist, and I am in fact as of this writing cramming my updating courses to renew my medical license in March. After some time away from daily office hours, and some intense work in the areas of religious education and catechesis (which includes brewing up some daily thoughts for our Catechist Café), I may go back into volunteer and/or contract work. I did close the practice at the “average” retirement age of 66 and the day before the new DSM-V diagnostic codes went into place, but in truth I suspect that I was coming to a fork in the road on the issues of the theory, goals, and interventions of the mental health profession.
Two points I wish to emphasize before I continue. I was not “tired” of my patients. I still enjoyed the prospect of meeting a nervous new client right up until I stopped admitting patients altogether. Some of you, I’m sure, have sought therapy at some juncture in your life. You know how hard it is to make that phone call—which is why my receptionists always put through new inquiries even when I was in session. No established patient ever complained about that, because as they told me over and over, “I only had the courage to do it once.” I myself have been on the other side of the desk, so to speak, once for a year during my own training, and again when my stepson was killed by a drunk driver.
Second, there are many reasons people develop mental health symptoms. Chemical imbalance, crisis or trauma, upbringing, physical illness, substance abuse, side effects of medication, and chronic pain can produce clinical symptoms of depression or anxiety, for example. Life stages such as those enumerated by Erik Erikson each bring an age appropriate but significant strain. Individual circumstances of grief, broken relationships, stagnation, business failure, economic strain can trigger physiological changes in the body, including the brain. In truth, science does not fully understand the causes of most of those intimidating mental health diagnoses we write on our insurance claims.
In my own work what I came to perceive in so many patients—and this is my own subjective observation—was the loss of a North Star, so to speak. People came to therapy to find the right answer, to solve problems, a calm a troubling restlessness. Very few demanded the old Freudian couch psychoanalysis, and hardly any were pill seekers. (Therapists in Florida are not prescribers unless they are physicians.) A number asked me to teach them “techniques” to change behavior, and while I am not a behaviorist, I respected the willingness to undertake that work. Most seemed frightened that they were pushing what they thought were the right buttons but nothing was working. This was particularly true among parents.
There is a very important point of connection between mental health and religious formation. The great Catholic/Christian theologians of the twentieth century (Karl Rahner, S.J., comes immediately to mind) sought to recover the philosophical/theological richness of the entire Judaeo-Christian era in defining the nature of God’s communication with human life. As a man forgets or never receives a formation of his divine participation, he is prone to a basic identity crisis that produces an inherent anxiety. The absence of a sense of Providence, a code of living, a purpose of behaving, leaves a person in a constant need to reinvent one’s self. Little wonder that there is so much stress.
Religious formation, catechesis, adult faith formation—all must begin with that most critical question of human identity. If you look at a catalogue of any Catholic seminary, college or university, you will see that the first courses are in fact philosophical—Plato, Aristotle, Philo, Augustine, Aquinas—in order to explore the identity of the divine and the human. The next courses fall under the title of Christian anthropology: how the God of revelation meets the human in the mind and in the flesh. No religious training is possible, no catechism understandable—until these issues are resolved.
The wise catechist understands the needs of the human spirit and implants or restores that North Star that guided Moses and David …and a contemporary society in a state of identity crisis. In my own professional life, the move from psychotherapy to theology was almost imperceptible.
While I am no “techie” I do enjoy perusing the computing displays in stores or on-line. I have disappointed many store salesmen over the years while doing that. (“Interested in our $1800 Compaq special today?” “No thanks, but I do need a yellow highlighter.”) One thing I have noticed over the years is that the lowest priced computers—even the $199 student starters—come installed with some kind of personal calendar/planner. Now I have never seen research on how many people actually use one on home and office computers, or in my case, my Ipad. But I think that if I were ever a bishop (although that ship has long sailed) I would make planners mandatory ministerial equipment, as a weapon of self defense.
Whether as professionals or volunteers, we serve an infinite God who has entrusted us with a role in the world’s ultimate management goal, preaching the Gospel to all the nations. We in turn damage our psyches in the erroneous belief that (1) we too are infinite in our capacities, and (2) the saving of the world rests solely upon our shoulders. Church ministry often holds itself exempt from concepts like objective goals, specific tasks, hours of operation, because Church work is divine and “above” such human considerations. The fatal flaw here is forgetfulness of the simple fact that Church ministry is conducted by humans, limited by space and time.
As an Employee Assistance counselor for large companies over the years probably the most important insight I repeatedly imparted is that a worker owns his or her own life. This applies equally to lifelong career tracks and to the daily schedule. “You are not the crazy one; you work for a crazy organism.” There are a lot of church workers burning out in demoralization in sick systems in all faiths, too, but in many cases the worker’s worst enemy is the self, the compulsion to overwork and over think because everything is “critically” important.
A wise pastor engages in good long-range planning-a year in advance, for example-and assesses both publicly and privately with his team what responsibilities each parish minister can reasonably assume in the coming year, including the situations outside of work that bear consideration (caring for an aging parent, for example.) Part of this equation is the regular and scheduled personal evaluation by the pastor, a review of goals and achievement over, say, a six-month time frame. (I will discuss work evaluations in another post.) But for our purposes today, routine evaluations keep the pastor honest, too. A church worker cannot be scolded for failures to perform duties not included in the job description, the written job description signed by both parties at a previous time.
EAP patients reported to me many instances where their employers would downsize the operations by not replacing departing workers and adding the work portfolios to the employees who remained. It was not unusual to hear from tenured workers that it was now necessary for them to work Saturdays and Sundays at home to simply maintain place with their employers. A number of church workers and volunteers complain of the same thing: in mid-February, for example, an impulsive pastor might decide a young mother’s club would be a great idea for the parish, and the spade and directions are given to whatever unlucky Christian soul is standing next to the office coffee pot. Some DRE’s are guilty, too. (The proper procedure: postpone action until the leisure of annual staff planning allows for a study of need and manpower.)
A risky intervention—I only actually recommended it a few times—was suggesting to an overworked employee that the next time an employer or supervisor (church or civil) dropped more work on the employee’s desk, the employee might politely ask: “OK, which project do you want me to drop so that I can do this one?” This scenario became something of a shared joke with patients over the years; many patients came to see the absurdity of their work environment without actually risking their jobs, and their self-esteem (and righteous indignation) often led them to wise reassessments of their life situations.
Be reasonable with yourself in planning your day. There is considerable clinical literature that the pattern of setting unreasonable goals and falling short is a major factor in the development of mood disorders, particularly depression. The fact that we work for an infinite God in a Church that claims to be all things for all men does not mean we can never say, “Well, I checked my list for today, met my goals, and I’m done.” Time to go home to relax, pray, exercise, cook healthy, play with the family, read, catch up on “Downton Abbey” on the DVR. Even God, according to Genesis 1, only worked a six-day week.