News reports on suicides of priests and religious in recent times are forcing us to have sincere discussions and conversations about its impact upon the society and the Church.
We need to come out of the culture of silence and converse about it. Suicide is a matter of pastoral concern in the Church. Suicide does not just happen to a person, rather it is an act a person does to himself and therefore it is an act of self-murder.
There may be varied reasons why a person commits suicide. It can be either due to depression, spiritual despair, to avoid consequences of one’s act, loneliness, to surmount tension with the authorities, lack of healthy sexual maturity, failure to maintain boundaries in relationships, inability to maintain meaningful relationships, fear of failure in ones undertakings, fear of hardships, suffering, torture, etc.
Some may have the feeling that it is not worth living and are tempted to give up their lives. Some suicides may have nothing to do with one’s mental illness or fitness.
It’s worth questioning whether the priests and religious fail to find meaning in their consecrated lives. The Church has to initiate ways and means to take good care of the mental health of her own priests and religious men and women. An awareness is to be created among priests and religious that they are also human beings at risk of suicide and are in need of assistance.
We could find a few biblical personalities who thought that death would be better, who made attempts of suicide and who did commit suicide. The story of prophet Elijah brings out the inner conflict of the prophet when he encountered adverse situation and when his own life was at risk. “He prayed that he might die, saying, ‘it is enough, now, O Lord, take away my life . . .” (I Kgs. 18:4), but the Lord strengthened him to go to Horeb.
We have again King Saul who killed himself. When he was at the point of defeat during war, Saul asked his armor-bearer to thrust him through with the sword but his armor-bearer did not do it. We read, “therefore Saul took his own sword, and fell upon it” (2 Sam. 31:4). We have Judas Iscariot who ‘hanged himself.’ Suicide was the tragic end of Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. He committed suicide because of his guilt feeling of betraying ‘innocent blood’ (Mt. 27:4).
Some of the recent events in the Church, whether in Europe or in Asia particularly in India, indicate that a few of Jesus’s disciples who chose Him as their Way later on took the path of Judas to end their lives.
Suicides by priests and religious are being reported in India and abroad. It was unheard of till recent times. What happens to the mental health of the ‘shepherds’ who have to seek the ‘lost sheep’? As shepherds of the sheep of Christ, they have to go after the ones who lost the way. The one ‘lost sheep’ has lost the way only for some time and is therefore not perished. The priests and religious who are to be ‘shepherds’ give a bad and scandalous example by their suicides. Is not a blunt violation of the commandment of God, “Do not kill”?
The Catholic Church teaches that suicide contradicts the natural inclinations of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is contrary to the just love of self (CCC 2281). Suicide is also a social sin because it is contrary to what we owe others, including God. It offends love of neighbour because it unjustly breaks ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human society to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to the love for the living God (CCC 2281)
Priests and religious men and women are called to teach the believers “to love one another” as Jesus loved and learn to ‘love thyself’. As Jesus said, “can a blind man lead a blind man”? (Lk. 6:39). Jesus disappeared from the places where he had been targeted because he knew that his hour had not yet come. When it was time for Him to glorify His heavenly Father, he handed himself over to them.
Priests and religious ought to build up and should have a very good and healthy relationship with the mental health experts. As spiritual leaders of the community, priests take seriously the cases of mental health and treat suicidal mania of their faithful as the situations demand. The Church leaders likewise need to take up adequate means to treat suicide among priests and religious men and women.
All issues related with mental health cannot be solved by prayer and spiritual direction alone. Since suicide is a real problem in recent times in the Church in India, it has to be addressed with due seriousness and urgency as it deserves. Priests and religious are to be helped to heal their own frozen memories. To lead a committed life is the biggest challenge today for some of the priests and consecrated men and women.
The Church leadership has to help those weak in mental health to deal with their impulses and emotions. All those who did commit suicide could be entrusted to the mercy of God. St. Paul assures our hope: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . I am sure that neither death, nor life, . . . nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8: 35-39).(Published on 23rd December 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 52)