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Posted May 23, 2003

Priests Discuss the Problem of Loneliness



These findings come from the study: Evolving Visions of the Priesthood: Changes from Vatican II to the Turn of the New Century by Dr. Dean R. Hoge and Jacqueline E. Wenger. For further information please e-mail Dr. Dean Hoge at hoge@cua.edu

The loneliness of priestly life was a topic many priests wanted to talk about. A 37-year-old diocesan priest:

"The priestly lifestyle is a negative, because diocesan priests do not live in community. So often we will be negligent one with the other. It depends on the rectory you live in and on whom you live with. Sometimes you live with people you just can't stand, and you're just thrown together. Sometimes you live with people who are completely indifferent to each other. It's like "So long as you hold up your end of the bargain on the schedule, you say your Masses and hear your confessions, fine. We don't have any problem." But we don't talk, we don't relate, we don't pray together. And sometimes it can feel like rectory living is like waiting for your next debut in church. You sit and you wait until you have something else you need to do. Someone said, "We don't really seem to have a life." And there are enormous temptations for how to get a life. You cna become the hobby priest. This is in the licit area the hobby priest who has all these hobbies. You can have the priest who liked to be a collector, and collects things. We have a fairly disposable income, which is not something a lot of people talk about but we do. We are paid. And we have a certain amount of time that is disposable, more so than most people. And human nature being what human nature is, you can very often get yourself into hobbies, you can get yourself into trouble. You live alone, basically, even when you're living with others. To some extent you're living alone. You're not obliged to prayer hours or prayer time, aside from your Masses and confessions. So there is very little support network there."

A 64-year-old diocesan priest:

"I think it is a big mistake to have our priests live in isolation. I want to advocate the Augustinian rule, where we live in community. Maybe three priests, and then travel out to the parish. I think when you're in a house, living with the associate is sometimes a blessing and sometimes a source of tension. But just living with another priest is another level of openness and trust. I would go for regional houses, a central house here for the clergy in the area where you could get a good meal and use the library. We need to live together. I think a lot of the sexual misbehavior is fostered by isolation."

A 64-year-old diocesan priest:

"I know that having priests living alone is not good. It has its moments, but if you're cooking for yourself, you're going to shortcut the cooking. And it's not going to taste as good either. It always tastes better when people are over. So I would say, something has to be done to be sure that priests stay in communion with people two or three times a week and not go it alone every night. Because what they'll do is one or two things: the won't eat, or they'll eat out. And that's part of their living style. It will kick back to bad health later high blood pressure, cholesterol, bad stomach, the whole works. It all builds up as time goes on.

You need to invite people in. Once in a while, go out to a layperson's home. But don't go to the same ones all the time. The priest needs to maintain a social life. Food. People. Get people together and nourish yourself that way.

Some priests are pretty good at mixing with people; they're always mixing. I'd say, just watch out for the loners, because they are the ones who'll leave the priesthood! And also they are the ones who least contribute to the diocese. People don't see them.

It's easy to come home, and you've go a television set. And a TV meal, which you stick into the microwave. And you sit there and watch your program. And you call that living! It's not. But you can get into that, into the habit."