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Grief of Irish clergy "unseen" and "neglected"

Author: Petrina Vousden
02 August 2017

The clergy’s experience of personal or professional grief has been largely “unseen” and “neglected”, according to a new report.

There is a real need for to look at burnout and compassion fatigue amongst clergy living in Ireland as this population increase in age and decrease in number, according to the research.

The research has been published in the Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling. The study was undertaken by Dearbhla Mooney  who graduated with a Masters in Bereavement Studies from Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in 2014.

During her research Ms Mooney found no peer-reviewed articles based specifically on bereavement experiences of Roman Catholic clergy in Ireland and only a handful on experiences of other religious ministers worldwide.

Ms Mooney found: “There is a clear gap in research with regard to clergy experiences of personal or professional grief, the possible effects this may have on them, or the supports they use to help them cope.

“Peer support, some form of mentoring or supervision and debriefing may help clergy to recognise their own grief, have it acknowledge by others and recognise their personal strengths and limitations.”

The study concluded:” While prevention of burnout is important to individual clergy it is also vital for the health of the wider Church and formal support structures may be necessary as part of the Church’s duty of care towards its clergy.”

Almost 85 per cent of the 3.8 million people living in Ireland are Roman Catholics, according to the 2011 Census. This population is serviced by about 3,000 active secular clergy.

Ms Mooney said in the Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling: ‘”This means Ireland is relying on an ageing and diminishing group of men to provide religious and pastoral support at times of bereavement, as well as to carry out the other duties of their role.

“As a result, clergy may find themselves with little time to reflect on their own losses. The work-role of clergy is unique in that they are on call 24/7, face call-outs to death-beds, accidents and tregedies and yet care of the dying is not their main role. Funerals are unrepeatable events, likely to be remembered by the bereaved for a long time.

“There can be great pressure on clergy to provide theological, liturgical and pastoral support. Ministry may begin in the early stages of an illness or as death approaches and continues with visiting bereaved families after the death and celebrating anniversary masses.

The research points to the “professional grief – a sort of hidden grief that can often be internalized by clergy”

All Catholic priests face:

·         The loss of the prospect of a partner and children.

·         They face the loss of identity and social standing in a world of increasing secularization and clerical abuse scandals.

·         Loss of a permanent home due to regular transfers.

·         Loss of Church property.

·         Loss of colleagues when fellow priests leave the priesthood.

·         Deaths of family and friends and parishioners.

Disenfranchised grief is grief which is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, publicly mourned or socially supported. As a result it usually remains hidden and unrecognised. Even acknowledged and recognised grief can become disenfranchised if the loss if not acknowledged and the relationship is not recognised; the griever is excluded or the circumstances of the death are stigmatized.

Ms Mooney said: “Even acknowledged and recognised grief can become disenfranchised if the person’s mourning is not socially acceptable and validated or when society sets a time limit on the bereaved’s  grief. With no natural outlet and with demands of work continuing this kind of grief can accumulate and lead to burnout.

 

 

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