Belfast Telegraph

Life as a member of the clergy is no picnic

Editor's Viewpoint

From the outside it can often seem that the life of a clergyman - or clergywoman - is an enviable one. There is the impression that they simply perform their religious services and glad-hand parishioners at social occasions. The greatest strain in their lives would be from their expanding waistlines as they indulge in the generous hospitality of those they visit.

The reality, of course, is much different and has led to an initiative from the Public Health Agency aimed at helping the clergy better look after their physical and mental wellbeing.

For far being a life of contemplation and divorce from the real world, the lot of the clergy is not an easy one. They can be the virtual managing directors of their parishes, deeply involved in a whole range of activities, from their local schools to looking after the spiritual needs of their congregations.

They are on call 24 hours a day and often have to meet people in the most distressing of situations, such as when they fall gravely ill or are coping with a bereavement. They are expected to provide solace and even a reason why life has dealt someone such a cruel blow - a draining demand indeed.

Then there is the social work for parishes, providing aid for the needy, the homeless, the addicted and single parents who find daily life very hard. These are people who have fallen through the net that the State is supposed to maintain.

Protestant clergy may have the assistance of a spouse or grown-up children to help them cope with the pressures of their jobs and to provide them with the safety valve of family life, but Catholic priests are now more alone than at any time due to the declining numbers in dioceses across Ireland. Often, they are managing on their own large parishes that used to have two or three priests.

Clergy are not even immune from the gangsters and paramilitaries who continue to infect our society. Fr Gary Donegan, in north Belfast, has received death threats from dissident republicans because he dared to condemn their murderous campaign of violence and because he helped people targeted by gunmen.

On top of all the other demands on them, the clergy are expected to live perfect lives. They alone in parishes are not supposed to sin, even though they are human like us.

The initiative giving them guidance on preserving their health is welcome and should make us value our clergy more.

Belfast Telegraph

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