AN IRISH priest has spoken out about the rate of suicide among members of the clergy, after the death of nine of his peers in the last decade.
Fr Tim Hazelwood said there is a perception in Ireland that priests are exempt from the same mental health issues which affect the general population.
He added that negativity surrounding his profession in recent years following a number of sex abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church has made young priests very anxious.
“In the last 10 years, nine priests have taken their own lives,” Fr Hazelwood explained to The Patricia Messinger Show on C103FM.
“There is a perception there that we are not supposed to be weak. Even among ourselves you are supposed to be strong, you are supposed to have ability.”
Fr Hazelwood said that clergymen are under the same stresses and strains as everyone else but their battles with mental health and addiction are little recognised.
“The reality is that priests represent life,” he said. “We are the same as everybody else. Some of us have mental health problems, some of us have addiction problems.
“There is an added stress that is put on to us ourselves and people project that image on to us of perfection.
“You are supposed to be alright all the time and you are not.”
Fr Hazelwood said that due to the nature of their profession, priests are confronted with the stark realities of death on a regular basis.
He recounted one Christmas Eve when he presided over the funeral of a young girl who took her own life, before having to officiate a Children’s Mass afterwards.
The Co. Cork-based priest said days such as those “take their toll” on the mental health of clergymen.
Fr Hazelwood also explained how controversies surrounding the Church in recent years have added to the stress of priests.
He said some even fear for their safety and gave the example of a priest in Cloyne, Co. Cork who was verbally attacked at the altar recently by a drunk parishioner.
“For the last 20 years, priests have had to quietly listen and take on an awful lot of negativity about the profession they love and the life they love and the faith that they love,” Fr Hazelwood said.
“A lot of priests are very upset over it because that is not what they signed up for or what they represent and yet it is put on them.
“We have no place to talk about that.”