Thursday, July 17, 2014

When the Backstory Is Way Less Cool Than the Headline

(Subtitled: Clergy burnout really sucks.)

I saw this article that popped up on Reddit today: AWOL Priest Arrested At Cocaine Party.

Now, because my sense of humor vacillates anywhere between PG and R (depending on the circumstances), my inner comic had a field day with this.  There are potential cracks (pun not entirely intended) to make about the "a priest and a rabbi walk into a bar" premise, magic sacraments, vicars and tarts parties, and so, so much more.  All purely because it is so patently and ridiculously bonkers.  A celebrity or musician gets nicked with that stuff?  We're used to that by now.  But a man of the cloth gets caught in the act of flushing his supply down the john?  That's a steed of a different pigmentation right there.

But then I read the article.  And a far more depressing portrait was painted.  First and foremost, there is a person behind the punchline: Father Stefano Cavalletti.  He has, I would imagine, a father and a mother and friends and colleagues and people who care for him and love him.  And he has a congregation of parishioners who depend on him at the Church of Saint Joseph and Blaise.

None of those networks of support, though, prevented this: "Later, the priest told detectives he had been using cocaine as a self-prescribed remedy against depression since he was found guilty of fraud last year."

The article conveys a brief summary of the fraud conviction (he was given a five month suspended sentence for deceiving an elderly woman into giving him nearly $30,000), but what I want to focus on for a minute is the self prescription part of this.

Now, depression is nothing new as a plague that affects us clergy (nearly half are reported to have suffered from it or burnout so badly that it forced them to take a leave of absence).  And I have striven to write extremely openly about my own past (and present) with major clinical depression here on the blog.  But I also am prescribed a remedy of several different things by several different people: my psychiatrist has prescribed me Prozac, which treats my depression medically, but my remedy also includes regular check ins with both myself and trusted colleagues and mentors who are able to provide some degree of accountability in making sure I don't, you know, go AWOL and start using cocaine to self medicate.

Or bamboozle some poor innocent into giving me the equivalent of nearly eight months of my salary and housing stipend, for that matter.

So, pretty clearly, Father Stefano was (is) suffering from a severe case of clergy burnout even before he got nabbed for coke possession: it takes a particularly burnt out cleric to produce the absence of morals that leads one person to defraud another.

But I can also see how his actions here could represent a cry for help.

Y'all (clergy and non clergy alike, really), if you're suffering from a case of burnout, make your cry for help far before you ever get to such a stage.  Cry out when your friends and family and loved ones can still help when they hear your cry.

This is a screwed up world (a commercial jetliner was taken down, Gaza was invaded, and that's just today) that does its diabolical best at times to screw with us and take us down with it.  That doesn't have to happen to you.  Keep a finger on your own spiritual and moral pulse.  And if you sense yourself beginning to flatline, tell someone.

It's kind of why community exists in the first place.

Yours in Christ,

1 comment: