In the secular world we frequently hear of drug and alcohol addiction affecting almost every segment of society. Nobody seems to be immune from this scourge. However, we don’t often hear about how addiction sometimes affects our Clergy and Religious. These men and women of the Church face pressures and stress that many of us seldom see or appreciate.
What happens if they become overwhelmed by these challenges and seek relief in alcohol or drugs?
How can we help them come to grips with their addictions, find healing and return to active ministry?
Looking for answers to these questions, I sought out an interview with Archbishop Wilton Gregory of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
Archbishop Gregory is hosting two educational workshops in his Archdiocese next month on April 1st (Spanish Track) and April 2nd (English Track) at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta, Georgia. Both tracks are open to parishioners, counselors, social workers and therapists interested in learning more. The workshops will include sessions on:
- Steps for Spiritual Living,
- Establishing a Parish Substance Abuse Ministry,
- Addiction and the Older Adult,
- Internet Addiction, and
- Addiction and Prevention for Older Youth.
Archbishop Gregory, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to be interviewed for Integrated Catholic Life.
I would like to discuss a sensitive and often misunderstood subject: What happens to Catholic clergy and men and women religious who struggle with addiction problems? Can you help our readers understand the unique pressures and challenges which affect these men and women of the Church? Are there programs available to help them?
Clergy and Religious, like people everywhere sometimes find themselves captive to an addiction and they go through all of the usual emotional and physical experiences of anger, denial, depression, rationalization, etc. What makes their situation unique is often the fact of their public character and responsibilities. There are some important resources that have developed that are specifically intended to assist Clergy and Religious in seeking and maintaining sobriety and healing from their addictions. Among the best known and widely respected resources are Guest House and its affiliate programs. Guest House was originally established to care for and to assist Clergy and Religious who are willing to confront and to admit their need for addiction intervention.
Archbishop, you mentioned Guest House in your previous answer. Many of our readers have likely not heard of this Catholic treatment center and the wonderful work it does. Can you elaborate further on the purpose of Guest House and how we can learn more about supporting their mission?
Guest House was established almost 60 years ago through the wise and generous collaboration of some professionals, laity, and clergy who recognized addiction as a treatable illness and who wanted to offer clergy and religious an opportunity to seek medical and clinical therapeutic help so that they might once again function in a healthy manner and return to the ministry of the Church as “wounded healers.” I urge you to view their website — guesthouse.org — for more background information. You might also speak with an alumnus of the program for more complete evidence of the success of their efforts at helping clergy and religious discover and maintain a life of sobriety and health.
I would like to discuss an upcoming free workshop sponsored by the National Catholic Council on Addictions (NCCA) to be held at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta April 1st and 2nd on the topic of addiction and recovery. Can you tell us the purpose of the workshop and NCCA?
The upcoming seminar being hosted by the Archdiocese of Atlanta at Christ the King Cathedral is an opportunity to learn more about treatment options for addressing addiction and discovering the signs that indicate the need for intervention and help for those suffering from addictive behavior.
In my first question, you shared the pressures and challenges faced by our clergy. One only has to look at the daily routine of a typical parish priest to appreciate demands on their time and the issues they face in faithfully living out their vocation. As parishioners and concerned lay people, how can we better support and help our priests and men and women religious?
The pressures that Clergy and Religious face are unique – but not necessarily the greatest stresses that any person suffering from an addiction may also face. The laity likewise confront the pressures of family, job, and personal circumstances. The laity, however, also do have the assistance of personal support systems of family, colleagues, and professional associates and established protocols that may confront them with their observations of their behavior and regularly do so. Too often, Clergy and Religious can hide in the shadows of traditional deference and the lack of specific accountability regarding bizarre behavior. While this situation is not unique to Clergy and Religious, it often allows addictive behavior to continue unaddressed. I have always found that the laity is more than willing to accept and support a member of the Clergy or Religious once they have sought professional help with their addictions. Addictive behavior often leaves a web of conflicts in a parish that need to be addressed and reconciled as part of the on-going treatment of the disease.
Archbishop Gregory, as you reflect on the clergy and men and women religious under your leadership and pastoral care, can you share some of the “best practices” of those who have learned to successfully deal with the pressures of their vocation? Are these lessons Catholic lay people can follow as we navigate through the stresses and pressures in our own lives?
Clergy and Religious, like all other people, go through the stress of embarrassment and isolation during their recovery. They need a strong network of support from others who are in recovery and from the communities wherein they serve. Those in recovery, laity, clergy, and religious need to know that they are loved and respected for their courageous efforts at sobriety. As the bishop of a diocese, I must communicate my support for those who are healing, but also my absolute insistence that they remain sober and follow a pattern of healing – in other words, there must be tough love. I must assure them that the Church has a place of honor for those who seek healing, but there is also a limit to what we can and will do for those who simply refuse to address their illness and repeatedly revert to patterns of disruptive behavior.
Archbishop Gregory, I am incredibly grateful for the gift of your time and candid responses to my questions. Please know that you, our clergy, and men and women religious everywhere are in our prayers. May God continue to bless your ministry.
Randy Hain, Senior Editor and co-founder of The Integrated Catholic Life™, is the author of The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work which was released by Liguori Publications. The Catholic Briefcase was voted the Best Catholic Book of 2011 in the About.com Catholicism Reader’s Choice Awards.
Randy Hain’s exciting second book, Along the Way: Lessons for an Authentic Journey of Faith was released by Liguori Publications in November, 2012. Along the Way was voted Runner-Up in the About.com Catholicism Reader’s Choice Awards for Best Catholic Book of 2012. His third book, Something More: A Professional’s Pursuit of a Meaningful Life, was released in February, 2013. His newest book, LANDED! Proven Job Search Strategies for Today’s Professional was released in December 2013 by Serviam Press.
All of Randy Hain’s books can also be purchased at your local Catholic bookstore, Amazon, Barnes & Noble or www.liguori.org.
Looking for a Catholic Speaker? Check out Randy’s speaker’s page and the rest of the ICL Speaker’s Bureau.
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Thank you! – The Editors