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April 16, 2011

The reason many priests don't suffer burnout, despite pressures -
How strong is commitment to 2002 charter
for protecting children and young people? -
Reflections at Lent's end on charity, forgiveness and imperfect saints

In this edition:
1. Forgiveness as learned behavior.
2. Notes on the discipleship of imperfect saints.
3. The delicate matter of judgments and charity.
4. Current quotes to ponder: excerpts from speech regarding commitment to 2002 sexual abuse charter.
5. Why don't more priests suffer burnout?
6. Pope tells youths they are the church.


1. Forgiveness as Learned Behavior

"We who ask for forgiveness should be ready to forgive others," Archbishop Thomas Rodi of Mobile, Ala., said in a Lenten article he posted on the archdiocesan website. People who ask forgiveness from God also "must know how to forgive and what forgiveness means," he wrote.

But the archbishop stressed that "forgiveness is not easy." Instead, forgiveness must be learned, and it is learned through practice, he said. Archbishop Rodi referred to forgiveness as "an ability we strengthen as we practice it."

He recalled reports of people who forgave in matters as large as murder. "Forgiveness as great as this reflects a lifetime of learning and practicing forgiveness," he said. For, "the ability to forgive someone as callous as a murderer is not something that just happens. The ability to pardon another is something we learn to do first in little things and then in greater."

Thus, the archbishop urged his readers to ask how well they practice forgiveness in their families, among co-workers or while driving along the highway. He explained, "If we cannot forgive the little things, we will not learn to forgive the great wrongs which come our way."

Archbishop Rodi insisted that forgiveness is a form of strength, not of weakness. "Carrying a grudge is weakness. When we carry a grudge we give the wrongdoer power over us," he observed. But "when we forgive from the heart, we take control over our lives."

The archbishop drew a distinction between forgiveness and condoning a wrong. "Some people confuse forgiving with excusing the wrong," he wrote, though these "are two different things."

Forgiveness, he added, "means letting go of the hatred, resentment and grudge. It is saying that I cannot defend what you have done, but I forgive you nevertheless."

2. The Discipleship of Imperfect Saints

"People like Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa were normal human beings, with all the strengths and weaknesses that are part of the human condition," Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, Texas, said in an entry on his blog April 5.

The bishop thought that "with the imminent beatification of Pope John Paul II and the recent beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta," many people would be asking what it means to be a saint. "Does a person have to live a perfect and sinless life to become a saint?"

But Pope John Paul and Mother Teresa "made mistakes, they made errors in judgment, and they became frustrated and lost their temper at times," he wrote. However, he added, "what is important is that they didn't give up on God."

Bishop Farrell noted that the church applies the term "heroic virtue" to the lives of such people. This term could "be defined as constantly seeking to imitate Jesus, gladly, even in the face of internal and external opposition, often at a considerable personal sacrifice." That, the bishop said, means that heroic virtue "is not easy and includes a lot of forgiving and being forgiven."

However, it also means "there are many out there who demonstrate heroic virtue in their lives but will never be formally recognized as venerable or blessed or as saints." These people, Bishop Farrell said, "are the saints of Dallas or Plano or Waxahachie. Their road to sainthood is not on the streets of Calcutta or in the Vatican, but in the office, in the classroom, in the factory or in the kitchen."

Nothing is taken away from Pope John Paul or Mother Teresa in saying this, the bishop wrote. But it does mean "that saintliness does not preclude human weaknesses. It does mean not giving up on God, knowing that we are never abandoned by God."

Like everyone, Pope John Paul and Mother Teresa were "called to discipleship," Bishop Farrell said. "People do not set out to be saints," he wrote. Rather, they set out to "become disciples of Jesus."

3. The Delicate Matter of Making Judgments: Charity

"The church is in urgent need of an outburst of charity which will heal her fractures," Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa said in an April 8 Lenten meditation at the Vatican for the pope and members of the Roman Curia. Father Cantalamessa, known as preacher of the papal household, made some pointed remarks about judging others in his discussion of the new commandment of love.

The love of neighbor mandated by Jesus "is essentially twofold: It must be a sincere and active love, a love of the heart and a love, so to speak, of the hands," Father Cantalamessa said. It is essential in the Christian vision, he insisted, that love come from the heart and that it result in action. Moreover, St. Paul cautioned strongly against hypocritical love, the priest noted.

But what is "hypocritical charity"? For Paul, genuine love "consists in loving one another intensely 'from the heart,'" Father Cantalamessa observed. He said that for Paul, "what is required of love is that it be true, authentic, not a pretence."

Father Cantalamessa commented that when charity is hypocritical, it "does good, but without willing the good." What is manifested "externally" is not backed up by "a corresponding 'attitude' in the heart." Thus, he said, "there is an appearance of charity that may even be a mask for egoism, self-seeking, using another person."

Anchoring Christian love in "the heart" ensures that the charitable works it leads to are neither selfish nor "wily," according to Father Cantalamessa. He said, "The works of mercy must spring from 'heartfelt compassion' (Col 3:12)."

And when a Christian loves "with a genuine heart," Father Cantalamessa said that "it is God who loves through him; he becomes a channel of God's love."

Then, turning to the issue of judging others and making judgments, Father Cantalamessa recalled Paul exhorting the Romans, "Let us stop passing judgment on one another." The priest noted also that Jesus said, "Do not judge, and you will not be not judged."

The question of judgments is "delicate and complex, and it cannot be left half-finished if it is not to appear immediately unrealistic," Father Cantalamessa said. For, it would be impossible "to observe, to hear, to live without making assessments, in other words, without judging." In fact, he said that for "many here in the [Roman] Curia, judgment is precisely the type of service that one is called to give to society or to the church."

Father Cantalamessa said, "It is not so much the judgment we must remove from our heart, but the poison from our judgment! That is, the resentment, the condemnation." Judgment, in itself, "is a neutral action," he said. What is "banished by the word of God" are the "negative judgments" that "condemn the sinner as well as the sin, those which are aimed more at the punishment than the correction of a brother."

Esteem for others is "another qualifying point of sincere charity," Father Cantalamessa observed. Here he noted Romans 12:10, "Outdo one another in showing respect for one another." The priest said that "to esteem one's brother, one must not esteem oneself too much, not be always sure of oneself."

The papal preacher proposed that "'to minimize' ought to become our favorite verb in relations with others -- to minimize our own merits and the defects of others, not to minimize our defects and the merits of others as we often tend to do, which would be the exact opposite!"

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

2011 Perspectives on the 2002 "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People": "There really are no words to fully thank the victim survivors who spoke this morning. They remind us that the starting point for everything we are supposed to be doing in addressing the harm done in the clergy sex abuse scandal is healing. There was some frustration expressed that things are going too slow. That is not my frustration or fear. I am concerned that we could very easily regress in keeping the promises we bishops made nearly a decade ago if we do not attend to the details and keep our focus. That is why we need to return regularly to that moment in 2002 when we crafted the 'Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People' and the 'Essential Norms.' In particular, I have in mind recovering two insights that gave direction to our work in Dallas. The first is that healing is the first imperative, and the second is that we cannot respond to the crisis by ourselves; we need a community of learning. When we forget or ignore those insights we lose our way and get into trouble. "We are seeing what some are referring to as charter fatigue emerging in our communities. Safe environment programs are hard work; they involve record keeping, updating resources, vigilance and repetition. Parents are opting out, pastors and directors of religious education are becoming frustrated, and some are convinced that the crisis has passed. Our leadership as bishops is needed now more than ever to address these concerns and give new vitality to our promise to protect and our pledge to heal. We should not underestimate the institutional inertia that has to be overcome if we are to lead in a way that heals and depends on a community of learning.

"Since 2002 more than 125 new bishops have been ordained for ministry in the United States. This fact only underscores the need to internalize what we learned in crafting the charter a decade ago. Only this internalization can guarantee that the present generation of bishops will hand on to their successors a commitment to never letting this happen again." (The three excerpts above are taken from an April 4 speech by Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Wash., chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops' Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People, to an international conference at Jesuit-run Marquette University in Milwaukee on the clergy sex abuse crisis; the speech appears in the April 21 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service)

5. Why Priests, as a Group, Aren't Suffering Burnout

"As a group, priests are not burned out," Msgr. Stephen Rossetti said in a Feb. 25 speech to priests in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y. Burnout was not the main focus of his speech, but I was intrigued by what he had to say about the meaning of burnout and its causes. Msgr. Rossetti is a clinical associate professor of pastoral studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington.

It often is assumed that hard-worked, fatigued people are the ones who suffer burnout. But how well grounded is this assumption? In his Rockville Centre speech, Msgr. Rossetti discussed the morale of priests in general in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis and other pressures they have experienced due to factors like the closing of churches and factionalism.

Research shows that "despite the very real trauma and pain suffered by our priests, the level of happiness and satisfaction among them is extraordinarily high. Study after study finds the same results," said Msgr. Rossetti. He told his audience he recently completed two surveys involving more than 4,000 priests.

Msgr. Rossetti noted that more than 40 percent of priests in his surveys "said that they were overwhelmed with work. There is simply too much to do." This, he commented, "needs our direct and concerted attention. We need to assist our priests in dealing with the increasing flood of demands and very legitimate needs. We have ignored this problem for too long."

However, Msgr. Rossetti added, "it should also be noted that, as a group, priests are not burned out." He said he "gave about 2,500 priests a standard burnout measure (the Maslach Burnout Inventory), and despite their heavy workloads, they measured much less burned out than their lay counterparts."

So, "if workloads are up, why is burnout so low?" Msgr. Rossetti said the answer "is fairly straightforward. Burnout is not a measure of how much work one does," and "we all know some who do an amazing amount of ministry yet hang in there and cope pretty well."

Msgr. Rossetti then explained that burnout "is a measure of what is happening to us while we labor." Thus, the questions to ask include: "Are we nourished or are we drained? Do we feel satisfied or emptied? Do we feel we are accomplishing something important or are we just spinning our wheels? Do we become increasingly angry and cynical or do we find a sense of fulfillment and peace?"

Despite workloads that are "sometimes crushing," Msgr. Rossetti said priests as a group have "reported a high level of satisfaction with their ministries. They like being priests. They especially like presiding at the Eucharist and celebrating the sacraments. They love being a part of people's lives and being part of a Christian community. Overall, they find it nourishing, and it gives them a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction."

Priests "are nourished by their ministries and their priestly lives," and "by their own spiritual life and relationship to God," he said.

More than 90 percent of the priests he surveyed "reported feeling a sense of closeness to God. Over 90 percent believe that God loves them personally and directly," Msgr. Rossetti said. He concluded that "the correlation between one's relationship to God and one's personal happiness was very high."

Msgr. Rossetti said it would be misleading to assert that everything is perfect. "Of course, there are some unhappy priests; there are some who are burned out; there are some suffering from low morale," and "this has serious ramifications," he acknowledged. For, "in a vocation where each person is a leader of hundreds if not thousands, one unhappy, dysfunctioning priest is a cause for concern."

The good results of his research should not be interpreted "as a reason not to address the needs of our day" in order to make things "the very best they can be," Msgr. Rossetti said.

The "most traumatic" development of recent times for priests has been the clergy sexual abuse crisis, he commented. "This has elevated the pain in our midst to a level not previously imagined. None of us has been spared the fallout from this debacle."

But against the background of this crisis and other stressful factors of contemporary life, Msgr. Rossetti indicated that he finds it especially noteworthy that "the large majority of priests are happy, well-adjusted, faith-filled men who would do it again if given the chance." (The text of Msgr. Rossetti's speech appears in the April 14 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

6. Pope Tells Youth They "Are the Body of Christ, the Church"

Because they are the church, young people should not flee the church, Pope Benedict XVI says in his Foreword to a youth catechism known as "YouCat" that will be included in each backpack for World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid.

In the Foreword, the pope speaks with youth about recent wounds to the community of faith. Without specifically mentioning the sexual abuse crisis, it seems clear what he means. And in this context he realizes that some young people might be discouraged enough to leave the church. So he speaks with them about reasons not to do so. He writes:

"You all know in what way the community of believers has been wounded in recent times by the attacks of evil, by the penetration of sin in the interior, in fact in the heart of the church. Do not take this as a pretext to flee from God's presence; you yourselves are the body of Christ, the church!"

The pope notes that "when Israel was in the darkest point of its history, God called to the rescue no great and esteemed persons, but a youth called Jeremiah." And when Jeremiah felt this mission was too great for him, God said: "Do not say 'I am only a youth'; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak."

The pope's Foreword discusses the rationale not only for the earlier development of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but for the YouCat version for youth. He says that in the context of the World Youth Days, it began to be asked whether an effort should be undertaken "to translate the Catechism of the Catholic Church into the language of young people and make its words penetrate their world."

Pope Benedict says he has been told "that the catechism does not interest today's youth," but adds that he does "not believe this affirmation, and I am sure I am right." Youth, the pope writes, "is not as superficial as it is accused of being; young people want to know what life truly consists of."

YouCat "does not offer easy solutions," the pope tells young people. "It calls for a new life on your part; it presents to you the message of the Gospel as the 'precious pearl' (Mt 13:45) for which there is need to give everything."

For that reason, the pope asks young people to "study the catechism with passion and perseverance!" He recommends that they study it in the silence of their rooms, read it together as friends, "form groups and study networks," and even "exchange ideas on the Internet." But whatever approach they choose, he urges them to "remain in dialogue on your faith!"