- United against Moscow
Support shown by Russia’s Orthodox Church for President Putin’s annexation of Crimea has seriously damaged its relationship with other Churches in Ukraine. Historical enmities have been revived as the region’s Christians fear a new era of persecution may be about to unfold
- Home News
- World News
- Parish Practice
- Letters Extra
- The living Spirit
- Abused children, parents of addicts and victims of financial crisis remembered in Pope's Way of the Cross meditations
- All are capable of betraying Jesus but no one should doubt his mercy, says papal preacher at Good Friday liturgy
- Pope Francis washes feet of women and non-Catholics at centre for elderly and disabled
- Vatican and bishops' conferences urged to consider married priests following signal from Pope Francis
- Living in religious community you see the devil at work0 Dame Catherine Wybourne OSB
- Archbishop Welby, is a healthy church always a growing one?1 Christopher Lamb
- A married priesthood would right many wrongs7 Alex Walker
Biteback publishing launched the autobiography of John Biffen last week. Biffen, lest anyone forget, served as a minister under Mrs Thatcher. The book is particularly striking as it reveals - for the first time and six year’s after Biffen’s death - that throughout his political career he faced debilitating depression.
Such a revelation of agony endured in secrecy not only holds a mirror up to the face of our anguish-denying British culture, but should also send a signal to the leaders of English Catholicism as they process the thousands of responses sent in by lay Catholics to the Vatican survey on issues around relationships and the family. The results of that survey are intended to help in the preparations for next autumn’s Synod on the Family, in Rome.
The Catholic Church claims to be able to speak profoundly about the purpose of human character and flourishing. And yet its ability to address mental ill health, which forms a core part of our human condition, is palpably inadequate: if a leading parishioner suddenly disappears from view and cannot explain why, should they run the risk of the parish cognoscenti treating them as unreliable when they are in fact drowning, either in their own troubles of those of a family member for whom they are caring? We cannot assume that Mass-goers are immune from such troubles. Yet for some reason the new English Mass no longer allows us to pray “protect us from all anxiety”.
While John Paul II had the courage to touch on the question, even he could only major on depression as a one-dimensional “spiritual crisis”. I have heard lay Catholics suggesting that the lifelong auditory and visual hallucinations endured by some victims of clerical child abuse (and war and rape trauma) are somehow “diabolical”.
Meanwhile, how often in sermons and parish conversation has one heard the terms schizophrenic, bi-polar, mad or demented tossed round carelessly just as words that now shock, such as nigger, spastic and retard, once were?
Apart from the work Catholics do with people who are homeless, support for those with mental health issues is under-represented as a proportion of total global Catholic voluntary action. And specialist pastoral care in this field is almost absent. No wonder priests, parents, Religious and whole extended families with mental ill health challenges are more afraid than gay men and women or divorced mums and dads to “come out” to the Church.
Even if they did it is unclear where the at least 25 per cent of families globally facing mental ill health might articulate their experiences in the questionnaire our bishops circulated ahead of next autumn’s Synod. This is why the English and Welsh bishops, as one of the few bishops’ conferences globally ever to address mental ill health with their Day for Life initiative, now have an immense responsibility to advance mercy and solidarity. They might do well to talk further to the head of Mind, Paul Farmer, a Catholic, and encourage the Church to call on his skills and those of another Catholic and former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Baroness Sheila Hollins. How might they provoke a global Catholic breakthrough? How might they truly give voice to these voiceless within and beyond their Church?