“These are the times that try men’s souls.” (Thomas Paine)
In my recent post, “If Night Befalls Your Father,” on These Stone Walls, I wrote of a terrible tragedy in our Church. In the United States alone, some 28 Catholic priests have taken their own lives since priests became a favorite target of Satan and the news media. I wrote that I have personally known five of them, and three others who were murdered.
In 1994, just months before I faced trial, I received a call from a priest asking for help. I had met with him previously and I knew he had been depressed. I also knew his depression had become critical, but he resisted seeking treatment. I’m telling this strange story without his name, of course, but with his permission.
I, too, have lived in darkness, and know its grip on the human soul. On the day this priest asked for help, he had made a decision to end his own life, though I did not know this fact until he met with me. He spent the previous two days planning this out and putting his affairs in order. He decided that using a firearm would guarantee finality. His plan was to hike as far as he could into the Northern New Mexico mountains where he would not be discovered for months or even years, and he would take his own life there. He saw no light at all beyond his dark night of the soul.
Like most priests, however, he did not own a gun. New Mexico law required a waiting period for gun dealers to sell to private citizens, but private sellers were exempt from the law at that time. So my friend scoured the newspaper for a private sale, and found a prospect. An Albuquerque man had a 9mm semi-automatic handgun for sale for $500. My priest-friend arranged to purchase the gun that evening at 6:00 PM. after retrieving the funds from his bank.
So the priest drove to Albuquerque, and on the way to the seller’s address he stopped at the bank. The required $500 was just about the sum total of what he had in his account. The bank had closed for the day so he went to an ATM machine near the bank’s front door. With his mind made up and his plan in place, my friend inserted his card into the ATM to withdraw his funds as he had many times before. This time, however, the machine ate his card, then printed out this message:
“Your card has been retained for an unknown reason. Please consult an account representative during business hours.”My friend looked incredulously at the printed message. His plan was ruined, and he drove home feeling defeated. The next morning he called the bank. An account representative told him she had no explanation for why the bank’s ATM retained his card. “It shouldn’t have,” she said. “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with your card or your account.”
She offered to mail the card back to him immediately.
After hanging up from talking to his bank, he called me and agreed to let me bring him to a center for priests in crisis. He interpreted the incident with his ATM card as a sort of divine intervention, and, in a strange way, it gave him hope.
Clearly, the last two decades have called upon Catholics and the Church to pay some attention to the quality of life for Roman Catholic priests. We are seeing the problems of priests – and especially the sex abuse crisis – with blinders on, addressing them only as personal failures of the priests involved rather than as a systemic failure within the priesthood. This has added to the tragedy, and the Church’s response to date – which includes the draconian policy of zero tolerance – has signaled every priest to keep his problems to himself... (continued...)