REVISITED: Moral Injury, traditional Catholics and burnt out priests

CP&S comment This important post from Father Z on some current disturbing issues was first published last year and revisited again on his blog a few days ago. We think it deserves as wide a readership as possible to alert the Catholic faithful to the sufferings of many of our priests at this time, so we are republishing Father’s insightful article here.

Father Z says:

“This is from last year, 2020.  It was an interesting question at the time because COVID 1984 Theater was ramping up.   It is still going on in many ways.

A follow up is due.

Two cents: I think quite a few priests found, during COVID THEATER, an uplift through learning how to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass.  That, however, also has its downside: one begins to realize how much one’s been cheated out of one’s patrimony.”


Originally Published on: Jun 9, 2020 

From a reader…

I am a physician and have had the opportunity to work with several burnt out priests over the years. I am concerned about the emotional well being of priests during the current situation because of a stressor being called moral injury.

This injury comes from a situation when a person can not take an action that he feels to be morally right, or is forced to do something morally wrong, by the order of a superior. I am concerned that priests are experiencing this as their bishops have prohibited the sacraments.

I am keeping this in prayer but I am hoping by alerting you to this condition it might get into some hands who are in a position to work with priests with moral injury to at least recognize this reality.

This is very interesting.  I am grateful for the information and tip about “moral injury”. Since I received this, I’ve done some reading and thinking about moral injury.  For example, good starting point summary of main points HERE

Consider this:

Moral injury can lead to serious distress, depression, and suicidality. Moral injury can take the life of those suffering from it, both metaphorically and literally. Moral injury debilitates people, preventing them from living full and healthy lives.

The effects of moral injury go beyond the individual and can destroy one’s capacity to trust others, impinging on the family system and the larger community. Moral injury must be brought forward into the community for a shared process of healing.

In the context of a soul, with respect to the diversity of beliefs and religious perspectives held by those involved with moral injury, consider this:

Moral injury is damage done to the soul of the individual. War is one (but not the only) thing that can cause this damage. Abuse, rape, and violence may cause similar types of damage. “Soul repair” and “soul wound” are terms already in use by researchers and institutions in the United States who are exploring moral injury and pathways to recovery.

One writer defines moral injury as resulting from a betrayal of what is morally right by someone who holds legitimate authority and in a high stakes situation.

For example, priests who really believe in the cura animarum, and who are ordered, bullied, threatened by authority above them to go against what they believe is right and good for themselves and their people.   Application: being virtually forbidden to provide the sacraments to the faithful during the COVID-1984 lockdown.

I am no psychologist.  On the other hand, I didn’t fall off the turnip cart yesterday, either.

While moral injury is usually a phenomenon among warfighters in military service or veterans, it is not exclusive to them, either.  The Mayo Clinic has tracked this among physicians and found that one-third suffer from moral injury, which is sometimes taken for being burned out.

While it is highly tricky to apply a “diagnosis” to a group, much less, an individual, doesn’t think explain, in part, some aspects of more traditional Catholics?

In many cases tradition-inclined priests have been treated savagely by their bishops and other priests.  Traditional Catholic have been too.  They have been for years, even for decades, prevented by authority (usually through bullying) from doing what their consciences tell them is the right thing to do.  They are forced, year in and year out, to do what they think is, if not outright wrong, at least inferior to what could be done with a little leeway and compassion.   They are in a perpetual bind, caught between the desire to be a good member of the presbyterate and one with the bishop, while knowing that they can’t stand your “rightful aspirations”, as John Paul II called them.

Then there is the case of the priest who spends a lot of time and effort to build up something in his parish, only to be moved and see everything he built wrecked in a fortnight by some lib who succeeds him.   The lay faithful bear the brunt of the abuse and the priest who got moved is forced to watch, helplessly, from afar.

Take the example of a young priest who is, legitimately, desirous of having his whole patrimony as a Catholic priest, including tradition.   The ultra-lib pastor to whom he is assigned as an assistant will have none of it and ridicules, threatens and abuses his assistant as a result.  So the younger priest is daily forced to shove down his better instincts.

Take the example of the lay faithful who, if they want to receive Communion, have for decades been forced to receive on the hand rather than on the tongue, listen to truly horrid music, endure tragically bad homilies and all manner of liturgical abuse.  They know they are bound to go to Mass to fulfill their obligations, they truly want to worship God well, and they dread getting up every Sunday.   Otherwise, they feel guilt for going over to the SSPX “St. Joseph Terror of Demons” Chapel rather than their territorial “Sing A New Faith Community Into Being Faith Community” where Fr. “Just call me Bruce!” Hugalot perpetrates a regular catastrophe.

It takes a toll.    Warfighters sometimes will manifest moral injury after being in combat situations for only a short time.   A lot of traditional Catholics have been enduring the injury resulting from moral conflict – being forced to betray what you know is right – for unrelenting decades without an end in sight.

I don’t want to press this point beyond proposing that there could be an element of moral injury among those who have held “legitimate” aspirations regarding Tradition.  I want to avoid generalization as well.

It’s food for thought.

It seems to me that “moral injury” can, in fact, describe the plight of some priests who are thought of or think of themselves as “burnt out”.

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