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‘Walk-in’ clinic launched to aid priests, religious

By 
  • April 16, 2020

Priests and religious overwhelmed by the new realities of their ministry due to the COVID-19 pandemic are being offered help to cope with issues brought on by the crisis.

The Southdown Institute has launched a “Virtual Walk-in Clinic” where clergy, vowed religious and lay ecclesial ministers can receive counselling for any mental health issues with just a phone call.

“Anybody who finds themselves in that kind of distress, reach out,” said Fr. Stephan Kappler, president and chief psychologist at Southdown. “We’re here to help. There’s people out there to listen, to be a help to you.”

The Southdown facility in Holland Landing, Ont., north of Toronto addresses the needs of clergy and religious around addiction and mental health issues. As of April 14, people in distress can call (289) 763-1478 to discuss any mental health issues triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the pandemic broke, Kappler has been fielding calls from across North America from religious who have had underlying struggles amplified by COVID-19.

“We certainly want to be there for the priests, the religious, all who are doing the important work for the people of God.”

It often gets lost that in times of crisis clergy become spiritual first responders. Just as they are susceptible to the virus, said Kappler, they are “not immune to the stress and distress that this has created.”

“Everyone is feeling heightened distress, that’s regardless of who you are and what your state of life is, regardless of what profession,” he said.

Priests are normally prepared to deal with spiritual matters and more in their parishes, but there’s no template to deal with a pandemic that has changed everyone’s world. People are confined to their homes for the most part, priests included, public Masses have been suspended and all the usual interactions clergy have with parishioners are on hold. Priests are finding new ways to reach parishioners, and for some, the loss of their normal routine can leave them feeling isolated, said Kappler.

“Pastoral life as the priest has known it has totally changed. They were really without a playbook,” he said.

“The message we’re trying to give as mental health providers is for people to be honest with yourself and really take an inventory on how you are doing. What are your emotions.”

Kappler sees a common thread in the priesthood: many are perfectionists, moreso than the general population, and have a hard time admitting they are not well, particularly with so many turning to them for help in times of crisis. For them, “it’s not easy to say, ‘I’m really struggling. I’m having a hard time dealing with this.’ ”

This virtual clinic is a place they can hear it’s OK to feel this way and they are not alone.

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