Various crises in the church are a time of testing for the church’s pastoral ministers, according to Catholic pastoral psychologist Wunibald Müller. He is leader of the “House of Recollection” at the Benedictine abbey of Münsterschwarzach in Germany. He spoke last week at the third annual “Theology Day” of the theology department of the University of Graz, Austria.
Müller spoke of a growing chasm between personal convictions and what is expected by church employers, between personal dialogue and a “clericalist manner,” between personal lifestyles and the church’s moral teachings. Many pastoral works suffer from being overburdened, oftentimes along with health problems such as burn-out.
Increasingly Müller encounters church ministers who lament that they “went into ministry under completely different conditions, with completely different expectations.” Church workers report with ever greater frequency that they strive to be loyal to the church, but this makes them feel “disloyal to their own soul.” They “think and feel differently,” no longer standing “within the fundamental identity of the church.” Personal crisis is the consequence.
Experiences in the work place are marked by growing “clericalism,” which leads to less dialogue and a less personal manner of relating. Ordination brings people into a particular situation and position which frequently goes along with problematic attitudes about dialogue. Church workers expend much of their energy “maintaining the external facade and hiding what they really think and live.” This is true, e.g. of priests who have difficulties with celibacy.
For remaining healthy “in soul and spirit,” Müller recommends a two-fold strategy. First, one should attend to a healthy self-concept and find space free of work, obligation, and objectives in daily life. Second, the psychologist recommends discovery of one’s “crisis energy.” This is the “prophetic side” from which – similar to the Old Testament prophets – opposition to grievances can be generated.
Church ministers today need these qualities in particular: ability to cope with conflict, and resilience. “If we as church coworkers do not wish to become resigned, we must be ready to take up the balancing act of dealing with the concrete situation in the church on the one hand, without selling our heart and soul on the other hand.”