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A renewed dedication to high-quality, ongoing human formation is necessary to support young priests who potentially face burnout at higher rates than their older confreres, according to Monsignor Stephen J. Rossetti, president of Saint Luke Institute.
Younger priests who have been ordained less than five years face many of the same challenges all priests encounter, including declining numbers in their ranks and the attendant greater workloads.
But an increased rate of divorce in recent decades means that a rising number of young priests come from broken homes and can struggle with mental health difficulties as a result, he said. Also, his data show they report higher rates of childhood trauma, depression and anxiety.
“As we have the breakdown of the nuclear family, that’s going to cause wounds and additional psychological challenges,” he said. Experience suggests that young women religious also encounter similar struggles.
The good news, Msgr. Rossetti said, is that those involved in formation have been working to bolster screening, education and treatment programs.
“The importance of human formation in general is becoming more accepted and emphasized,” he said. The next step is to strengthen ongoing formation programs so that priests receive the best possible support throughout their ministry. “The need for continued support and education and formation doesn’t cease at ordination,” Msgr. Rossetti said.
One such program is SLIconnect, an initiative of Saint Luke Institute that offers web-based continuing education for clergy and religious. Priest support groups are also important because they allow clergy to connect in an honest, healthy way with their peers.
“The problem is isolation,” Msgr. Rossetti said. “The antidote is connection, communion and mutual care.”
Priests must also cultivate a strong spiritual life, which correlates to a healthier ministry and lower rate of burnout. “One of the most healing things that can possibly happen is knowing one is loved – loved by others and loved by God,” Msgr. Rossetti said.
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