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Trials Will Leave Priesthood, Church Stronger
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Friday, April 16, 2010
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HOUSTON (CNS)—The U.S. priesthood and the Catholic Church itself will emerge from today's crises stronger than ever, according to a priest-psychologist.

Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, an expert in treating psychological and spiritual difficulties, especially among priests, spoke April 13 at the annual convention in Houston of the National Federation of Priests' Councils.

Although a look at newspapers and blogs gives the impression that the priesthood "is dispirited, discouraged and disintegrating," Msgr. Rossetti said two studies he conducted of 4,000 priests between 2002 and 2010 show that "priests like being priests; they find great satisfaction in their lives."

"Rather than disintegrating under the pressure and stress of our day, it appears to me that our priests are becoming stronger," he said.

"As the public negativity rises and the chorus of naysayers crescendos, I believe our priests and church are actually the better for it," he added. "Truly, the more the church suffers, the stronger it becomes."

Msgr. Rossetti, now a clinical associate professor of pastoral studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, was accepting the NFPC's Touchstone Award, presented annually to a priest "whose service in the Gospel of Jesus Christ exemplifies the purpose and goals of the federation."

A priest of the Diocese of Syracuse, N.Y., and a former Air Force intelligence officer, Msgr. Rossetti was president and CEO of St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md., from 1996 until October 2009. The institute is a residential treatment center for priests and religious with addictions or psychological disorders.

Msgr. Rossetti said his own studies and others have shown that "the happiness of the priesthood is one of the best-kept secrets of our time."

Among the results of his surveys:
  • More than 90 percent of priests said they were happy as priests, 89 percent said their morale was good and 81 percent said they were proud to be a priest today.
  • More than three-quarters (77 percent) said they had a good relationship with their bishops, and 81 percent said they supported his leadership.
  • More than three-quarters (78 percent) said they felt "called by God" to live a celibate life and 75 percent said celibacy had been a grace for them.
  • More than 40 percent (42 percent) said they felt overwhelmed by the amount of work they have to do.
"Why would someone be happy with a celibate life, little pay, long hours and a regular drubbing in the press?" Msgr. Rossetti asked, adding that "now they are even after" Pope Benedict XVI "and it will be a long road for him up Calvary."

He said reasons for "the countercultural joy of our priests" can be found in the fact that more than 90 percent feel a sense of closeness to God (93 percent), a relationship with God that nourishes them (97 percent) and a sense that God loves them personally and directly (95 percent).

Msgr. Rossetti said many priests treated at St. Luke's "came through our doors feeling broken and hopeless," but during their stay found "the transforming love of a God who was always with them."

He called for a "new evangelization" that will help everyone get in touch with that sense of a personal and loving God and the joy that comes with that feeling.

"I do not think our greatest challenge to the faith of our day is explicit atheism" among a minority that says there is no God and no afterlife, Msgr. Rossetti said. "The real danger is all around us; it is the apparent lack of interest, relevance.

"People are just not interested," he added. "God and religion do not blip the radar screens of their lives. They are what I call functional atheists."

Noting that 48 percent of priests he surveyed said they were concerned about the "lack of unity of the priesthood," Msgr. Rossetti called on priests to "stop the internal bickering."

"Satan is never happier than when we are cutting each other down," he said. "It is time to put our energy into breaking through the modern secular consciousness; people want to be happy and we have the key."

The NFPC convention April 12-15 in Houston also featured talks by retired Archbishop John R. Quinn of San Francisco; Jesuit Father James Martin, culture editor of America magazine; Jesuit Father John J. Cecero, director of the Center for Spirituality and Mental Health at Fordham University in New York; and Father Leo Patalinghug, director of pastoral field education for seminarians at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., and author of "Grace Before Meals: Recipes for Family Life."

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