Some people may know that Fr. James Flavin, Director of Pastoral Care of Priests for the past five years, is moving on to a new role outside of the archdiocese at the St. John Vianney Center in Pennsylvania, which provides psychological care and counseling for behavioral health issues. We thought we would take this time to bid him farewell, and his departure also brought to mind the idea to highlight a couple of the many real problems faced by priests.
First we cover Fr. Flavin and then the problems.
Fr. Flavin’s new role
To:Sent: Monday, March 28, 2011Subject: RE: Fr. James A. Flavin appointed as Director of Clinical Services at St. John Vianney Center (Downingtown, PA)
On behalf of Cardinal Seán, I am pleased to announce that Father James Flavin, Director of Pastoral Care of Priests for the past five years, has accepted an offer to serve as Director of Clinical Services at the Saint John Vianney Center in Pennsylvania effective July 1, 2011. Father Flavin’s ministry to priests of Boston has been invaluable. He will now bring his gifts and talents to the service of the larger Church community in the United States.
Father Flavin wishes to share these words with his brother priests: “Brothers, it has been an honor to work with you so closely these past five years. I am grateful to Cardinal Seán for the privilege to care for my brother priests during a critical period in our lives. Needless to say, this ministry has been intensive but very rewarding. The position at Saint John Vianney is a great opportunity. I have worked closely with the staff there, I believe in the mission of Saint John Vianney, and I think that I can make a contribution to the care of priests and religious who go there for therapy. I am sure that my experience at Saint John Vianney will give me additional insights and talents to bring back to the Archdiocese of Boston, my home and the presbyterate I am honored to be part of. I welcome the offer of this position. I thank Cardinal Seán for allowing me to accept it. I ask for your prayers and support as I move onto to this next assignment.”
With Fr. Flavin’s new assignment this summer, our priest services group is already working on a plan to continue Fr. Flavin’s work. Father Foley, Episcopal Vicar and Secretary for Parish Life and Leadership, is assisted by Father Michael Medas, who serves as Director of Clergy Personnel. Fathers Foley and Medas are dedicated full-time to the care of the clergy. Fathers James McCune, Edwin Condon and Brian Clary assist with clergy services. In addition, Mary Hanlon, RN, coordinates medical evaluations and care for our priests, and we are establishing a working relationship with a priest-psychologist to make recommendations for the psychological care and counseling of priests. The priests and lay staff of the Clergy Office will continue to provide pastoral care and support for our priests, as well as on-going formation, personnel-related services and general assistance to the clergy on behalf of Cardinal O’Malley.
Please join me in congratulating Fr. Flavin and in offering our prayers for his ministry.
Very Reverend Richard M. Erikson, Ph.D., V.G.
Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia
Archdiocese of Boston
66 Brooks Drive
Braintree, MA 02184
We realize that Fr. Flavin, like anyone in the sort of role he has occupied, has his supporters and critics. Priests are human and subject to human failings and his role has been to try and help them in whatever situation they might be. BCI hears many positive things about his compassion and contributions in that role. As most people know, priests may need care and counseling for any of a variety of issues: sexual abuse, sexual addiction, alcoholism, depression, anxiety, or some other issue. These issues can affect priests, religious, bishops, even archbishops.
With the shortage of priests, many diocesan priests face excessive workloads and live alone or work in relative isolation from other priests. Psychologists agree that the problem of loneliness can be prompted or exacerbated by a stressful, hectic schedule that is not conducive to adequate self-care. Pope John Paul II (1992) addressed the issue of loneliness in the priesthood in Pastores Dabo Vobis (I Will Give You Shepherds):
There is a loneliness which all priests experience and which is completely normal. But there is another loneliness which is the product of various difficulties and which in turn creates further difficulties. With regard to the latter, “active participation in the diocesan presbyterate, regular contact with the Bishop and with the other priests, mutual cooperation, common life or fraternal dealings between priests, as also friendship and good relations with the lay faithful who are active in parish life, are very useful means to overcome the negative effects of loneliness which the priest can sometimes experience”. 
If and when the current Pastoral Planning process ever concludes with some form of parish reconfiguration and consolidation–and assuming the committee does not lose too many more members who see it going nowhere fast–the intent is to have several priests living in a rectory, rather than one priest living alone.
BCI found the comment about “regular contact with the Bishop” from the Holy Father’s letter interesting. For reasons already written about here at Boston Catholic Insider, we are not sure Cardinal O’Malley is inclined to have regular one-on-one contact with the presbyterate. He is known to be shy and has acknowledged that. A Boston Globe interview when he was elevated to Cardinal in 2006 broached the subject of depression (“I often hear people say…you seem depressed by the job.”). If you are a paid subscriber to the Globe, you can read the interview here, but if you do not subscribe, you can see the interview freely accessible here. We offer an excerpt below:
Q: How do you cope with the controversies and the scrutiny?
A: Well, I’m just getting used to it I guess. As I said when I came, eat those powder milk biscuits for shy people.
Q: Do you think your physical or mental health has been affected by this job?
A: (laughter) Well, I don’t think so, but I may not be the best judge of that.
Q: I often hear people say they think you’ve lost a lot of weight or that you seem depressed by the job. Do you see either of those as being the case?
A: I don’t think so. I think that sometimes the problems weigh heavily upon me, but I don’t think I’ve been depressed. Depression, I think, is when you’re depressed and you have nothing to be depressed about. (laughter). When I’m depressed, I have something to be depressed about. If you know what I mean.
Q: I’m sure you recall, there was that clause in the letter, I think it was last fall, maybe it was two falls ago, in which you talked about sometimes wanting God to call you home. How should people understand that?
A: That reconfiguration was so much fun (laughter) that – I don’t think that was a cry of depression. I think it was trying to share with people the pain that I was experiencing in this process. But I think I still have my wits about me.
Q: How do you think your leadership style and your personality are suited to or stretched by being archbishop of Boston?
A: Well, I’m a good listener, and I think that the priests and the people appreciate that. I believe in delegating. I think in a diocese this big that needs to be done. But this is a very large diocese and I’m still learning.
Looking back on the last 5 years since that interview, there is quite a lot to be gleaned from those comments and others in the interview. We already knew he is a “listener.” Has the “delegating” served the archdiocese well? Are the right people in-place for him to delegate to? Is the Daughters of St. Paul situation that dragged on for 5 years and resulted in a legal complaint an example of “delegation”? Is it really “delegation” or is more like “abdication” in some cases? Is there a lot about what is happening in the Boston Archdiocese that still gives the Cardinal something to be depressed about, or are we past that now? Do those close to the Cardinal support and protect him, or do they take advantage of any of the human weaknesses he has revealed?
There are 3 intended takeaways from our post today. Good luck to Fr. Flavin, pastoral planning should ensure that priests’ well-being is an important consideration, and we need to pray for all of our priests and religious, our Cardinal and the future of our archdiocese.