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Author Topic: Questioning Female Parishioner's "Support" for Our Priest  (Read 431 times)

NW_Catholic

This is going to be long, but I want to explain things as thoroughly as I can so here it goes:
At my parish, we found out from our priest right after his homily almost 2 weeks ago that he’s being transferred to another parish about an hour away. He was with us for not quite 2 years when he got the news from the archbishop that this would be happening. Now he did express some emotion over this and he is going to miss the parishes and congregations that he has been serving here. But there’s one particular woman in our parish who has been expressing some thoughts and feelings on our Catholic community Facebook page that I can’t help but wonder about and at times can’t help but feel need to somehow stop. On that page, quite a few people from the parish have been expressing sadness and even grief over the fact that our current priest is going to be leaving us at the end of next month. But this one woman seems to insist on taking it even further with REPEATED posts and comments that she seems to be insisting on putting out there on an almost daily basis. And she was just divorced last year and on her Facebook page sometimes has still expressed her wishes that she will marry again and occasionally reports feeling empty, some of which I suppose is only natural and normal for someone for a while after they’ve gotten divorced or are otherwise on the rebound from a relationship.

Now, I don’t know if cases of women becoming obsessed or infatuated with priests are really all that common, but they are not unheard of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-524369/Lovestruck-female-parishioner-convicted-harassing-traumatised-priest.html

The only thing I can hope is that this poor, lonely, divorced woman can just let our current priest go when it’s time and doesn’t end up eventually following him after he goes to his new parish. And in trying to “encourage” everyone on Facebook to say goodbye, I just hope she doesn’t mean that she’s expecting that of everyone but herself. Besides the fact that she’s divorced and has expressed feelings of emptiness and wanting to have another man in her life someday, she has also alternated between that and expressing a tendency toward sometimes desiring to go into some kind of missionary work. So right now, it’s just kind of hard to tell if she’s just trying to be as supportive as she can be of the parish and the priest in preparing to say goodbye to him or if her affections are at least a little inappropriate.

Maybe in just having more of a missionary/outreach-style personality or outlook on life besides struggling with divorce, she just doesn’t realize how she has been coming across and that she seems to be getting carried away in some ways that might seem questionable to others who are looking on. When she posted on her personal Facebook page that “Sometimes the person who’s been there for everyone else needs someone to be there for them” and wrote in a comment that that post was for our priest, I thought it was concerning, maybe kind of getting out of line. I don’t believe that just any time and every time a woman likes a priest or has some kind of affection for a priest, is really fond of him and maybe even good friends with him that it’s automatically inappropriate. Priests can and will have friendships with both males and females of the same or maybe even different faiths, and I have no problem with ANY of those friendships being long-term or maybe even lifelong. But when a woman’s divorced or on the rebound from another relationship, and doing things on social media like occasionally saying that she feels empty, posting something about “being there” or a desire to “be there” for someone else and saying that that’s for the priest who of course has taken a vow of celibacy, and won’t stop regularly – as in almost daily - commenting and posting things on a Catholic community Facebook page that both sometimes kind of obviously and sometimes rather subtly are geared toward “supporting” the priest, then I think it’s cause for concern. And what amazes me the most about it, or what I really find to be the strangest thing about it is that on social media she just allows herself to be so public about it.

Now if this is in fact inappropriate and unwanted by our priest, he may be glad he’s transferring so that he can establish some distance between himself and this woman. He did go through a time in our parish when he did seem kind of stand-offish in the greeting line after Mass, and when I asked him about that change in his behavior, he did say something to me about a concern he had over some of the people getting too attached to him and said that just a few people (though certainly not everyone of course) had started acting that way toward him when of course the Mass, when Church, is supposed to be more about the Lord and not JUST about the priest.  But I don’t know what he’s going to do if the woman whose behaviors I’ve described to you here decides or has already decided to eventually follow him to the next city and parish that he’s going to be serving. It probably won’t take much to recognize that it’s a concern and quite possibly quite inappropriate if it happens, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily an easy problem to solve. It’s like insofar as our priest is concerned now, this one woman keeps obsessing over the whole thing and just can’t stop putting things out there about it for whatever the reason – even after other people have agreed to accept our priest’s upcoming move as best as they can, to look forward to the arrival of our next priest with intentions of being very welcoming, and have stopped posting and commenting so much about it on Facebook, this one woman STILL had to come back today to post a prayer by the patron saint of the parish our current priest is going to be transferring to. Now of course it was just a prayer and that in and of itself seems innocent enough. But the fact that it just so happened to HAVE to be about the patron saint of the parish our priest is going to be transferring to is still almost kind of a red flag to me. She, the one who has been trying apparently, to “help” everyone else accept and move on from this, now seems to be having some problems of her own with accepting and moving on from it.

I wonder if it’s something innocent on her part that is eventually going to settle down and blow over after our current priest leaves, or if she really has a mental or emotional problem for which she needs professional help. And her divorce became final sometime just this past year, so I don’t know quite what’s going on here. I understand she’s probably vulnerable right now but I just wish she could at least realize how her actions and expressions online can sometimes appear to others in light of her current state in life and her own expressions of being divorced, sometimes feeling empty, and wanting to have a man in her life again. For all I know right now she could be seeing everything she wants in a man in our current but soon-to-be-moving-on-priest and creating a problem for the rest of us, our priest included, in her apparent inability to lay off of the priest-related posting and commenting she otherwise can’t seem to resist continuing on with on our Catholic community Facebook page. Any thoughts, experiences, insights or advice any of the rest of you out there might be able to offer I’d appreciate since this has been on my mind A LOT since it keeps happening and I have been kind of stressed out about it a little more recently. In other words, even though I AM going to pray about it, it has still been weighing heavily on my mind lately and I really would like to find some way to bring it all to a close that is healthy and freeing for as many people as possible. Thanks.


PrairieMom

Well...

You could be right that it stems from her divorce. Some women are naturally attracted to men that they perceive as "positions of power", such as a priest, a boss, a doctor, a prolific community member, etc. I fully admit I have found myself in that position of attraction more than once (not a priest, but the others, yes). However, most mentally stable women realize that it's just that, that they have a tendency for it, and will brush it off and move forward.

You don't really know what's going on. For all you know, the priest requested the move to get away from this woman and things are sort of playing out as planned. I would simply let things play out, observe without being intrusive, and if she's embarrassing herself you might want to gently and charitably point that out to her privately. She might follow him, but she might not. If she follows him and it becomes problematic, it could walk the fine line of stalking and then the law can be used. But for now, the greatest harm would be her embarrassing herself, or if she's really unglued she makes false accusations against the priest. That's where your observations might come in handy to defend him.

Sorry I can't offer anything more helpful than that. The reality is that everyone in the situation is a grown-up, and if the priest is having issues he can seek guidance from the bishop. I'm sure there's protocol for situations like this.
"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth was gone, and the sea is now no more.

 And I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

And I heard a great voice from the throne, saying: Behold the tabernacle of God with men, and he will dwell with them. And they shall be his people; and God himself with them shall be their God.

 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away." The Apocalypse 21:1-4

http://allourneedsarespecial.blogspot.ca/

NW_Catholic

Thank you for the response.

After posting the concerns I initially posted, it crossed my mind that if this woman has a problem, it may also be a problem of wanting to pursue unavailable men. I found an article on that, too: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-anderson/attracted-to-the-unavaila_b_7264672.html. Usually in a situation like that, a woman may not be so interested in getting romantically involved as she just is in the excitement of the pursuit - the "what ifs" and false possibilities in a way. And if and when that's the situation, then I think it's an abandonment and low self-esteem issue for which the person really needs some outside help mentally and emotionally, though probably also spiritually, though just not from a priest.

The thing with this woman that I didn't mention is that she has kind of indicated on her personal Facebook page that her marriage ended because her husband was unfaithful to her. And not only did she indicate that he was unfaithful, but she also indicated a few years back, before the divorce, that he was unfaithful to her with a woman who may have been her best friend - at least a close friend and certainly not someone she was unfamiliar with. Beyond that, though, I don't want to get into speculating too much; it's just something else that I observed. Just FYI, though, this divorced woman is still kind of new in the Catholic Church and neither her husband nor children are Catholic. They're protestant, and this woman has had and may still have some kind of tie to a Missionary Alliance church in our area.

But, either way, I think you're also right about the fact that "some women are naturally attracted to men that they perceive as 'positions of power'..." which I think could either stand alone or go hand in hand with a tendency to only be attracted to men who are unavailable. But with the "positions of power" possibility, you're right that that's possible; I just hadn't thought of that yet...

Either way, though, you're right that I don't know for sure what's going on. But as far as what you said about her maybe embarrassing herself, I think someone else on Facebook may have already been trying to gently and charitably steer her away from expressing herself so much on Facebook in terms of our parish priest - without making it look too much like that's what she's trying to do. It looks like we have a married, female parishioner who has been following all of the posts and comments that this other woman has been making about our priest on our Catholic community's Facebook page, and while she has been supportive of those comments and posts, she also may be trying to offer or use her female friendship in a way that eventually - but still very gently and lovingly - is meant to pry this woman off of  and keep her from perpetuating the oh-my-gosh-our-priest-is-transferring bandwagon and at least gradually steer her away not only from going on about it so much, but hopefully also from dwelling on it much longer.

I'm still kind of leaning right now more toward eventually bringing this up just in a nice, simply out of concern, but certainly not accusatory, way to one of my fellow parishioners who also just so happens to be one of the administrators of our Catholic community Facebook account. But if I ultimately decide to do that, I'll do it in person, not online. Not only do I think he may know this woman a little better than I do, but whether he does or he doesn't, it would just be to simply point out the social media patterns and connections as I've noticed them and then he can either give me better insight into what may be going on or it could help him to consider making a decision as to whether this woman should continue being allowed to be one of our members on that online group, in addition to what to do about it offline, if anything. But I just wanted to hold off in terms of the timing on that since it looks like emotions have been running kind of high recently anyway, and people, including our admin., are concerned about how things are going to go just in terms of saying goodbye to a priest they've known and loved and getting one that they don't know much about yet. So, yes, I want to address the issue, and at least consider that these things can happen even if it doesn't come to much more of anything in this case, but I'm also trying to consider that NOW may still not be the best time.

Thank you again. You're of course also right about the fact that we're all adults here and I will also take your advice on simply letting it play out and observing without being intrusive, etc. And whatever we discover and come to or don't come to here in our local area over the next couple of months or so, I just felt better with being able to air the issue out on here in the mean time. God bless you. :)


Miriam_M

Here's the reality.  Yes, alone and/or emotionally vulnerable women (include some married women in the latter category) can be especially susceptible to infatuation with a priest -- ironically often because of his purity, not because of physical attraction to him, although that may also accompany it for some women, and depending on the priest.  But his purity as to state in life can make him even more irresistible to many women because "loving" him is not illicit.  Thus, there is technically no adultery to confess in the confessional, on her part, but what she is engaged in is the sin of disordered attachment to a person -- in this case, a rightly consecrated person who belongs not only or even mainly to her, but evenly to all under his care.

Then, within that category of single/divorced/widowed women, one encounters the reality of "special" roles within a parish, especially domestic roles:  personal sewing for priests, sacristy laundering, ironing, mending (especially true in trad parishes, with their abundance of vestments and altar cloths).  This is something that priests often fail to see are sources of great temptation for women -- to be thought of as essential providers to a priest and also as having earned an exclusive, privileged status.  Priests often don't realize that they can help to reduce this kind of dynamic by spreading out these responsibilities among many capable "servants" (volunteers), rather than assigning them so narrowly. 

We have this problem at our parish.  We have one woman who assumes that she is entitled to an exclusive domestic position, and that assumption also carries over into assuming that she is entitled to a kind of "private priest" -- something above and beyond what anyone else expects of him.

NW_Catholic

Yes. I totally understand and agree with what you've said about the disordered attachment. While this woman I've been speaking of seems to have been intending to include everyone in her comments, perspectives, and suggestions, she does also seem to be struggling with a tendency to make her thoughts, feelings, perspectives, etc. front and center to everyone else's. Regardless of the angle or perspective she's either coming from or just believes she's coming from, she could have just stuck more carefully to the comments rather than bringing more of what she had to say or express up out of that and putting it all into a post like she had actual guidance that should be preferred and followed rather than responses and maybe a suggestion to merely be noted and considered right along with - but not up and over - what everyone else was already saying. People were expressing that they were going to miss the current priest but were already intending to be warmly welcoming to the new priest when he arrives. So with that being the case, while this woman was just as free and welcome to comment and converse as anyone else was, it's not like we really needed her extra effusiveness, let alone her advice. I made a suggestion once as to something some people could do to help make the transition a little easier for them, but I kept it within the comments that other people were already reading rather than posting it like it was supposed to be honored and followed over all else . When this woman came up with a suggestion on something, however, she not only put it into a whole new post like her insights and feelings should be honored and remembered above everyone else's but she even did it in such an emotionally muddled way that it ended up looking like there wasn't to be any distinction between Jesus and the priest and no real difference between the sufferings of Jesus and the sufferings and heavy-heartedness of the priest in having to leave this particular parish and flock behind. And unfortunately, even though it was a suggestion that more people stay for Eucharistic adoration or stay a bit longer since we only had so many Sundays left with this priest, it didn't make enough of a distinction between Jesus and the priest and came across as more of a turn-off than an invitation to me. Some people appreciated it  and still only saw good in it, but it wasn't as clear and distinct as it should have been in terms of adoring Jesus in Eucharistic adoration and going to Eucharistic adoration to honor and adore the priest. I'm sorry, but while there is an extent to which we should treat the priest as we should treat Christ and while we should try to see as much of Christ as we can IN the priest, they and their sufferings are neither equal nor one and the same. I could go on, but I can only spend so much more time on this now. It does look, though, like things have started settling down more now, and this woman has been posting less both on her personal page and on the group page and one of the last things she did was post something to acknowledge the fact that she needs to worry less and pray more. And I supported that post. If she can channel what she's feeling into doing more praying and at least a little less talking, we ALL may find the rest of this transition going more smoothly and peacefully after all. But again, that will be for ALL of us, not just some of us or one of us. God bless.


Miriam_M

So, for the woman discussed in the OP, the attachment is taking the form of high visibility within the activity of public posting/comments, etc., and an exerted effort to maintain her own emotional prominence in her feelings toward/relationship with, this priest.   In my examples, it is taking/has taken the form of  a certain ostentatious display of temporary or occasional privileges.  There would be many other examples of the forms these attachments take -- some of which would even border on the woman simulating something quasi-"romantic"/amorous, in her imagination, but making that imaginative life visible to others (for example, by the way she dresses in his presence, with other women present, as a way of her making an "announcement").

There are many more examples from real life, but I don't think we need more particular stories of particular incidents/people, because what they all have in common is one thing: the capital sin of Vanity.   Notice how important it is for all such women to make certain that others -- but particularly other women -- be "informed" (whether accurate or not) of that woman's "special" feelings, relationship, implied relationship, fantasy relationship, etc.  That "special" relationship, insight, "knowledge,"  "intimacy," etc. gives her, in her eyes, unique status , and it's an intoxicating status because this is a man of power -- temporal power, spiritual power, and --depending on how charismatic the priest is-- emotional power.  She fancies that she has been "chosen" by him as someone better than others (Vanity), more worthy of his attention than others (Vanity), more satisfying to his ego than other women are (Vanity), maybe even more beneficial to his vocation because she supposedly has a special spiritual place in his professional life (Vanity).  Or, she alone "understands" him, relates to him emotionally in a unique and superlative way (Vanity).   Pride can be private but Vanity is definitely public.

So, while power can be intoxicating when power meets emotional neediness or a sense of powerlessness, so can charity, when married with neediness.  And what is more attractive to a woman than a pure but charitable man?  It is almost the definition of chivalry.  The ideal knight was a model of virtue and generosity toward the unprotected/weak.  So in the parish model, we have the situation (paradox, really) of a celibate man exercising virtue and expressing gratitude toward women in the way women can especially give (domestically and emotionally) and which cannot be supplied by brother priests and other men in his list of associates.  It doesn't occur to such a woman that what he is really expressing is gratitude for the gifts of womanhood in general which are being shared with him and in peripheral ways to his priesthood, are helping to sustain him and are increasing his joy.  She fantasizes, in her needs and in her weakness, that it's about her personally and uniquely -- that she is irreplaceable and thus has earned a position of prominence in his life, in parish life.

She is also often not conscious of her emotional and/or sexual attraction to him, because of course the latter is taboo when it comes to priests, and maybe she's even a good, practicing Catholic woman who is not in touch with how attracted she is to him and how she has replaced him for eligible men, if she herself is eligible.   Again, charity combined with celibacy -- including in a layman--  is very sexually attractive.  And people -- men and women -- can act out around the boundaries of sexual attraction without doing so physically.  The Sixth Commandment may not be involved, but because there's an inordinate and illicit "bond" dominating the lay person's life, a sinful attachment is involved, which violates the Tenth Commandment, in that it's a disordered love for created things (including "position"), and could even violate the First Commandment if such a woman idolizes him and replaces her love for God with an enlarged love for the priest out of proportion to the human plane. (Being "devoted" to him, filling her thoughts with thoughts of him instead of prayer or thoughts of God, refusing to attend Masses not celebrated by him -- because it's really more about him than what's happening on the altar-- revering him more than she reveres God, treating him like a demi-god, etc.) 

Bottom line, what do we do about what most of us have probably seen in parishes at one time or another?  (I've seen it at least once in every parish I've ever visited more than once.)  We should pray for them if we encounter such a woman regularly.  I particularly like to pray for people when that person and I are both at the same Mass; I consider that especially powerful in the presence of God.  There's our primary opportunity right there.  Second, if we are in a position to interact privately with such a woman (I am, in such a situation right now), it is our affirmative duty to redirect the conversation toward a more healthy and realistic view of him -- he will inevitably surface in any conversation, most likely initiated by her.   Two ways this can be done is either to enlarge the topic to priests in general (what priests need from all of us women, how they appreciate our being just as disinterested and unattached as they are toward us), or to use "I" statements if we ourselves have succumbed or almost succumbed ourselves to similar temptations/situations.  IOW, this wouldn't involve accusing the woman directly, but sharing the fruit of our own experiences.  It can be done delicately and compassionately, without her really understanding that we're including her in these autobiographical examples.  (She probably won't understand, initially, because she's in so much denial about what she's doing.)

NW_Catholic

First, I should probably update by saying that this woman's posting and commenting on this priest has come to a stop in our local Catholic group on Facebook and enough posting and comment has been done on there since that it kind of does make her posting and commenting on the priest fade into the background more. BUT she still posts things on her personal page that I suspect are being done with the priest in mind - such as questioning whether time and distance will make someone remember you or forget you. And, c'mon, I think we really only know of one person right now who is going to be at more of a distance from us in about another month or so. He, uh, usually wears clerics and vestments, sometimes also a cassock, and until the new priest comes this summer, we still won't be able to do Mass without him.

Problem is, what I think this woman has got going on with herself in terms of this priest is subtle in a lot of cases now that she isn't posting and commenting in the Catholic Facebook group anymore - or at least just not anymore for now. And my intuition is telling me that if I or anyone else were to bring this concern up to her directly, she'd range anywhere from just denying it to claiming that she will have to just "forgive" the person bringing the issue up to her as though he or she is actually kind of in the wrong. And then she'd probably just deny or attempt to cover up her little "crush" on the priest by saying we're all in this together and he's just a really dear "brother in Christ" etc.

But I also still think you really hit the nail on the head in saying that she wants to maintain a position of "emotional prominence" in her feelings toward and relationship with this priest. And in a way, in light of what she was posting and participating in concerning the priest when we had that going on in our Catholic group Facebook page, in addition to what she was posting on her personal page, it doesn't come across so much like she's trying to exclude others as much as she just kind of wants (but without making it TOO obvious all the time) an emotional status that is just a bit higher and more important than that of others - kind of like what you would see with Olympic athletes winning medals. It's not that there isn't more than one person who wins or who gets something - but of course only ONE person can really get the gold and then whoever gets the gold is just put on a pedestal that's a bit higher than those set out for the winners of the silver and bronze. In some cases, not only do we not totally have the heart to exclude everyone else completely, but on the other hand, it's also kind of hard to be in position of numeral uno if there's no other status to compare it to. And since the priest is a public person who has to try to relate to and minister to quite a few other people and be up in front of everyone else every week anyway, continuing to be inclusive of others in "supporting" the priest may also just be a way of trying to please and impress him. And, yes, you kind of also hit the nail on the head by the things you mentioned in the second paragraph in her maybe not fancying, but at least hoping, that she's been or will eventually be "chosen" as someone better, more worthy, more satisfying, etc. more beneficial to his vocation... The only exception I'd say is that rather than trying to assert herself as one who "alone" understands him or empathizes with him, it's more a matter of her trying to assert, but also in a lot of subtle ways, that she's probably just the one who empathizes with him the "most" and identifies with HIM more than she does with her fellow parishioners - saying in a way that really believes she's more with HIM than she really is with anyone else in the local parishes and kind of trying to be more of the leader of the pack in getting the rest of the "children" to understand and accept Father's upcoming departure, while she herself is still kind of toying with ideas of getting or staying close or closer to him in the future. Otherwise, why would she go back to her personal page and post a question of how distance would affect or not affect how someone will think or feel about someone else...I mean, c'mon, it's not all that blazingly obvious what she's doing there, but it's just enough to make me suspect something.

Do I believe this is what's going on? Yes, it is what I believe. Could I be wrong? *Possibly.* But I wouldn't be embarrassed if I found out I read too much into it or was wrong; I'd be relieved. Otherwise, though, I think the best thing to do for now IS to pray for this woman, because, even without much of a disordered attachment to the current priest, she's in need of prayer over some of what she's been going through in life after divorce anyway. Thanks for the replies.

Miriam_M

Problem is, what I think this woman has got going on with herself in terms of this priest is subtle in a lot of cases now that she isn't posting and commenting in the Catholic Facebook group anymore - or at least just not anymore for now. And my intuition is telling me that if I or anyone else were to bring this concern up to her directly, she'd range anywhere from just denying it to claiming that she will have to just "forgive" the person bringing the issue up to her as though he or she is actually kind of in the wrong. And then she'd probably just deny or attempt to cover up her little "crush" on the priest by saying we're all in this together and he's just a really dear "brother in Christ" etc.

Yes, well I did mention denial in the last part of my post.  ;)

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continuing to be inclusive of others in "supporting" the priest may also just be a way of trying to please and impress him.

Yes, in my (continuing, by the way) parish example, she seems overly eager to impress him by constantly making her piety known publicly, and especially to him and/or those close to him.

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she's probably just the one who empathizes with him the "most" and identifies with HIM more than she does with her fellow parishioners - saying in a way that really believes she's more with HIM than she really is with anyone else in the local parishes

That's why I mentioned in that or the earlier post about our parishioner preferring a private priest to bring her sacraments than to relate to the community.  Fortunately, he seems to have put a stop to that now.  It appears to a couple of us who have watched this syndrome in her for some time, that he is perhaps getting wise to her disordered attachment and assumptions about her "place" in "his" life.  (Hello, he doesn't have a "life" with just her.  His life is the parish because he's in the active ministry, even though he is a traditionalist priest.)

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I think the best thing to do for now IS to pray for this woman, because, even without much of a disordered attachment to the current priest, she's in need of prayer over some of what she's been going through in life after divorce anyway. Thanks for the replies.

And thank you. I'll PM you.


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