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The Healing Unguent

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About me (See also Meet Maria)

When I have to tell people what I do, the comment is always a reverent but surprised 'But don't priests counsel others?'

To which my answer is always, 'And don't doctors heal but they too sometimes have to go to be healed in turn'…

More often than not, I tell people I am a Church Historian or a Christmas Historian! After all that is what I have been doing most of my life to earn an honest penny.

Many moons ago, I tried my vocation in a Franciscan enclosed community. I was the first novice they had had since Vatican Two opened their cloister or closed their school. They chose to close their school, and lose their lay sisters. That meant that I was the experiment and the great hope for the future of the order. The first and only novice! What a burden to place on twenty-year-old shoulders!

Between milking cows, baking and digging potatoes, or mending a roof, I was expected to learn Plainchant, Latin, Greek, Scripture and Church History and continue my Theology, which was begun before I entered.

For myself, my convent days were over when the Church finally decided that my convent had to amalgamate with others, and as I was not yet solemnly professed, I was invited to re-apply! I was shocked and distressed, but forth I went. I found a temporary home with a cousin of my mothers, a Benedictine monk called Kevin Mason. He was newly appointed to a parish and in those days, back in the sixties, housekeepers were still the norm. So at the most un-canonical age of 23, I became housekeeper for a small parish community of Benedictines. I was encouraged to continue my studies by dom Phillip Holdsworth, a theologian from Benets Hall Oxford. 'You will have to keep up with the lads' he said, I cannot do a separate course for you you know, but I think you can do it' With that I had to be content. And how I worked! And argued! Late into the night we would discuss points of moral theology, my favoured topic, and one which I got high marks for, consistently.

Later, encouraged into a field of training as a counsellor, I received further instruction from the good Benedictine Fathers, in the method of counselling priests. Coming from the angle of understanding the nature of Vocation, and its effect upon the priest, the indoctrination, imprinting on the man so that he becomes that Vocation and the Vocation becomes him. The psychology and the spirituality of the priest.

These things make counselling priests a different task to counselling any other profession or individual.

As things sometimes happen, shortly after my training was over, there was a complete shunt around. My cousin was moved on, as was dom Phillip, the Abbot became a Cardinal and I married and became a mother! The priests in the arch diocese who had welcomed the experiment and who had come in droves for advice following particularly the disappointments of the 1969-70 veto-ing of matters such as Birth Control and non-mandatory celibacy, were suddenly left alone with their problems and secular counselling again.

I did occasionally take on the odd 'sad soul', at the request of cousin Kevin, but mostly not.

Then in 1997/8 I had a life-changing experience. I contracted a bad dose of pneumonia, in fact I did not realise I was ill until I opened my eyes to find the priest standing over me. 'Am I dying?' I gasped. 'I hope not' came his rich Welsh voice, 'I have a nice bottle of wine waiting to be cracked open when you get better'.

Well, I did get better, and I am still waiting for that bottle of wine! But it set me thinking about what I had done.

I had three wonderful children and a fine husband. We were comfortable. We went to Church, gave to the charities and were nice to animals!!!

Yes, well…

I began to think of the problems besetting the priesthood today.

I began research for a television programme that would look at the social welfare of the priest today. The arguments for and against mandatory celibacy, the availability of resthomes for retired priests, everything. But it was not juicy enough! It did not get an airing. The working title I had, 'For Better or Worse?' was changed to 'Sex and the Holy City'! So I withdrew my material and refused to hand over my contacts!! Typical!

More priests were finding me, often by recommendation from an older generation.

Discussions with my Archbishop showed that he too felt there was a need for specific priest counsellors, and I began a new course of training which will culminate in me being the diocesan counsellor.

About the Priest Helpline

Then I was invited to begin a counselling service on a site for married priests, gathering together a group of like-minded and qualified therapists to help. The first few weeks the line was so busy I did not get to bed until four every night! However, this did not meet the needs of many canonical priests who found us on a search, but admitted they nearly went away again when they discovered we were on a married priest website…

It seems that while a married priest might come to a non-controversial site, canonical priests are generally put off visiting a married priest site.

About the Counselling

Let me assure all - the counselling, the Priest Help Line, is for all, and the counsellors are qualified to counsel everyone. You can see the list of problems we cover here. Soon, I shall be adding Seniors' Counselling which will cover bereavement & loss (whether actual or perceived - by removal from a parish for example); early diagnosis of senility, and other illnesses associated with old age, and all things relating to seniors.

I also have links so that you can get help with Canon Law questions and injustice; liturgical matters; support groups for those on leave, in transition or marrying.

We can even counsel the ladies who are involved with priests on our other line which you can access from here.

Today's priest has few companions, eats out, often to the detriment of his health; goes home to an empty presbytery. He is often lonely. He may like his own company; most of us do. But not 365 days 24 hours a day loneliness. He joins a family for the wedding or baptism feast - and his own aloneness becomes even more pointed.

Some have the gift of celibacy, they are not only coping with it, they are happy with it. And maybe because they have this gift, they do not always understand their brothers who struggle with loneliness. Some don't even realise that they themselves are unwitting victims of loneliness, even though they seem perfectly content and would not wish to change the status quo..

Medical statistics show that issues such as drinking, smoking, drugs, over-eating, casual sex as well as the more serious problems, are often caused by the priest looking for a substitute to personal Love.

Heart attacks, strokes, kidney and liver disease, stress-related illnesses are all attributable to the priest's lifestyle.

(Sure, these things can be said about any number of stress-related professions and jobs and individuals, but we are talking here about the effect on Priests…)

Many, who are otherwise happy with their life as a celibate priest, do need some sort of healthy pep talk! Or sometimes more serious counselling.

This is where I and my kind come in. Amongst the priests who have been on my files are canonical priests who have had strokes, cancer, obesity, smoking and drinking problems. They just want to be healthy so they can get on with their ministry, and serve for as long as possible!

Celibacy, relationship and Vocational Problems

Don't get me wrong, I am fine with the idea of celibate priests - as long as they are happy with their celibacy! For those fortunate priests who have come to terms with their celibacy I give all credit. But as a counsellor I have to be even handed. And maybe see why there are those who are not happy with their celibacy, and try to help them, one way or the other.

The call to the priesthood is not necessarily bearing the gift of perfect celibacy. Many priests have to struggle and work hard at keeping their vows. For these men we need to have compassion. Celibacy encompasses a whole wealth of things, which have nothing to do with sex. Many priests feel acute lonliness. Companionship, caring, relaxation, conversation, security. Someone to be there when one is distressed…

Whilst many priests may not have much sympathy with their troubled brethren, we as counsellors aim to offer impartial help to EVERYONE.

Eventually I hope to have booklets and help sheets available for those who don't want a fuss, just something to get them on the right track!! But for now, send confidential e-mail to me, or contact one of us!

Useful articles

I have invited a number of qualified specialists to write some artcles on various subjects which visiting priests may find helpful. These will cover many things including Health and Diet, to Life Changes, Alcoholism, and Marginalisation. (See The Healing Unguent)

Those who have questions about matters of Canon Law, Liturgical worries, or would like to talk with another priest - we have many links on the link pages which will take you to helpful sites specialising in such subjects.

Those who are considering leaving active ministry, are on leave, in transition or have already left - there are links which you will find useful too; whether you need help re-adapting, looking for a job or just want to be in contact with others.

You may also contact a counsellor at www.marriedpriests.org

or e-mail maria @ marriedpriests

I am equally comfortable with English and Spanish.

Non-Clerical Enquiries

A word of advice. This site is specifically for Clergy. And clerical problems.

On the original helpline, I had a huge number of enquiries from lay people with completely unrelated problems! It takes a lot of time to run this help line, and sadly we all have other jobs to do as well. We give time voluntarily for our brother priests in trouble because there is no other source specifically for priests. But there are lots of places for the laity to go.

Lay people with non-clerical related problems may use the counsel if they wish; we do not like to turn anyone in trouble away, but we ask for a small donation for non-clerical enquiries I'm afraid. If you are not sure, please contact us anyway, but if we feel that your enquiry is outside the voluntary brief of our counsellors we will ask you for a donation of just £5 per session, which is still a very preferential fee (the usual counselling fees are around the £20-£30 a session or even an hour!)! You will be able to pay using PayPal DONATE button below.

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