Diary of a Media Priest

Daily observations and tips for anyone who wants to reach out and change the world.


Why are so many priests exhausted?

diary of a media priest Feb 19, 2024

Yesterday I watched a report on TV about the ever increasing workload for priests and about the impact it has on their mental and physical health. The number of active priests in my country has been in sharp decline for years, yet the work only seems to have become more complicated and more demanding.

The episode followed three priests during their work. Two of them had suffered a severe burnout earlier in their lives, the third priest took the viewer along during a busy day with a lot of back-and-forth travel through his huge sprawling parish.

I recognized a lot. It’s been more than 20 years ago, I had only been a priest for a few years. But I still remember as if it were yesterday how my doctor told me that I had a burnout and that he advised me to stop working immediately. A few days before the start of Holy Week, the busiest time of the year.

My doctor told me how he himself had also ended up with a burnout in the past due to the enormous workload. “The danger of service providers like you and me is that we can no longer find the off button and always keep going until it no longer works,” he said. “And as a celibate priest you also have no partner who can hold you accountable and help you step back”.

The burn-out made it impossible for me to work for more than half a year. With a coach I slowly recovered and learned a lot. The most important insight? “You are not the Savior, you are only part of his ground crew,” my coach told me. “And it is okay to say ‘no’ every now and then. Because that 'no' is a ‘yes’ to other things, such as your health, your enjoyment of what you do, the things that give you energy”.

We are not going to solve this problem by only looking for more efficiency and better planning in the pastoral field. It also is not a problem you can solve by just 'praying more'. There is no standard solution, because every human being is different.

So what can we do? Start listening to each other again. Make sure that priests and other caregivers can share their struggles and stories in a safe environment. Stop scaling up parish work and bring it back to what is humanly feasible.

And maybe focus more on social media ministry. With my work I now reach thousands of times more people than on Sunday in church. And the reactions of young people energize me every day. I love assisting in the local parish churches on Sundays, but the rest of the week my work is anything but traditional. And yet it works.

For my Dutch followers: you can watch the TV episode here.

Fr. Roderick Vonhögen.

P.S. I regularly talk about these kinds of personal topics in my podcast The Walk. Search for ‘The Walk with Fr. Roderick’ in your podcast app to listen.

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