Today has brought the news that James D. Conley, Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska and successor of the archconservative stalwart Fabian Bruskewitz in that diocese, has taken an indefinite leave of absence from his ministerial duties, due to serious mental health issues. Bishop Conley himself writes:
I also want to tell you about my health because I hope, in some small way, to help lift the stigma of mental health issues.
I have been medically diagnosed with depression and anxiety, along with chronic insomnia and debilitating tinnitus, which is a constant ringing of the ears. For months, I’ve tried to work through these issues on my own through spiritual direction, counseling, and prayer. It has been difficult to accept that my mental health problems are real health problems, and not just a defect of my character, especially during a year of difficulty for our diocese.
But the truth is that depression and anxiety are real psychological problems, with medical causes, requiring medical treatment. For me, those problems have been coupled with physical symptoms: lack of energy and exhaustion.
My doctors have directed me to take a leave of absence for medical and psychological treatment, and to get some much-needed rest. After prayer, and seeking the counsel of my spiritual director, my brother bishops, and my family, I have accepted the medical necessity of a temporary leave of absence.
For a man of Bishop Conley’s generation, especially one with conservative leanings and associations (he’s seeking treatment at a diocesan retreat in Thomas Olmsted’s diocese, apparently at Olmsted’s personal invitiation), to seek to demystify and destigmatize mental illness is genuinely brave. However, incomprehension and stigma aren’t the only issue here. Conditions such as depression and anxiety are, paradoxically, common and well-known enough that the extent to which they can wreak havoc in one’s life tends to be forgotten. I’ve dealt with both conditions myself for a very long time and while I can function more or less normally if they’re being treated properly I tend to collapse in on myself almost immediately–implicating my physical health as well–if they’re not. I believe that for Bishop Conley to ask Pope Francis for a leave of absence and subsequently to write this letter was a genuinely heroic and–in the truest sense–manful act. I invite all readers of Where Peter Is to join me in praying for him and for the Diocese of Lincoln.
“Jesus Christ is the Divine Physician,” writes Bishop Conley, “who offers us the grace of healing. I entrust myself to the healing power of Christ, and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” Truer words have seldom been spoken on this subject.
Image: Bishop James D. Conley. Image on the website of the Diocese of Lincoln.