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Bishop Conley announces medical leave of absence from Lincoln diocese

Conley wrote that he was sharing information about his health “because I hope, in some small way, to help lift the stigma of mental health issues.”

Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Neb., in March 2017. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

Lincoln, Neb., Dec 13, 2019 / 12:34 pm (CNA).- Bishop James Conley announced Friday that he is taking a medical leave of absence from his ministry as Bishop of Lincoln, Neb.

“I have been medically diagnosed with depression and anxiety, along with chronic insomnia and debilitating tinnitus, which is a constant ringing of the ears,” Conley wrote in a Dec. 13 letter to Catholics of the Lincoln diocese.

“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,” the bishop added.

Conley wrote that he was sharing information about his health “because I hope, in some small way, to help lift the stigma of mental health issues.”

The bishop explained his own changing perspective on mental health.

“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.”

“For months, I’ve tried to work through these issues on my own through spiritual direction, counseling, and prayer,” Conley wrote.

“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,” the bishop added.

Conley wrote that he “will be at a diocesan retreat facility in the Diocese of Phoenix, thanks to the kind invitation of Bishop Thomas Olmsted, while I undergo the best psychological and medical treatment available to me.”

In a Dec. 13 press release, the Diocese of Lincoln said that Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha will be the temporary apostolic administrator of the diocese during Conley’s absence.

“I offer my full support to Bishop Conley as he steps away from the Diocese of Lincoln to focus on his personal health and well-being. As a brother bishop, I know the demands of being a diocesan pastor; as a friend, I want Bishop Conley to avail himself of the time and the setting that will help him to return to full health and strength. I look forward to welcoming him back when he is ready to return,” Lucas said Dec. 13.

The “difficult time” for the diocese to which Conley referred began in July 2018.

In that month, reports emerged that Msgr. Leonard Kalin, who served as vocations director in the Diocese of Lincoln from 1970 until the late 1990s, had engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with seminarians and prospective seminarians.

Kalin, now deceased, reportedly made sexual advances toward seminarians, asked them to help him shower, and would invite seminarians on trips to Las Vegas or for late-night drinks.

Some reports accused Conley’s predecessors of failing to take seriously allegations against Kalin, although an August 2018 statement from the diocese said it had “addressed these allegations of misconduct directly with Msgr. Kalin during his time in priestly ministry.”

After the Kalin report emerged, Conley ordered reviews of diocesan policies regarding clerical conduct and accountability, made personnel changes in the diocesan curia, and help listening sessions in the diocese about clerical abuse or misconduct.

Several Lincoln priests were subsequently removed from ministry, and Conley apologized for the way he had handled a 2017 report that a priest had “developed an emotionally inappropriate, non-sexual relationship with a 19-year-old male which involved alcohol.”

The priest was removed from ministry and sent to a treatment center in Houston before allowing him to return to ministry.

Conley said that he attempted to act with integrity, telling the parishioners that the priest had gone away for health reasons. But while he said he did not cover up the situation or oblige anyone to keep silent about it, he said he regrets failing to act with more transparency.

“Even though we were not legally obligated to report the incident, it would have been the prudent thing to do. Because the young man had reached the age of majority, we did not tell his parents about the incident,” Conley said last August.

In September 2018, Nebraska’s attorney general initiated an investigation into whether the state’s three dioceses had mishandled or covered-up allegations of abuse or misconduct. A report on that investigation has not yet been issued.

The diocesan press release did not cover what role Lucas will play in addressing those matters, though Conley’s letter said he had worked with the archbishop “for a smooth transition, with the full support of my senior staff.”

Conley, 64, became Lincoln’s bishop in November 2012. He had been an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Denver since 2008 and had worked in the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops from 1996 until 2006.

The bishop’s announcement comes days after a report from the Associated Press chronicled the mental health challenges experienced by priests, and noted the propensity of ministry leaders toward depression and other difficulties.

Conley wrote that he is hopeful about his medical leave of absence.

“Jesus Christ is the Divine Physician, who offers us the grace of healing. I entrust myself to the healing power of Christ, and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” the bishop wrote.

“I am grateful to be your bishop, and I love the Diocese of Lincoln. It will be difficult to be away. Please pray for me, as I pray for you.”

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  1. The prayers for healing and the bishop’s humility in truth to be of help to many others too – by many getting to know that low Magnesium can be a major cause of anxiety , depression as well as many other health issues .
    Sadly , many doctors often overlook its role – our times being low in the saltiness of purity ( not the Bishop per se ) and Mg being in the salt family as well , some connection there too and Mg as Epsom salt is good for the soil too , unlike table salt .
    Many even in their late 40 s can also be borderline low in B 12 and instead of cumbersome testing , supplementing same, as a chewable , thus to help absorption from under the tongue , since it may not absorb that well from the gut in the older ones can be a good added measure ; it is easily available OTC , dosing need not be that rigid , since it more like vitamin C and is eliminated through the urine .
    Another good biblical remedy for other health issues as well is noni / Indian mulberry juice –
    With our aging population , hope there would be many who can avoid unnecessary interventions through these simple steps , even avoiding addictive tendencies
    etc : too , that can be related to low Magnesium ; enough articles online as to what are better forms of same – two popular ones being the citrate form or the glycinate form ; Epsom salt soaking too can be beneficial .
    Blessings !

  2. Mental health is a spiritual disease; not an organic disease. Jesus Christ is the DIVINE PHYSICIAN. Mental illness is a subjective value-judgment, by medical personnel, on a person’s behavior. But behavior is a moral issue; not a medical issue.

    • While it is true that spiritual diseases are causes of some bodily dis-functions, it is a medical fact that human psychology can be impacted by exterior causes that have nothing to do with spiritual issues.

    • No matter what your claim of expertise (and I doubt that you have any), you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. Your statement accuses and convicts millions of people (including the Bishop) of being somehow spiritually deficient for something they cannot control. Were you born in the 1400’s?

      My reading of Sacred Scripture and the Magisterial teaching of The Church is that we are all sin-sick… you included.

      Kindly tell returning veterans from wars whose horrors one can only imagine that their PTSD is a “spiritual disease.” Depression has direct links with arthritis, fibromyalgia, and a host of of clinically affirmed maladies.

      Shame on you.

    • Patsy,
      It’s true that spiritual illness and psychological illness often function in tandem, but it’s also true that psychological illness [regardless of its biological origins and social origins] is distinct from spiritual illness.

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