In a groundbreaking new pastoral letter, California’s Catholic bishops are calling for a new compact among the Church, healthcare officials, and scientific researchers to improve care for the nearly 44 million American adults who struggle with mental health issues and to end the social stigma around mental illness.
The letter, “Hope and Healing,” was released on Wednesday by the California Catholic Conference and issues a plea for Catholics and all people of goodwill “to overcome an attitude of ‘us’ and ‘them’” when it comes to encountering those who struggle with mental health.
The document details a range of recent scientific and medical studies in an effort to “build bridges between science and religion, health care and pastoral care.” The letter notes that one in five adults in the U.S. suffers from a mental disorder, and that 20 percent of adolescents are currently or have previously suffered from a “seriously debilitating mental disorder.”
The bishops unequivocally condemn the “unjust social stigma of mental illness,” and identify a double standard between the normalization and acceptance of care for physical illness and the silence and shame that often surrounds mental illness.
The bishops call for a “both-and” rather than an “either-or” response that recognizes the validity of both psychological and spiritual healing, and they reject a suspicion some Christians have harbored when it comes to matters of clinical psychology and psychiatry.
While noting that wisdom and discernment should be used to ensure that various approaches conform to best medical practices, the letter maintains that “good science recognizing the life and dignity of people and the Catholic faith are never at odds.”
In issuing a plea to pastors and lay Catholics alike, the bishops call for shared responsibility by the Christian community and beyond. The letter specifically recalls Pope Francis’s challenge for priests to have the smell of their sheep, hence its plea for mental health ministries that are “proactive rather than reactive.”
The letter is largely the initiative of Bishop Kevin Vann of Orange, California, who has been deeply engaged on matters of mental health at the inspiration of his close friend and frequent collaborator Pastor Rick Warren, one of the most well-known evangelical pastors in the United States.
Following the death of Warren’s son to suicide in 2013, Vann and Warren have organized two major mental health forums to bring together Catholics and evangelicals to unite on this issue. As other dioceses caught wind of the initiative, other bishops felt the need for a statewide response.
In an interview with Crux, Vann said the letter is “the product of a grassroots experience that took hold and then we began to see the fruit of it.”
Full story at Crux.