After 2000 years of Papal history, the Catholic Church’s new spiritual leader Pope Francis has become the first pontiff from outside Europe. A humble and studious man, Francis stands as a clear indication that the church is expanding its horizons and potentially opening up to more modern views on the world and its problems.
The so-called “drug war” that is now going on in Latin America is one of the world’s biggest problems. Drugs claim millions of lives and ruin many others through addiction, prison, health problems and related crime. There’s no sure way to predict when or if a pontiff may pick up an issue and use his power to deal with it. However, if our new pope was considering a matter to deal with by updating the church’s viewpoint, he should consider focusing on the drug war of Latin America. Tens of thousands have died and millions more are addicts. So, how does the Catholic Church, with all of its might, deal with drug addiction and mental health issues?
The Catholics are somewhat old-fashioned with some of their policies. As an institution nearly two millennia old, they are sometimes slow and also resistant to change. For a long time mental health wasn’t recognized as a legitimate problem. Rather, it was just considered madness and usually led to one being shunned. In recent centuries mental health has been accepted as a more clinical issue and psychiatry now exists to aid mental health sufferers. Psychiatry has now been accepted as a legitimate medical field and therefore opportune for practice within the church’s large healthcare system.
The Catholic Church has resources that it can use to help people that suffer from drug addiction and other mental health problems. About 36% of the world’s hospitals are Catholic run, which means that the church has its own huge healthcare system. Since drug addiction and mental health issues are often considered medical problems, they are dealt with primarily by the many doctors employed by the hundreds of Catholic hospitals worldwide.
However, it’s unlikely that clergy members would be able to commit the necessary time to helping addicts directly. Priests are reserved for dealing with spiritual or theological matters. A priest would probably accept a confession from someone who was struggling with addiction. After that, it’s likely that clergy will refer addicts and those with mental health problems to detoxification, counseling or further assessment. Nevertheless, many clergy will be there for any of their congregants in the long run, helping them to stay in the church and sober. Spirituality and direct help from the clergy are important, in addition to medical care, so that recovery is a more complete process.
If the madness is caused by something physical, then it’s a medical issue. However, the great Augustine clearly placed the mind in the realm of the spiritual. This suggests that mental health issues or madness may be the church’s to deal with if the cause is non-physical. The bottom line is the Catholic Church seeks to support the laws of the countries in which it operates, providing of course that they are not contrary to proper Faith and Morals. Most countries are very strict on the regulation of drugs and Catholics must obey the laws accordingly regarding their possession, distribution and use.
Since drugs are much more widely available in society today than they used to be, I would hope that the church would respond accordingly dealing with drugs as well as it does other social justice issues. If the church were to utilize its enormous resources on combating drug addiction and mental health issues, they could certainly impact the conundrum on a global scale. Since the Pope is the leader of the church, he has the authority to select issues of primary importance and deal with them. I hope that our new pope Francis will notice the scope of the problem of drug abuse and mental health and use some of his authority to deal with them.
I feel that the Catholic Church should do more to help addicts in a spiritual way. I sincerely hope the new Pope should place treatment for drug addiction and mental health problems on his agenda. If the church were to use its resources to combat drug addiction, they could make a huge impact.
By Kevin G.
O’Connell, Ralph A. America 185.3 (2001): 12-15. EBSCOHost. Web. 14 Mar. 2013. <http://web.ebscohost.com.mimas.calstatela.edu/ehost>.
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