40 Priest Suicides Plague Brazil in 7-Year Nightmare

News: World News
by Jules Gomes  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  August 2, 2023   

'Priests are taking their own lives en masse' in India, France and Ireland

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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Brazilian priest who specializes in psychological and pastoral approaches to preventing suicide and self-harm is raising the alarm at the Vatican following the suicides of at least 40 priests in Brazil over the past seven years.

Fr. Lício de Araújo Vale

Loneliness, stress and excessive demands are driving priests to kill themselves, concludes Fr. Lício de Araújo Vale, from the diocese of São Miguel Paulista, after his extensive research into the ministries of the 40 priests who took their own lives between 2016 and 2023.

Predator Priests in Brazil

Several priests who committed suicide were accused of sexual abuse, a key factor Fr. Vale omits to mention in his article titled "The Suicide of Priests in Brazil," published in the Portuguese edition of Vatican News on July 27.

In fact, the first priest Vale named was Fr. Bonifácio Buzzi, a 57-year-old Brazilian priest who hanged himself in his solitary confinement prison cell using bed sheets at the Tres Coracoes prison in the state of Minas Gerais.

Buzzi was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2007 for the rape of a 9-year-old boy six years earlier.

In 2015, he was released from prison and other complaints were filed against him. In 2016, he was rearrested for the rape of two other minors in the rural area of Tres Coracoes.

Father Vale's research ends with the suicide of Fr. Mário Castro Ribeiro, a much-loved 55-year-old priest from the parish of São Francisco das Chagas in the diocese of Roraima. The diocese refused to reveal the cause of Fr. Ribeiro's death. 

Suicide does not count as martyrdom, brother priests!

In 2021, Fr. José Alves, from the diocese of Bom Jesus do Gurgueia, killed himself after being accused of abusing a minor. A decree from the bishop immediately suspended the priest "ad caution."

In a letter that went viral on Portuguese social media networks, Brazilian priest Fr. Simeão do Espírito Santo warned that the Church's failure to care for priests who may have been wrongly accused of sexual abuse could be triggering a wave of clergy suicides. 


"We have a case of suicide here in Brazil, in 2013, of a religious who, having been falsely accused, was unable to bear the weight of that suffering and hanged himself in his room with a girdle. How many of us have been accused lightly!?" Fr. Santo asked. 

"Suicide does not count as martyrdom, brother priests!" Fr. Santo urged. "I know, because I feel it, that many priests think of taking their own lives. In a nearby Latin American country, priests are taking their own lives en masse, but that is not the answer."

The Good Shepherd wants you alive.

"Brother priest who has not yet committed suicide, continue to love the Church, but please love yourself first," Fr. Santo continued. "The Good Shepherd wants you alive."

On February 1, 2022, the body of Fr. Geraldo de Oliveira was found lying in the pews of the São Sebastião Church in the diocese of Nazaré da Mata, next to two bottles of poison and a rope. The 77-year-old retired priest left a four-page letter as his last testament, blaming two fellow priests for driving him to take his life.

Fr. Bonifácio Buzzi in police custody

A sequence of three priest suicides over a period of just 15 days in November 2016 attracted sensational headlines in the Brazilian media. In the first suicide, 37-year-old Salvadorian Fr. Ligivaldo dos Santos threw himself from a viaduct. 

Corumbá-based priest Fr. Rosalino Santos, aged 34, hanged himself two days after he posted a childhood photograph of himself on Facebook with the captions: "I gave my best" and "Enlighten me, Lord." 

Days later, Fr. Renildo Andrade Maia, of Contagem, ended his life. Parishioners praised the 31-year-old priest for "possessing a voice worthy of spreading the gospel and a generous heart" and commended him for "preaching that led us to a deep experience with God."

France's Clergy Suicides

Meanwhile, France is reporting a spate of clergy suicides, with the most recent death being that of Fr. Benjamin Sellier, who threw himself in front of a freight train in the early hours of July 11 after learning that he was being investigated for the sexual abuse of a young woman.

French media reported that a letter was found next to the body of the 47-year-old priest from the archdiocese of Cambrai, in which he confessed to the abuse. The priest was suspended from working with young people.

By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance.

Father Sellier was the fifth accused French priest in the last five years to take his own life. 

Three French priests committed suicide in 2020, and two others did the same in 2018. Except for one priest from the diocese of Metz, all four were involved in cases of "inappropriate acts" or sexual assault. 

Fr. Jean-Baptiste Sebe

One of the accused was 38-year-old Fr. Pierre-Yves Fumery, who hanged himself in his presbytery in the town of Gien in the Loire Valley in 2018.

According to the prosecutor, parishioners had reported the priest's "inappropriate behavior" towards children aged 13, 14 and 15, including a girl "that he took in his arms and drove home several times." 

A month before Fr. Fumery's suicide, Fr. Jean-Baptiste Sebe, also aged 38, hanged himself in his church in the northern city of Rouen after a woman accused him of sexually assaulting her adult daughter.

In June 2022, Fr. François de Foucauld, a priest from the Versailles diocese, took his own life in the forest of Rambouillet. A year before his death, the priest wrote an article denouncing the abuse of power in the Church and said he himself had been a victim of abuse. 

Priest Suicides in India

In India, five priests committed suicide in just ten months between October 2019 and July 2020. Fr. Mahesh D'Souza, former principal of Don Bosco School in Shirva, Karnataka state, killed himself in November 2019.

The 200-plus page final police investigation report revealed explosive transcripts of his chats with five different women, including a non-Christian married woman, from 2015 to the day he committed suicide. The chat content is highly unbecoming of a priest, the report stated.

Fr. Mahesh D'Souza

The report revealed financial irregularities in donations for the school building collected by D'Souza from nine different people. The priest never deposited the money in the school's account but instead credited it to his personal account in a Shirva bank.

Three of the priests committed suicide in a period of 10 days, with Fr. Xavier Alwin, 36, hanging himself from the ceiling fan of his residence in the Tuticorin diocese in India's Tamil Nadu state.

On June 20, 2020, the body of 50-year-old Fr. Yeruva Bala Shoury Reddy was found hanging from the ceiling fan of his bedroom in Kolakalur parish in the Guntur diocese of Andhra Pradesh state. Fr. Reddy had first tried to commit suicide by stabbing himself in his stomach.

Two days later, the body of another priest, 51-year-old Fr. George Ettupara, was fished out of a well near his parish in Punnathura village in Kerala state. Both Fr. Reddy and Fr. Ettupura are suspected to have committed suicide because of depression. 

In March 2018, a young seminarian, Arokya Naveen, committed suicide at home, stating in his suicide note that he was being abused by a faculty member in his seminary. 

Priest Suicides in Ireland

As many as eight priests in Ireland have died by suicide over the past decade as an aging cohort of priests struggle with isolation, dropping income, an increasing workload, mental health issues and an overriding sense of futility, the Irish Times reported in 2017.

Father Tim Hazelwood, parish priest at Killeagh in rural County Cork, told the newspaper that the higher incidence of suicide among priests over recent years is due "to a mixture of reasons," but some are related to accusations of child abuse.

Priests are taking their own lives en masse.

At least 24 nuns have committed suicide or died in unexplained circumstances since 1987 in Indian convents, at a rate of almost one death a year, Church Militant reported. 

In 1980, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared suicide to be "equally as wrong as murder," noting that "such an action on the part of a person is to be considered a rejection of God's sovereignty and loving plan."

While the Catechism of the Catholic Church identifies suicide as a mortal sin — an action a person knows is of grave matter but willingly commits anyway — it urges people against despairing "of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives" because "by ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance."

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