SAD SUICIDE OF FATHER MATT WALLACE BELFAST
Father Matt Wallace (69) the parish priest of Turf Lodge, Belfast, died on Friday June 7th 2013 in his parish presbytery. The death of any human being is always a tragedy and a sadness. . The death of anyone by suicide is even more tragic and more sad. It is also a great mystery.
Sadly Belfast has been plagued for a number of years now by the scourge of suicide. Dozens of young people have taken their lives in West and North Belfast. Ireland, for some reason, in a world leader when it comes to suicide. Wonderful work is being done by professionals and volunteers to try and address this plague. I'm sure many people's have been saved by such organisations as PIPS - the Public Initiative for the Prevention of Suicide and Self Harm. But obviously much much more needs to be done.
Many of our families have been affected by this tragedy. A number of years my own nephew, Christopher took his own life in his early 20's. My sister Margaret has never gotten over the experience and indeed she never will.
My first "call out" as a priest was to a 17 year old boy - a student of a prestigious boarding school - who had taken his own life. Thirty seven years later I can still picture him lying dead on the dorm wooden floor.
It has been clear by the outpouring of tributes to Father Matt that he was loved and appreciated by so many people.
I first met him 35 years ago when I cam to Belfast. He and I were not friends. He had been unkind to me and about me over the years. That was probably because he was a loyal member of the clergy club and I was not. But in spite of that I was genuinely sorry to hear of his untimely and tragic death.
Matt was very human. He loved his cigarette, his tipple, his flutter on the horses etc.
After his death people have been asking what drove him to such a length that he felt he could no longer go on living? People are asking: "Was there no one he could have talked to"?
It is strange that in a diocese of 3 bishops and nearly 200 priests there was not ONE priest that Matt felt he could go to and talk to. That must make us bishops and priests ask ourselves: "Where are we going wrong"? "How can we have failed Matt and others like him"? Are we too busy with unimportant things? "Why have we become so unapproachable"? "Why can't a fellow priest lay his brokenness and vulnerability before us"? Of course already there are rumours circulating among the clergy and journalists!
The story that led to Matt's final sad hour may or may not become known.
We Christians are better not to dwell on the "whats","buts" and "ifs". We know that Father Matt has already appeared before his Lord and had his sins forgiven and is now in Heaven with all those he knew who went on before him.
But at the very least, let Matt's passing be a stark reminder to us that we are all "our brother's keeper" and as we go through our daily lives let us be keenly vigilant so that we can recognise a brother or sister who may be at the end of their strength and let us provide a pair of arms for them to fall into.
Bishop Pat Buckley. Sunday 9.6.2013