“It’s not that uncommon, sadly, for families to be affected by suicide,” he told CNA. “So, when Katie died, I thought it would be good to be very open about it here in our small town of Scranton [Pennsylvania].”
Shoener, along with family and friends, founded The Katie Foundation in his daughter’s honor.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in pastoral care for people [who] live with these conditions,” Shoener said. “I would love to see the day come, some day, when people who have a mental health condition or mental illness think that the first place they should go to, after seeing a professional, for spiritual support, is the Catholic Church — that the Catholic Church will be known as the place that understands mental health, mental illness, and knows how to support people and guide them through this.”
Shoener’s hope came a little closer to fruition recently as the Vatican held its first conference on mental health ministries last week in Rome.
Shoener, who attended the event and met Pope Francis, gathered with other mental health ministers from countries around the world, including the U.S., Moldova, India, and South Africa.
While spiritual ministry is not a substitute for professional mental health care, Shoener noted that it should not be neglected.
“We’re mind, body, and spirit, and we do a fairly decent job of dealing with the mind and the body, but all too often the spiritual lives of people experiencing these illnesses get cut short. It doesn’t get the attention it needs,” he said.
In addition to other free materials, Shoener, along with the chaplain of CMHM, Bishop John Dolan of Phoenix, co-wrote the book “When a Loved One Dies By Suicide.” The two also worked on a film series based on the book in the hopes of reaching more people.
Shoener noted that there are still places where people with mental illness are “not understood,” so the ministry helps address this stigma.
“We accept people the way we are,” he said. “If this schizophrenia doesn’t go away, that’s fine; come on into the Church. We still support you and love you. If your depression is overwhelming and you can hardly pray, please, come into the Church … That’s what this ministry is about, is providing spiritual support and letting people know that they’re loved.”
The judicial vicar of the Diocese of Paterson, Father Marc Mancini, shared how the Church has developed its teaching on suicide in the recent past, noting how No. 2283 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church “truly captures the shift.”
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
It reads: “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance.”
“Suicide is a complex matter,” Mancini explained. “Because the person is overwhelmed with sadness and pain, he or she does not execute a fully discerned and truly free decision to suddenly conclude his or her life.”
“The sanctity of life is primary, as taught by the Church,” he added. “Always. Nevertheless, the Church also has taught, as truly just is our God, his mercy is beyond human understanding and endures forever.”