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Mental illness and the Church

Drew Lietke was a typical 13-year-old boy from New Berlin.

"Drew was in Scouts, active in the church.  He was very much an American kid," said Mike, his father.

What many did not know is that Drew suffered from depression.  Even though he was being treated for his mental illness, Drew succumbed to the disease.  He passed away in January 2018.

His parents, Carol and Mike, were devastated

"It was truly, truly a shock," said Mike.

In the aftermath of that tragic day, the Lietke's received a phone call they remember vividly. On the other line was the priest who had married the couple years earlier.

"He said immediately and without reservation that 'Drew was undoubtedly with God," Mike explained.  "He said, 'The Catholic Church is not in the business of telling people they are internally dammend if, through disease, they commit suicide.'"

The priest's comments may catch some by surprise, but it shouldn't.

"The church's position has evolved over the years," said Fr. James Bretzke, a Marquette University Theology professor.  "Depression is a very insidious disease.  It's very hard to treat."

In short: Mental illness is a disease, just like cancer, according to Bretzke.

This isn't a new line of thinking for the church.  In the 1990's Pope John Paul II approved a catechism acknowledging that many who die from suicide also suffer from mental illness. 

Despite that, the attitude remains.  Just ask the Lietkes.

"We did have relatives and others come up and ask (about the church's position)," said Mike.  "They had concerns about Drew.  It was very calming knowing we had allies."

But the Lietkes believe more needs to be done.  The couple strives to eliminate the stigma of mental illness, in society and for those who suffer from it.

"Who will put a program together to that can convince people it's ok not to feel ok?" Mike wondered.  "We're working on it."


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