I am an autistic priest. It is the only life I know. However, being both autistic and a Catholic priest is not the most obvious combo for most people. Since I have made my diagnosis public about a month ago I have given 4 interviews. Hopefully, citing three here will help you understand how I combine these two things. The first two interviews are with general Catholic news sites while the third is with an autistic Christian blog. The fourth interview about being an autistic priest was in Spanish and on video not written so is hard to cite here. All other news stories about me as an autistic priest are based on these, or in the caase of CNA, often reprints. I also put the script and my video online.
Catholic News Agency
I did an interview with Catholic News agency before the video was public, but they respected my wish that I post the video before their story went live. Here’s what they said:
When Rev. Matthew Schneider was asked to move on after just one year of a three-year assignment as a school chaplain and youth ministry leader in Calgary, he was shocked.
“I knew it was a new role and I had made some mistakes, but I figured, well there’s a learning curve, and almost anybody’s going to make a few mistakes given a new role like that.”
But his superiors believed the assignment was not a good fit for him. They cited struggles with social communications as a reason for their decision.
While the experience was frustrating for Schneider at the time, today he looks back on that moment as a blessing, because it eventually led him to be diagnosed with autism, a diagnosis that helped him better understand himself, and ultimately, to find roles in ministries that were better suited to him.
The day I made it public, Crux contacted me about an interview. Their article is relatively similar. The article stated:
Speaking to Crux on the April 2 celebration of World Autism Awareness Day – the very day Schneider decided to go public with his diagnosis – he said he hopes to use his autism as a platform to help re-shape resources for the Catholic faith to be more appealing and understandable for the autistic community.
“A lot of times we’ve built catechism programs and prayer books without considering how autistics (think),” he said, adding that “our process of thinking is a little different, and we’ve built all these [tools] without thinking about autistics and how they would process it.”
If the Church can provide the same materials in a way more suited to an autistic mind, it will be a resource for parishes or dioceses wanting to launch a catechesis program for autistic children or parishioners, he said.
A man who runs a group for autistic Christians on Facebook also runs a blog in the intersection of neurodiversity and faith. Obviously, interviewing an autistic priest fits his blog well. He had a slightly different take and posted the email interview verbatim. Here are a few of the questions.
1. What was your childhood like? Are you a lifelong Catholic or a convert?
My family was very loving. Today, other than myself in religious life, my other siblings have chosen to live on the same street as mom and dad, next door or few houses down. I was a bit quirky and nerdy in that after school, I would prefer to come home and read a book about dinosaurs than go play sports a lot of the time. I was sometimes teased and usually excluded from the “cool” friend-groups at school, but I didn’t really care much as I have always worked more on internal than external motivation. I am a cradle Catholic, although I did have a lot of doubts and questions around middle and high school. […]
7. Do you feel your autism assists you in a particular way?
Yes. People keep saying I should go on Jeopardy because I have such a good memory for facts and such. I can also be logical when others can be far more emotional. […]
11. What do you think could be done to improve our relationship with the autistic community?
I think that a lot of times problems are created when people in the Church don’t understand different neurotypes. I think we need to be willing to adapt a bit, but it should be a meeting in the middle, not requiring autistics to mask 100% of the time at church events and wear themselves out reading social signals. Many times, due to a lack of resources, at the local level, a church will provide one path for catechesis or youth ministry and unfortunately this doesn’t take into account neurodiverse individuals. I think many times, with minor adaptations, we can be integrated into such programs or a separate program for the neurodivergent can be started in a cluster of parishes, rather than trying to start one in each parish.
I hope these articles help you understand me as an autistic priest. I hope to continue to develop the relationship between Catholicism and autism.