Father Dave, I have asked you two questions prior to this and your answers have helped me, personally, in an extremely important manner.  I lost my daughter to serious mental illness on March 2, 2011 and had a struggle with my lifelong faith (you may remember).  I now have a new problem.

I am a very young 60s (ride horseback twice a week, no known medical problems, etc.) living in a building for those over age 62.  I have a friend.  She is suffering from what appears to me to be "sundowner's", a form of dementia.  This woman was forcibly moved from her apartment on the third floor to an apartment on the first.  She hates it there.  This move took place last July 1 (was done for her own good, no malicious intention by the managers of this building who are both wonderful people).  I believe this move was so traumatic as to "tip" her "over the edge" of rational thought.  She is convinced that two other residents are using the apartment next to hers to spy on her; she feels "electricity" around her at night and hears things that, in fact, are normal (refrigerator kicking on in the next room, mine does it too) and attributes this noise to Satan and these two people whom she believes are demonically possessed.  (BTW...those two people have their own separate apartments and are merely friends; the apartment next to hers is inhabited by a woman they know but believe me there is nothing going on here.)  

I have a famed canvas painting of Jesus that she wants me to hang in her bedroom.  While I really do not want to part with this, I will.  However, the stress she is causing me is enormous.  She shows up at my door (I have complex PTSD from the struggle with my daughter's illness and her ultimate suicide) and I do not want people ringing my doorbell.  Today, she stood in my living room and told me she was being targeted by Satan and was quite angry about WHY.  I don't know what to do.  If I hang this picture in her bedroom, it may comfort her sufficiently to help calm her.  I can't go to the managers and tell them, she made me promise never to tell anyone.  And also, I can't experience the scrutiny and questions, I am recovering and into the fifth year since my daughter's return to God.  Can you advise me?  I have already sent her water from Lourdes and had to order another liter for her recently (I have no idea how she used an entire liter of Lourdes water I sent her from France only last September).

Honestly, I can go in there with holy oil, salt and water blessed by an exorcist and use a prayer intended for lay people, but this is feeding her delusion.  My daughter had a deadly delusion and I was told that it is impossible to part a person experiencing psychotic delusion from the delusion itself.  She asked me to hang the picture today but I can't, I was too upset by her visit.  I lived with my daughter's increasing illness for almost ten years before she ended her torment.  I can't handle this.  

Should I just hang the picture in her apartment?  I have already referred her to a priest who went there and heard her confession and blessed her apartment but she said he "didn't do it right".  HELP!

While I think this is a little above my pay grade I will attempt an answer.  Please keep in mind issues like this are complex and cannot be dealt with on a website in a satisfactory way. In this case I feel the answer I give you is no better or worse than anything your friends or family might tell you.  I am a priest--but that does not entail I have some kind of Divine powers that enable me to give the right or best answers to every problem or issue someone might face.  Sometimes like everyone else I wonder around in the dark and hope for the best!

It seems very clear that this person is suffering from some form of serious dementia.  In light of this---it seems to me you can be relieved of your promise not to tell the building managers. If in your opinion this person may be a harm to herself or others--you have the duty to break your promise and tell the building mangers. This is for her own good. In this way she may receive the care she needs and deserves.  

Given everything you have said about this women I doubt that simply hanging the picture in her room is going to calm her down.  It may feed her delusions even more.  It might work for a little while--but eventually she will find something else to bother you about.

This lady I think may need some professional care.  In any case your best bet is to inform the building managers. Again--given her delusions and her mental condition I don't see how anyone could possibly expect you to be held to your promise not to tell anyone.  

In the future I would highly suggest that you not make promises you either cannot keep--or do not know if you will be able to keep. An old Irish proverb says "Promise much and many will be in search of you."  

The only time I make promises to people is when I know for certain I can keep the promise.  Otherwise I promise nothing---especially if they come to me and ask me to promise not to tell anyone.  Outside of a Sacramental Confession---if I have reason to believe that a person is either in danger themselves, or a danger to themselves or others I am duty bound and legally bound to tell the proper authority--and I make that clear if a person wants me to promise not to tell anyone.  I tell them "I cannot promise that. I CAN however promise you that I will support you and help you in any way I can."

If the conversation takes place within the context of Confession obviously the seal is absolute and cannot be broken--even under court order.  I would be expected to go to jail and face whatever legal penalty there is for refusing to break the seal.  However I would encourage the person and try to get them to talk to me outside of the Sacrament so that we could go to the proper authorities if necessary--and I would promise them that I would go with them and give them all the support they needed.

In any case I think the lesson to be learned here is don't make promises.  I also think if you feel the building managers need to be made aware of the situation--that you should do so--and not feel bound by your promise given this person's condition.   

That is about the best I can suggest in this case.


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Father Dave Bechtel


I am a Catholic priest in good standing and in active ministry in the Diocese of Scranton PA. I can answer most any question about the Catholic Faith, however my area of specialization is Systematic Theology. Systematic Theology is a branch of theology that focuses on the fundamental tenants of the Faith and the Dogmas of the Faith. I have specialization on the Reformation and Catholic vs. Protestant theology/issues and answering Protestant challenges to the Faith.


I was ordained in June of 2008. Since that time the thrust of my ministry has been specialized. In my first assignment I was an assistant pastor. A year later I was sent to work in education. I spent six (6) years in education and have now assumed my first pastorate. While education was the thrust of my ministry, nevertheless I continued to have a hand in parish ministry, hospital chaplaincy and prison chaplaincy. Now that I am out of education I will obviously be focusing more on parish work than specialized ministry. I have two years of formal Clinical Pastoral Education and prior to ordination I successfully pursued Board Certification for health care ministry through the NACC. My certification needs to be renewed and I plan to seek dual certification in health care ministry (NACC and APC) when I renew my certification. I have a breadth of experience working with Protestant ministers and collaborating with them to achieve the goals of hospital pastoral care and chaplaincy. These ministers run the spectrum from the liberal to the conservative.

Bachelors of Science-- University of Scranton PA Masters of Arts Theology--- Saint Mary's Seminary and University Baltimore MD Masters of Divinity--- Saint Charles Borremeo Seminary Philadelphia PA Board Certified Chaplain (up for renewal)

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