Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted via email communication in August 2019. Some of the answers provided by the interviewee were edited to provide clarity for the reader. The integrity of Fr. Matthew Schneider’s answers was not compromised in the editing process.
What challenges do you face as a priest with autism?
My religious community tends to take on other ministries more often. I was the chaplain and on the formation team at a K-12 school for the 2013-2014 school year. I recognized I had not had a perfect year, but I figured everything was within the learning curve of being new to a certain type of ministry. However, the school administration thought otherwise. They asked that another priest from the community take over after a year of what was supposed to be a 3 or 6 year assignment.
The administration also suggested I might have Asperger’s. I felt devastated but it hindsight this is a blessing as it lead to a diagnosis about 16 months later in January 2016. After that, I was transferred to working more behind the scenes on a few projects for my religious community – preparing a course, local administration, and the national communications – while studying grad theology part time and helping out with the sacraments at our retreat center and a few parishes.
How did the parishioners react when found out you were diagnosed with autism?
The regulars at the retreat center knew me kind of like a parish and they responded quite well. They didn’t really ask too many questions and just accepted the diagnosis when I explained it to them.
Given my situation, one family at the retreat center approached me as they have several autistic children. However, the mother of that family has already managed to get most things in order for her family at Mass, etc. so I probably learned as much from her as I helped her.
What challenges did you face after your ASD diagnosis?
As far as challenges, I definitely have some. I realize that I am not great at reading people. This has a lot of side effects regarding how I approach a lot of things. Right now, I am earning my doctorate in hopes be of service to the Church as a writer or teacher.
I’m more insistent on a confessional screen as I have trouble reading faces which people often expect in face-to-face confession. Also a few times, I’ve struggled with hearing confessions with talking going on in the background like at parishes missions or big events. Usually this issue was resolved by moving somewhere the preacher was not so loud.
How ASD ever affected your approach to the Liturgy?
As far as liturgy, I don’t think it has affected it too much. A “normal” Mass doesn’t set off any sensory difficulties for me. I do tend to prefer a more structured liturgy as opposed to a free-form or charismatic type. I tend to say the black and do the red while tending to simplicity in songs.
Fr. Matthew wants to help you experience Jesus and become his apostle.
He is a priest with the Legionaries of Christ ordained in 2013, and lives in the Philadelphia metro area where he studies at theology doctorate and helps out with a few ministries. Fr. Matthew is also one of the top priests on social media with over 75,000 followers and writes a blog on Patheos. Originally from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Fr. Matthew has worked throughout North America.