Roll up your sleeves & open your mind ~ Reflections on rebuilding the church Part V

  Jesus Christ leads priests both in and out of the priesthood.”  

What a profound statement.  This was made by a Priest who left the altar many years ago when he heard the call elsewhere.

Worldwide 120,000 Priests have left the church over the past sixty years.  25,000 here in the United States have left.

There is a serious shortage of Priests, though the church is moving backwards, rather than forward in solving this dilemma.  In Brazil for instance the per the National Catholic Reporter 12/16 they state there are 1,800 Priests – but note they need… ? 100,000 Priests.  Because of this there are rumors the Vatican “may” allow Priests who left for marriage to return to the altar.  They “may” consider it?  What’s up with this?  Priests are no longer needed in Brazil??? – It appears so by indecision that to be the case.  Though, I have some thoughts on this too which I hope to (remember) to cover later today.

One really has to say “what the heck???”

Many of those who have left, have been treated so badly by the church they may not (many do not) wish to return to the altar.  I will add more on that further on in my writing.

There are volumes of rules, regulations, traditions, practices and laws in the Roman Catholic church.

The men at the top of the church have all vowed or promised to remain celibate to their Bishop upon ordination.   In fact, the  only married Roman Catholic Priests are those who have converted from another religion who have families.

Celibacy, actually involves more than not being married, but does vary by individual – regardless – both practices are against the teachings of Jesus Christ – and even St. Paul.  Read back through my articles for that information.

Before I tackle the topic of having married clergy we’re going to take a look at some of the many men who have chosen to leave, why they have left – and what they are doing now.

I am aware that the majority of Catholics are fine with a married clergy, actually I have not had anyone tell me I was crazy or wrong, just “this is the way it has always been done” (which is not accurate at all).  I remember a conversation I had with a Priest one day and he had no patience for talk of one who had left, it was like good riddance though – who knows what rests in their hearts and minds.  In retrospect, it is not a topic they are free to talk about to anyone, including their own peers.  It puts their position at risk from what I have read.

A portion of what I am copy/pasting here is from the above Priests leaving website, I am not sharing the links because I don’t wish to cause any issues for the Priests who run the site and more importantly, some of the topics I ran across there today are of  a very private and sensitive in nature that in respect to any clergy, I do not feel it prudent or necessary to be tossing around.

Lets begin:

Some of the reasons given for leaving may sound surprising and are varied.  One fellow explained a short while after being ordained he thought to stop at McDonald’s for a burger and realized he didn’t have enough money do to so.  To laity a person of that age (at least mid-twenties) is going to have a job that would provide them with a big mac, large fries and a coke (or much more, maybe a meal at Outback).  To be young, and having lived in a rather protected environment, it would be an eye opener.  Pink cloud – vanished, and a thud to the ground.

He was at first assigned to a house and felt like he was being supervised as a child in his personal life and that was not something he expected.  He felt it was an intrusion (it was, wasn’t it?) of any privacy.   Everyone is entitled to having some freedom to come and go, and private space in which to live and spend personal time.  Goodness, as a mom with a seemingly revolving house door – when youngest moved out, middle son moved in (within one month :sigh:).  There are times I feel like I can’t breathe, where I used to go sit in my church to pray – I have given up that practice.  Being cold outside I retreat to my room.  Heaven forbid it be laying on my bed with a blanket, no light for a private conversation with God.  I think I need to sit him down to further explain :)  one does not text a person you have been told is praying.  I digress – we all need a little space.  It is healthy!

Priests however don’t seem to enjoy that freedom.  Goodness the local rectory has had a revolving door on it, Priest home or not.  I would hate that.  I know people who have housekeepers and they stay home when they are there.  – Where I teach Faith Formation is the old rectory.  I have used all of the upstairs classrooms, each of the two where the private quarters of Priests, with tiny bathrooms off to a corner.  One room near the next, big windows, hallway open to offices etc.  No sense of privacy or space.  Perhaps that is to be expected however growing up (and having my own family) living in tight quarters is one thing, having to do this with strangers or persons you may not get along with… Religious or not, can be trying.  Right?

More than once I have read that Priests mostly feel they are owned by the church.  Where they live, the town they live in, what they do (or cannot do) socially.  Below is a section written by a Priest (who left the altar), he may sound … bitter, but we have not lived his experience – right, it also seems as though it may ring true. . .

“Perhaps the real issue is that the Catholic Church presumes to own its priests, like masters who own their slaves.  This is part of the infrastructure that priests are expected to embrace.  Priests are reluctant to complain because, at this point, they have prostrated themselves on the floor in front of their bishops in diocesan cathedrals and monasteries and professed obedience to him as they would to God himself.  All of this has been carefully orchestrated by the hierarchy over centuries to make sure priests understand that they are but pawns in the hands of their bishops, who claim to wield the power of God himself.  This was driven home painfully clear with their demanding a promise of celibacy, by which they proclaim that even the priest’s sexuality is under the control of the Church.  When you are owned sexually, you are owned at the deepest part of your being.”

The following few paragraphs may be challenging for some to read, not initially appreciated but truly are important.  I know I am a woman writing here but I was married and I have three adult sons. 

I know that last part it true.  I believe the requirement for celibacy is a human rights violation and sex abuse of the men.  Yes, they may willingly accept this part of their vocation going in, but I don’t believe it is emotionally or spiritually healthy.  It is really not a choice when one considers accepting this is the only way you will be allowed to be a Priest.

This may not be appreciated, but perhaps should be thought about… if the church is owning a clergies sexuality, – which it is for a fact by requiring abstinence (etc.), how is that any different than my having been raped when I was seventeen?  In both cases our bodies have been taken over by another force in what is an act of emotional and spiritual violence.

God created us with our bodies, He formed us, He made us and He created us the way He did for a reason (and it was not all for procreation). 

Delicate topic, my sincere apologies but I think something very much worth considering.  There is nothing about our loving Father that asks, requests  – or tells us to give that gift away and allow others to control such an intimate part of ones heart, mind and soul.  God’s gift.  Not to squander, as the fellow who noted in my Universalis readings – but a gift to enjoy with the helper (spouse) He has created for all.  ~ His grace.

It seems quite often younger priests will leave due to the above complaints, no longer feeling like an individual at all but part of the group, as told to them by hierarchy.

Priests who awaken to realize how far the Church has intruded into their personal lives often find themselves frustrated.  In time, many of them discover the freedom to live their lives in a way they feel called by God, which means that they must leave the priesthood.  Is this selfish?  Is it sinful?  No, it’s part of their maturing in faith and taking responsibility for their lives.  Their journey in, through and with Christ will continue, albeit on a different path than the one prescribed for them by the hierarchy and its medieval institution.” 

Here there is quite a bit stated on false teachings of Catechism etc.   In my limited research online (limited in part because web-page after web-page, testimony after testimony) seemed to say very similar things.  Required vows, promises and teachings required did not follow Bible teachings, once the bible was studied.  I am leery of reading too much of it myself right now – I don’t want to “go there”, and it pulls me away from the already complicated issues I am writing about.  In as much as I am trying to protect others in what I write, I am also trying to protect my own self from the harsher things out there.

The short of it is – many leave because they feel things they have learned over time are not things they can live with or teach as a matter of honesty and integrity.

At this point I am going to “introduce” you to a few lives of Priests who left the church and later married.  It is a very hush-hush topic, many have been taught they’d go to hell and take their lady-love with them.  This is not true, that is not our Father.  I do believe what I quoted above so I am going to use that here;

  Jesus Christ leads priests both in and out of the priesthood.”  

We’ve all heard stories about Priests how have left the altar to marry.  Right?  The church I received my own limited catechism prior to receiving my first sacraments had a priest leave – I think he married a nun.  My parish had a priest who married a kindergarten teacher (and somebody important at my parish sang at their civil ceremony which was later con-validated in the church after his laicizaiton process).  the wedding ceremony was very small, in the brides living room. I share this because it is important to show, when possible that other people see the Priest as a man, and are happy for them should they find love and choose to marry.  Love and marriage is not taboo among the laity.   My elder ladies sister has a neighbor who was a priest (and nun) who married oh and my friend from France, when I met her sister I learned  there are two married priests in her very small town –  her sisters minister is also a priest who left to marry, we’ll start with a bit about him.slide_13

JP after serving 23 years active ministry as a Roman Catholic Priest chose in  1990  to part ways with the church citing dissatisfaction with the direction the church was moving in. Some months later he married his wife L, has two adult stepson’s and three grandchildren.  His first job in his new life was as a therapist for three years.  A woman who came into his office had him invited to her church as a “fill in”.  At first he was concerned because he was not in good standing with the RCC, later gave it a chance and ended up becoming a minister in the UCC.  After beginning with a congregation of fifty that grew to 500, he retired after fifteen years.  Six months later he was called to take on the small church in the northwest corner as a the Reverend (part time).  I listened to his homily twice years ago when I first heard of him.  It was interesting to hear as he still seemed to follow the mass readings but his new life enabled him to put a new spin on sermons.  One that made me laugh (and cry) was the story of how he had been married for just two weeks, was not working yet, feeling in a dark place and Louise came home in from work and up the stairs to their bedroom she went (to get out of her work clothes!)  He said she just flew right by me, no hug or kiss.  I thought this is it, it’s over – she wants a divorce.  His openness at sharing such an intimate time in his life, truth that he was a catholic priest now congregational minister (and it seems many in his congregation were catholics who left the church) was honest, raw and worked into the lesson for that day.  Sweet too is that his wife is right there in church with him and he addresses her (or vise versa) during service in such a loving way.  I remember hearing that the UCC church he first served at hosted a 50th anniversary party for the Reverand for his service, this combined his years in active ministry as a Roman Catholic Priest and Protestant Minister.  One piece of news I ran across on google as I write this is that three persons who worked at his parish as he left the Catholic church were fired for participating in his civil ceremony marriage.  That was the ruling of the archbishop at that time as they were participants (readers and such) not guests.  A chance they took.

Though there are many, I will share just one more.  I chose this one because it offered a lot of information, which is hard to find because of the nature of the topic . . .

on March 21, 2010 at 9:15 PM, updated March 24, 2010 at 11:54 AM


The Rev. Tom Farley, a priest for almost 30 years and pastor St. Clare Catholic Parish in Southwest Portland for the past nine, celebrated his last Mass Sunday. Farley sent a letter to parishioners last week, saying he was leaving the priesthood because he could “no longer live the celibate life.” The Rev. Tom Farley looked at packed pews Sunday morning and made a promise.”There is an elephant in the room,” Farley said as Mass began at St. Clare Catholic Church in Southwest Portland. “But we’ll talk about it later — after Communion. “

He was referring to the letter he’d sent to the congregation last week, which detailed why these Sunday Masses would be his last as a priest.

“I leave because of a private longing in my heart and soul that I have ignored or suppressed to my detriment,” he wrote in the letter.

“I love priestly ministry but I cannot live this life of celibacy.” Farley, ordained in 1979.

Here is another, more insightful story/interview with the same priest.
Portland priest shares journey that led him out of Catholic priesthood, into a new life


Almost five months ago, Tom Farley left the Catholic priesthood and the Southwest Portland parish he’d served for nine years because, he now admits, he’d fallen in love and refused to walk away from the relationship.

“I have loved being a priest and working as a priest,” he wrote in a March 17 letter to 1,200 St. Clare parishioners and about a third of the 150 priests in the Archdiocese of Portland. “But the celibate lifestyle has become more and more difficult for me, and more and more damaging to my ability to be a whole person.”

Farley, 57, a priest for 30 years, served his last Masses in March. The services were packed with parishioners and friends, many who said they were surprised by his letter. Some said they were happy for Farley and sad for their church. Others blamed the Catholic Church requirement that priests be celibate for the loss of a priest they adored. A few were frustrated that he was leaving so close to Easter, when Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead.

Farley did not linger after those final services to talk with worshipers. Each time Mass ended, he slipped out a door behind the altar. He returned to the parish several days later to say and receive individual goodbyes. At times, he says, the line of parishioners stretched outside the church offices and into the parking lot.

The weeks since have been busy for Farley. He spent days writing thank-you notes and responding to e-mails from friends and former parishioners. He read about crafting a résumé and looking for work. He applied and interviewed for jobs. Now he’s preparing to move. He’s been hired as executive director of the American Red Cross chapter in Bend, a job he begins Monday.

The feelings that prompted him to leave the priesthood led to a romantic relationship and, now, an engagement. In an interview, Farley refused to name his fiancée but talked about his years as a priest, the process that led him to give it up and the life he’s embraced since he left. He chose his words carefully, sometimes laughing at himself. Twice he was moved to tears — as he talked about his best friends, who still are Catholic priests.

Q: Why did you become a priest?   

A: I was raised a Catholic, and my faith was important to me. But, like most teenagers, it was less important for a while. During my freshman year at Oregon State, I went on a retreat sponsored by the Newman Center — in February 1972. We were asked to surrender our lives to God, to Jesus, and I did that. And then the next question was, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” The idea of the priesthood came to me. As a sophomore, I transferred to Mount Angel Seminary. I did OK, academically, socially.

But I guess the real reason I became a priest is I wanted to serve.

Q: How do you describe your 30 years as a priest?

A: Rich. The thing that I always come back to is there’s this incredible honor as a priest — being invited into the middle of people’s relationship with God. It’s an intimate place. It’s a privilege. When I think back over my 30 years, I’m very grateful.
Some men leave the priesthood bitter or angry.
Some guys really do. I am not.

Q: Why did you leave?

A: I fell in love. Early on. More than once. People are attractive and I am not a dolt. I’d ask myself, “Am I going to explore this relationship, risk my priesthood to explore this?” and I always said no and ran away. There was this background of loneliness — and I know that loneliness is existential, that we’re all alone and I don’t believe that a partner can take that away. But romantic love was never an option.

Q: What changed for you?

A: I’d had a long relationship, a friendship with a woman. And last summer, I realized that I loved her, that I loved someone again. I don’t quite know why, but this time I said I’m not going to run away, to shut the door. Maybe it was a midlife crisis. Maybe it was loneliness. Maybe it was the boredom of doing the same thing over and over.

I got a good counselor and talked to my spiritual director. The three of us worked for almost four months to unpack this love. It was a very intentional discernment.

Q: Did you have sex with her?

A: No! We decided from Day One not to have an affair and to remain chaste. I must say that this is an unfair question, like celibacy and marriage are all about having or not having sex. To me they are about exclusive partnerships or unions. For the celibate priest, chastity is with everyone so that he/she can be for THE one, God alone. A chaste celibate life can make this “attention” and exclusivity more explicit. The married person is called to chastity with all except their spouse. I’ve met few folks where sex addresses their real loneliness. I have to say the loneliest people I’ve met are those that share a bed but not their hearts.

Q: When did you meet with Portland Archbishop John G. Vlazny?

A: I met with him in January and asked him, “What do you think I should consider?” He treated me like a brother. He was sensitive, thoughtful and generous. He said he respected me, that he wanted me to stay as a priest, but he didn’t want to put up roadblocks.

farleypark.JPG As part of his work organizing youth activities at New Columbia, Farley spends time with (from left) Divine Nijimbere, 7, and Christian Daniel, 6.

Q: Was there a moment when you knew what you wanted to do?
I remember driving home from my counselor and it came to me: “I am going to leave the priesthood.” It was a little scary — it had been scary from Day One. But something in me felt released. I had done all this work. I had a parachute and I could jump.

Q: Who did you tell first?

A: I called my sister. I called my little brother, who’s 13 years younger. I said, “I’m leaving the priesthood and I need to find a place to live.” He said, “What did you say?” We met for lunch and he helped me.

My family was surprised. Members of the parish were shocked.

Q: How did you decide when to leave?

A: It was very important to me, too important maybe, that my leaving St. Clare would be as least hurtful as possible. I wanted to think about that more than where I was going next.

The archbishop and I met again in mid-February. We thought it would be better to leave in June, when the archdiocese reassigns priests. But once I’d made the decision, I couldn’t wait. It was too hard to live two lives. The second best option was to leave before Holy Week. The point of Holy Week is the mystery of God bringing new life out of the old.

Q: You’ve often said your best friends were other priests. How did they respond to your decision?

A: They were conflicted. Nobody was overjoyed at my leaving the priesthood. We are all team players — I’ve always thought of myself as a member of the diocesan team. No one wanted to manipulate me, but they weren’t encouraging me, either. I’ve lost some friends over it. One told me that there was a chasm now between us that he couldn’t reach across.

Q: Was it difficult to write your letter to the parish?

few fellow priests helped me write it. I wrote three drafts. I think it was a gift from God, because I’m a terrible writer and I think it was well written.

Q: How did you feel during your last weekend of Masses?

A: I won’t say it was fun. But all the work had been done. I was very present and relaxed at the services. I was very touched by people’s affection. My parents and members of my family came to the last service and sat in the front row. By the end of the services, I was tired but animated. I invited my family to my new house — between Thursday and Saturday, I had moved out of the rectory — for a barbecue. There was a lot of affection; they had been worried about me. I felt grateful, and proud.

Q: How did you support yourself?

A: I lived on my savings, as cheaply as I could. I got a part-time job working with Neighborhood House in a new partnership with the Housing Authority of Portland. I’ve been organizing programs for youth in the pocket parks of New Columbia, where I’ve been living.

Q: What do you miss, now that you’re no longer a priest?

A: I have no regrets. I don’t miss preaching. There is no pining inside me. In my bones, I have a real respect for what the church and her priests are trying to do.

Q: What about this woman that you fell in love with? What role did she play in your discernment?

A: We had been friends for a long time. When I told her I could no longer dance around my feelings for her, she was caught off guard. We set up new boundaries, agreed to less contact with each other. She agreed to support me emotionally in my discernment process.

Once I’d left the parish, we started dating and began seeing a counselor. I just asked her to marry me, and she accepted. I’ve also written to the archbishop and asked him to begin the process of releasing me from my vows. That could take a long time.

Q: Do you still consider yourself a Catholic?

A: I always will be. The church might be screwy, but she’s still my mother. We’ve attended St. Andrew’s parish a few times, but right now, we feel untethered. What was is gone, what’s coming isn’t here yet. But I’m confident we’ll end up in a Catholic community.

Why do these stories matter?  They are all of mature men who have served the Roman Catholic church for 25 years or more.  They are honest, true and sadly they had to make a choice to leave the altar.

The church looses priests because of their refusal to deal with their required celibacy teaching.  The Priests were given a choice – remain unhappy and celibate, or accept the love that God graced them with. 

Many unhappy men remain in the church, I cannot begin to explain why perhaps in part they have not been blessed with real love.  There is life for those who leave, and I do believe stories like this matter.

It took a lot of courage to share their stories and make their voices heard.  So far their lives haven’t changed anything within the church.  Does the church need more stories – or can it mature, grow up and let their priests live life as God intended?

There are various resources for Priests leaving and who have left.  There are tens of  thousands of them living; lives, love,  God, service , with wives, some now with children of their own, some past the age (or their wives are) but blessed with grandchildren though stepchildren,  jobs and new lives here in the US.

It is a shame and perhaps a Sin when one considers the greatest commandments, that an institution would push a man to have to make and agonizing  choice between  the walls of an institution –  and a love that only God can grace one with.  Really – is not godly is it?  No.

CORPUS (AFFIRMING AN INCLUSIVE PRIESTHOOD, ROOTED IN A REFORMED AND RENEWED CHURCH) is one group of former clergy that offer membership, support and unity.  They have a website and blog.  Keep current on church news, but seeking change in the church and have chosen to work from the outside > in, while living life out of the box.  There are meetings, ministries, brotherhood.  Free (clickable) books).  There are links within that list Priests by state.  Clearly, not all Priests who have stepped down feel the need of joining an organization.  Different things work for different people

It’s not easy to look at all sides, it is important to try or we can’t properly analyze things.



Please join the conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s