Posted by: L. E. Barnes | October 10, 2011

Monday Message

How should we feel when a priest decides to leave the priesthood? Fr. Jeffrey Mickler, of the Society of St. Paul, shares his thoughts on this matter:

While I certainly agree with Fr. Jeffrey that we should not be upset if a bad priest departs the priesthood, I’m not sure I concur with his sentiment that it’s always a cause for sadness if a fellow who seemed to be a good priest decides to leave as well. Of course, Fr. Jeffrey is looking at this issue from his perspective as a seasoned veteran of the priesthood. He obviously loves his priestly vocation and feels disheartened at seeing a fellow priest jump ship.

In my humble opinion, however, I’m sure in many cases it’s for the better if a priest reenters the ranks of the laity. For one, the fellow may have rightfully concluded that he is not suited for a life of celibacy and/or evangelical poverty. Or he may realize that he would be happier in a different line of work. Anyway, he should not be expected to remain in a vocation that he is unhappy with, and so long as his reasons are honorable, then his decision to leave the priesthood should be completely respected.

I entered the Catholic Church just over 4 years ago. For my first 3 years as a Catholic, I gave the priesthood and religious life serious consideration, and several people — including the pastor of my parish — encouraged me strongly to pursue that vocation, insisting that they were sure I was both well suited for and called to it. Yet after careful discernment, which included studying about and visiting different religious orders and speaking with multiple priests and religious, I finally decided to jettison the idea of entering the priesthood or religious life. And I believe it’s better for me not to have moved forward with something I knew wasn’t right for me than to have ended up having to quit later — as would have doubtless happened, as for a number of reasons I’m simply not suited for a priestly or religious vocation. Likewise, I fully understand and honor the decision of priests and religious who conclude that they made a mistake or simply decide it would be better for them to go back to being an ordinary Catholic (ordinary in the sense of not being in the consecrated life).

Your thoughts?

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Responses

  1. The sacred priesthood is a vocation, a calling, not an occupation. I share Father’s sadness because, to become a priest a man passes through at least five years in the seminary, supposedly being tested and evaluated by a spiritual director and rector in addition to serving in the active apostolate if he has not been called to the contemplative life. A “good” priest may fail in his vocation and leave if he stops praying and succumbs to the world. But, once a priest, always a priest. Ordination produces an indelible mark on the soul for all eternity. To leave his vocation, whether he be a “good” or “bad” priest may make it much more difficult to attain heaven, which God wants for all of us.

    This is why we must pray hard for all our priests – so that they will stay on the path God wants for them. Since the 1940s and on, some men went to the seminary and became priests not to serve God and the Mystical Body of Christ, but to serve themselves. Those responsible for their ordinations, including their bishops or religious superiors, have a great deal to answer for. In fact, bishops and religious superiors are to be fathers to their priests and especially safeguard their spiritual life through sound spiritual practices and paying attention to their needs. We would have had a lot fewer “rogue” priests if they had been properly cared for, and fewer bad ordinations, too.

    You did the right thing by entering into a period of discernment of God’s will for you. What you concluded for yourself was the result of honest searching, prayer and reflection. I think the hardest thing about doing God’s will is the amount of time we have to spend walking blindly forward. Prayer from a sincere and humble heart and even a willingness to endure misunderstanding by others is a necessity to discover one’s vocation. The important thing is to follow God’s call. If God truly calls a man to the priesthood, He doesn’t revoke that call, any more than he revokes a religious’s call once final vows are made. If He did, the supposed vocation really didn’t exist in the first place.

    Marriage is the same. If we contract a valid marriage, it’s until death do us part. God doesn’t revoke the call to marriage, even if for a grave reason under canons 1152-1153 a couple must separate. The spiritual bond and obligation to assist one another to heaven remains.

    I’m glad you posted this because it’s really an important point.

    • The priesthood/religious life is definitely a calling, not simply a career option. No one should be either pressured into entering holy orders or discouraged from doing so. That is strictly between an individual and the Lord.
      I can understand where Fr. Jeffrey is coming from, but I still would not be critical of a man who decides he no longer wants to serve as a priest. True, the Church still sees them as a priest even if they are no longer serving in that capacity. However, I can’t honestly believe that a priest who chooses to be laicized is in any way jeopardizing his soul (again, as long as his reasons for walking away from the priesthood are honorable–e.g., he isn’t doing so because he wants to live an immoral lifestyle).
      And just because spiritual directors, bishops, or others overseeing his priestly formation considered him an excellent candidate for the priesthood doesn’t necessarily mean that he was in fact called to it or that he is rebelling against the Lord by choosing to leave. After all, clergy, seminary professors, and spiritual directors are only human and can have very mistaken impressions of someone. (The same can be said about well-meaning friends, family members and associates. They may believe with all their hearts that you would be perfect for a certain career, vocation, etc., but the image of you that they have formed in their minds can be very wrong.) Sometimes, going along with others’ advice can hurt rather than help. (Trust me, I’ve learned that the hard way.)
      So again, if someone enters the priesthood or religious life but later decides it’s not right for them, then I think we should refrain from making judgments. God is their judge, not us.
      But you raise good points. Thanks so much for your comments.

  2. How should we feel when a priest decides to leave the priesthood?

    The way we should feel when a spouse decides to leave a marriage.

    • I don’t feel I can share that sentiment. A priest’s decision to stop serving as a priest is between him and the Lord, so we shouldn’t judge. Perhaps there was never any calling on his life in the first place, or perhaps he has completed whatever the Lord had intended for him to do and it is time for him to move on to something else. We just don’t know for sure. God alone knows. It’s not our business, so I’ll refrain from making judgments.

  3. […] they are, are not, and how to discern one, prompted by a video and post at Evan’s Cove titled Monday Message.  I hope readers will find this series useful whenever the subject of vocations comes up, and that […]


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