One of the best things to have happened to me of late is to have stumbled to your website. Thank you for being open enough. There are many of us here that don’t know how to go about certain things. Our formation doesn't seem to have helped us enough to be independent. We are so scared of what other people will think and also losing friends. Do you know what I mean? I am a young priest (late 30s) and fairly new in ministry. I found myself concurring with most of what you are saying. I am of the credence that obedience and celibacy are weapons of control. The hierarchy uses them to control your will and your sexuality and burden your conscience with unnecessary guilt. Instead of pleasing God and doing his will, one is forced by the circumstances to conform to the will of the hierarchy. Right from the seminary you are forced to think always within the box. This creates dependency. Dependency is worse than slavery. The hierarchy makes you do their will in the name of God's will.
Surprisingly enough, I have contemplated several times quitting but lack the courage and theology to do so. I am a happy priest but unsatisfied with the question of celibacy and obedience. In my seminary formation, I had troubles with obedience. When one falls in love, everything changes. I mean every fiber of your nerve experiences it and you can never suppress it if you are true to yourself. I fell in love with this protestant young lady, some many years ago and the flame has never extinguished. We love one another and we are deeply in love with each other. I love my priesthood very much (she understands it and has been very supportive) and don't want to leave it. My biggest worry is I can't have both-- serve God as a priest and be married to my love at the same time. Why should it be sinful to love? I am really torn in between leaving and marrying her or pretending that our celibacy is a higher good than marriage (I don't believe this by the way). Where do I really begin? Which Christian denominations can accept me? You were a diocesan priest and you know the peanut salary we get and I wonder how the salaries compare because once one leaves and is no longer alone, expenses skyrocket. How long does the process begin to be laicized and how does one do the process without attracting unwanted suspicions?
My Purpose and Hope in Offering this Posting
I share my story as a priest struggling with the question of transitioning out of priesthood or staying in it. I have come to discover how the emotional and physical love of a woman has bettered me as a human being and made me a happier priest. I have come to realize as well on a personal, theological and philosophical level, that the Catholic Church and I disagree over the value and need for mandatory celibacy in the life of her priests. I am torn between recognition of my human need for the intimate relationship of a woman and the following of a non essential mandatory rule of celibacy for Catholic priesthood.
My dilemma is that I came to recognize my struggle with celibacy and perhaps not being blessed with this gift after many years of priesthood – too many to start over with education and a new career because of age, competition, etc. Plus, and especially, the dilemma of recognizing that Christ has indeed called me to priesthood but not necessarily to celibacy. What to do? In agony, I am still trying to make celibacy work even though, as my story will reveal, I failed twice in keeping my promise of celibacy; the first leading to a continued wonderful and wholesome friendship, the second failure ending in great disaster to me personally and my future life happiness and happiness in priestly ministry.
I do not blame at all either woman or anyone for my failure to keep my promise of celibacy or the mistakes I have made in regards to it. I accept full responsibility for my failure in not remaining celibate. One of my hopes in sharing my story of struggling with transition issues in the priesthood is that others might share theirs. I could use the support and insights of others in my position. And I would like to offer my support and insight to those with these same or similar struggles in priesthood. Hopefully through our care for one another we can grow toward making a firm commitment of transition into priesthood with faithful celibacy or offer one another concrete help for successfully transitioning out of priesthood into marriage and other ways of service to God and God’s people.
Recognizing the Sting of my Loneliness and Lack of Intimacy
When I had been ordained for about seven years I remember coming back from Mass late Sunday mornings. I would go out to some restaurant alone for lunch. I would come back to an empty rectory. Sunday afternoons especially got long. I used to sit in the living room and just be so aware of the emptiness and silence. It would be so lonely. I’d think of friends that I’d known from college or my siblings who had gotten married and were raising families. I’d be jealous of the companionship and opportunities to build lives and plan futures that they had. Oh, Sunday afternoons can be so long and lonely.
My loneliness also would strike me during the week when I would listen to parish staff talk about the things that they had done, were doing or were going to do with their families. I would watch them come and go each day; from their homes to the rectory/parish center and back home again after their day. But I would be there all the time; for work and for personal living. I was jealous and envious of their freedom, diversity and fullness of family life.
One of the hardest times for me that I dreaded greatly was going to coffee and donuts or other social parish functions after Mass. I hated and dreaded these because I felt awkward going alone, being at them alone and having to leave alone. These social parish functions pointed out how superficial my relationships were. I envied the families and couples who would come to Mass and then be together at our social functions. These families and couples had opportunities to share and grow together. In their midst I felt awkwardly alone.
I remember too how awkward it felt to feel I had to move from table to table to say hi to everyone and be there for everyone. It seemed that a familiar pattern would repeat itself as I would sit down at various tables. After the hellos and pleasantries were said I was always asked: “Father, when will priests be allowed to marry?” or “Hey Father, when will women be ordained priests?” After the pleasantries and these two questions were asked there seemed little more in common to say. We were from two different worlds. The families or the couples would usually go back to talking among themselves or with their children; picking up the threads of their lives. After so much of this I would slowly and quietly leave and return to the empty rectory.
I continued to go to these parish social functions even though I dreaded them but I eventually changed my approach. I refused to move from table to table as I had in the past. I made the decision that I would visit with one table for the extent of my stay. I found this much less stressful than moving from table to table as I used to do. I remember watching a bishop who had come to visit our parish move quickly from table to table at a social gathering after Mass. It pained me to watch it.
How I Dealt with Overwhelming Loneliness and Lack of Intimacy
Eventually the loneliness and lack of intimacy in my life became too much. I knew I had to do something about it. I loved being a priest. I had not the slightest thought of leaving the priesthood. I didn’t want to leave the priesthood. I only wanted to lessen the sting of the loneliness and lack of intimacy I was feeling. I was hoping to strike a balance between being true to what I was feeling and being faithful to my promise of celibacy.
I was told, and had come to see, the truth in the statement that you cannot love a church, a tradition a dogma or a doctrine. These are totally abstract and cannot love you back. So, very consciously and trustingly I prayed to God to help me work through what I was struggling with and to reach a comfort level in my life between the loneliness and lack of intimacy I felt and being faithful to my call to the priesthood and my promise of celibacy. My overriding thought and feeling was that I needed a wholesome friendship with a woman in my life; entering into a relationship that has been called “the third way” as opposed to leaving priesthood or living and functioning as a bitter priest. I had male lay and priest-friends but no female friends in my life. So, I prayed to God that I might find a woman and develop a friendship with her. My hope and my aim were to develop a friendship with a woman in which both of us would respect each other and accept our positions in life. I fully intended to remain a priest because I loved being and doing the ministry of a priest. As part of my prayer to God I remember thinking that I ran the risk of losing my priesthood to the love of a woman. I acknowledged the risk but my intention was to remain a faithful priest.
Discovering the Richness of a Woman’s Love in My Failure of Celibacy
Doing priestly ministry in a parish, I came to know an unmarried parishioner who was close to me in age. Our friendship blossomed. I got to know this woman and her family very well. I used to spend lots of time at her house. We would watch television together; have supper, play board games and just lounge. We would take walks, go out for dinner and talk about everything.
Very early in our friendship I shared with this woman why I wanted her friendship; that I just wanted to be friends and not leave the priesthood. I shared with her that I needed someone I could share my feelings, hopes and dreams with. I told her that I saw and was around too much maleness (priests) all the time. I told her that I rarely see other priests except at official functions. I told her I wanted more. I wanted the special presence and care of a woman. We talked about these needs of mine and hers at various times during our friendship. I trusted her when she would tell me that she didn’t want me to leave the priesthood.
For a while this woman and I became sexually involved. We knew being sexually involved was not right; not only because I made a promise of celibacy as a priest but also because we were Christians. Our care and respect for one another allowed us to stop being sexually active and yet to continue on as good friends.
From time to time during our friendship this woman would be asked out on dates. She would tell me and we wouldn’t see each other on those days. None of her early dates turned into steady engagements. And eventually she and I would be back in our routine of being together and doing things together.
My Loss of This Woman’s Unique Friendship in my Life and Priesthood
The Devastation and Reward
This woman and I had been friends for many years when she started mentioning this man she knew at work whom she thought could help me with my printer problems. At first this man was just some vague person with whom she worked. But it became clear that she and this man were falling in love with one another. I knew this because without coming right out and saying it she would lessen our time together. Then, one day, we had a long, heart to heart talk about her man. It was clear they loved each other and were planning on marriage. This was a hard time for her and me. We both cried as we knew what was happening. Our relationship sometimes became quite strained and messy during her future husband’s increase of place in her life and my decreasing presence. I’m proud to say though that we respected each other’s life choices and did nothing to stand in the way of what each of us wanted. Would I have married her? Of course. But I loved being a priest and could not picture myself as anything else.
I was devastated by the loss of her unique friendship. She now had her future husband to be with and I was alone again left with the loss of the significance of her special presence and place in my life. I imaged the depth and strength of our friendship and its destruction by thinking of a tower’s pylons driven deep into the earth slowly being lifted to eventually, inevitably raise and topple the tower.
At times, for a long time, I never thought I would get over the loss of this woman’s unique presence in my life. I yearned and moaned and ached for so long. I sat in silence, I journaled. I was distracted in the presence of family and friends. Nothing seemed to help. But, eventually, I got over her special place in my life. We continue to be friends and I thank God that I met her and that we had become friends. She has shown and shows me what difference the positive presence of a woman’s love can make in my life and my being a priest. The love this woman and I shared made God more real; more present. And her love made me feel more secure and dedicated to serving the needs of my parishioners.
When we were together I never failed in serving the congregation’s or individual parishioner’s needs. My parishioners always came first. She and I understood this. I knew all along I was presenting a false image before the parishioners I served and the way of life the Church asked of me. For this continued deception I am truly sorry.
My Second Attempt at Female Companionship:
Consequences and Ongoing Disaster
I became friends with another woman. Because I had had such an enriching experience with the first woman, whose story I shared above, my hope was that this new friendship would grow as well as that one had. I had also thought that because the first woman and I had successfully transcended and learned that our friendship could be truly meaningful without sexual involvement that this second woman and I could do the same. I came to unfortunately learn a bitter lesson in this and other ways in trying to create a friendship with this second woman.
Troubling Concerns in this Second Relationship
This second woman and I were too deeply involved to easily disengage when I had experienced her frightening and threatening behavior. Her moods and behavior shifted back and forth unexpectedly and without notice. She would love me in the morning and hate me in the afternoon.
As with the first woman, I had told this second woman early on, as we were becoming friends, what I was looking for in a friendship with a woman and she seemed to understand. But, whereas my first woman friend and I could use terms consistently and make and hold nuances of meaning, this second woman could not. When I would tell her I loved her she could only understand it in terms of sexual, romantic love. We would go around and around about what we meant when we used certain terms of endearment.
We did have many wonderful moments together. We discussed things of great importance to us both. We enjoyed outings together with each others families. But misunderstandings that led to bitter anger and revenge from her upon me for believed slights she thought I had committed against her, would continually recycle. Sometimes she would become so enraged I couldn’t get through to her. It was like she entered another zone or atmosphere. She could strike out at me too with both verbal and physical violence. It was scary to be around her when she was like this.
My priestly life and ministry collapsed at the point when she became intensely jealous of other totally non sexual and wholesome friendships that I had with other women. I never hid these friendships from her. And I tried very hard to make her a part of my other friendships both female and male. In her jealousy she could be very threatening toward me and, I feared, potentially toward my other women friends. I couldn’t make her see or believe that I wanted her to hold a special place and intimacy in my life among my other friends.
I had made the mistake of telling this woman too much about my personal identity, history, friends and acquaintances. Things about myself and friends that I had shared with her came back to haunt me and haunt me still. To take revenge on me for slights and offenses she believed I committed against her she told me she shared the story about my unfaithfulness with certain people who were important to me and dear to me. She told me she did this to cause me the pain she said I caused her. I was just sick after she would tell me these things. Her acting this way especially hurt me because I had tried so hard to be her friend and to welcome her into my life. I no longer have contact with her now. If I did I would be afraid to say anything to her because I’d be in constant fear that she would somehow use it against me.
I Report the Breaking of My Vow of Celibacy to My Superiors
My relationship and involvement with this second woman was disintegrating more and more each day. I eventually and on my own went to my superiors to tell them I had broken my promise of celibacy. At first this second woman cooperated in giving details about what our relationship was like. She confirmed that our sexual activity was consensual and outside of a counseling relationship. So, at first this relationship was deemed a friendship gone awry. My superiors offered her the opportunity to work with a victim’s advocate. During the course of working with this victim advocate she wrote up a one sided, very hurtful, detailed account of things we had done, things we had said and emails we had written. Much of what she wrote took things I had said out of context. Ultimately, what she wrote added to the travail that I had to go through and am currently in.
My Superiors Response: Shutting Down My Priestly Ministry
Because of what this woman had written my superiors felt that maybe there was a pattern of exploitation with women parishioners that I considered friends. I was told not to contact this woman or any of the women she mentioned in her report anymore. I understood and could accept not contacting this second woman anymore but the other women that she had referred to in her report were my good friends. These women friends would never have thought that I was exploiting them. If my superiors would have called these women and asked them if they felt in any way that I was exploiting or taking advantage of them they would have discovered these woman would be shocked to be asked this.
I had to voluntarily withdraw from priestly ministry. Because I ministered in so many parishes with many pastors and staffs, this was painful, awkward and embarrassing to do. I was sent to a facility for pre psychological testing and then I was sent to a different treatment center for six months of inpatient therapy. Upon completion of my in patient therapy I went back to the first treatment center for post psychological testing.
Upon my return to my diocese I had to see a psychologist for a year and meet with an aftercare group whose members I suggested, had approved and contacted. I also am not allowed to live full time in my house. I spend part of the week at my house and the other part of the week at a rectory with other priests.
As I wait to return to ministry, this second woman continues to be hostile toward me. I had stopped all contact with her. She continues to complain about me as an abusing priest. The latest thing she has done is to try to bring legal charges against me. At this point the authorities believe there is no case to charge against me. But this second woman still presses forward.
I Feel Afraid, Threatened, Hog-Tied and Forgotten
At present none of this second woman’s hostilities is in the general public realm. However, I fear that this could happen at any time. I also fear this woman’s unpredictable and seemingly endless energy and desire for revenge on me and possibly the first woman I had mentioned above.
I will not be able to be assigned to priestly ministry until the legal issue against me is officially closed. No one seems to know when that will happen. I’m frequently called to help out with Masses and penance services. For so long now I have been saying that I can’t help because my schedule won’t allow it. Some, I feel, know something is wrong in my life. I’m ashamed and afraid to tell them. I am able to live with myself and my failures but it still hurts and is embarrassing to share with others.
It’s hard for me to just leave the priesthood because during this time my diocese has been good to me in many ways. I am able to minister as a priest chaplain at three different hospitals when the two priests covering these hospitals need coverage. This is very rare though. I am also getting a full salary and health benefits while I am unassigned. I also feel too that my superiors want me back. But the waiting to be reassigned is pure misery. I don’t hear from my superiors unless I contact them. It is also embarrassing and unsettling not to be a regular part of the life of ministry that I shared with my fellow priests and the staffs of parishes I got to know and enjoy. I’m sure I have become, and will become even more so, the subject of gossip.
So, it’s a waiting game. It’s a waiting game for this second woman to show herself forgiving and to come to peace in herself, with me and with our relationship. I dread the possibility, based on the way she has thus far acted, that she will never be able to come to peace and will remain a threat to me and my life all of my life.
Hopes and Dreams for the Future
I don’t see the Roman Catholic Church changing its position on mandatory celibacy for priest in my life time. I believe that if I didn’t have to contend with mandatory celibacy in my life as a priest much of my current troubles never would have had to happen. I am the one who will have to change. As I said in the beginning of this posting, I wanted to share this crisis of transition I am going through in hopes of being of support to others who may be in the same place. I also hope that I might hear from others or read their stories of troubled transitions. Hopefully through care for one another in the sharing of our stories and of being of support and in offering suggestions and possible solutions we can help one another to get off the fence of indecision in our state of transition. My wildest fantasy is for some one to read/hear my story and say to me, “Hey, discerning priest, while you’re discerning I’ll give you a job that will meet all your expenses so you don’t have to fight that battle while you’re in your discernment.” That sure would help. My hope and dream for the future is that we can help one another through our exchanges come to peace and move toward where we know God to be calling us: happy priesthood/happy marriage/or both outside the Roman Catholic tradition if that has to be.
I hope for the day when one who feels called by Christ to the Roman Catholic priesthood, whether that be a man or a woman, can respond fully to Christ’s call enjoying all fully guaranteed human rights and that one can develop and live in fulfillment of all one’s human needs and opportunities.
If you would like to offer George your support, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.