When a Priest Falls in Love

Mandated celibacy is a form of violence done to those called to ordained ministry but not to celibacy.  While these priests can have a profound sense of Call, celibacy never really finds a home within their hearts, regardless of the spiritual facade their bishops or spiritual directors attempt to wrap it in.  Celibacy is something they try to tolerate but deep down an intense loneliness prevails.  The thought of growing old as a celibate, and someday retiring in a home for priests, brings more pain than comfort.  Although their loneliness may diminish at times, it is often in the background of their lives, a kind of darkness that will not go away.
 
Priests who fall in love can feel imprisoned within the priesthood as they watch others freely celebrate their love and openly show affection for their significant other. They cannot deny that their love is a holy experience and find themselves perplexed as to why it has put them on a collision course with the priesthood, when, in fact, being in love has brought them new joy and enthusiasm for life. They experience a deep yearning within, not simply for sex, but for the union of two hearts and souls lived in the sacred mystery of love and companionship for the rest of their lives. Mandatory celibacy, however, forces them to face difficult choices. They can secretly embrace this love in the dark and shaming shadows of mandated celibacy, force this love out of their lives, or extract themselves from the priesthood and pursue the relationship. None of these choices seems appealing, but true freedom is found in the latter.

If a priest is in love, it’s hard for him to understand why this love is disqualifying him from the priesthood, especially in light of I John 4:8 where we read that “God is love”. So, why is love an impediment to ordained ministry? Yes, we all know the old party line “Celibacy frees you to love everyone”, but, we also know it’s not true. Married people can and do love others just as passionately as celibates.
 
The fact is, when celibate priests fall in love they find what has been true all along: they are owned by an ecclesiastical institution which has turned romantic love into a force of evil and has an odd obsession with controlling their sexuality, to the point of bordering on a kind of a master/slave relationship. Disguised in religious jargon and contrived theology, mandatory celibacy is really about radical patriarchy (male domination) and  misogyny (whether it be in ordained priestly ministry or as wives of priests, women are perceived as inferior and an evil influence).
 
On the other hand, Christ has no interest in mandated celibacy and even cured Saint Peter’s mother-in-law in respect for Peter’s marriage.  Understanding this, the transitioning priest is justified in separating the will of God from the practice of the ecclesiastical institution.
 
For a reflection about the decision to marry click here. To see the positive role women would have on the priesthood, click here.
 
What about the vows and promises taken on the day of ordination? Things change and change is healthy and inevitable in the maturation process. To live in a dynamic relationship with God is to live in the midst of change. We could not stay in the priesthood because it prohibited changes God was calling us to make. The papacy has made mandatory celibacy and other teachings into idols to which many of us could no longer bow.
 
How can one find visionary leadership in a church that’s reluctant to change? Most of its bishops, especially during the past forty years, were chosen precisely because of their aversion to change and their willingness to attempt to restore the church to some former golden era. Pope John XXIII, Vatican II and countless dedicated priests and bishops worked hard to pry open the windows of the church to let in some fresh air only to find them being closed by a new generation of priests who refer to Vatican II as “Vatican too much”. There seems to be little room in this new Church for reasonable, Spirit-guided change, so many priests find it necessary to leave. Their journeys, prayerfully embarked upon, are inspired by the Holy Spirit. One of the oldest teachings of the church is one’s obligation to live according to the dictates of their conscience.
 
In a healthy maturation process, one moves from the locus of authority from being external to internal.  Author and  Methodist minister, James Fowler, in his book “Stages of Faith” proposes a staged development of faith across a person’s lifespan. Fowler’s first stage is called “Undifferentiated Faith” where an infant’s experience of reality is not distinguished from fantasy.  As the child develops the capacity for concrete thinking, she then moves toward stage two called the “Literal Stage”, where she starts distinguishing reality from fantasy. In this stage, God may be perceived as an old man living in the sky, while heaven and hell are viewed as actual physical places. Here, one believes that if they follow the rules, God will give them a good life.  But they begin to grow out of this stage when encountering conflicts and contradictions to what they hold to be true. The perplexing question, “Why do good people suffer?” begins to challenge them at this stage.
 
Around puberty, a person moves into Fowler’s third stage, “Conventional”.  As in the previous two stages, authority is still located outside of one’s self.  Here, people are not fully conscious of having chosen to believe something, because they are not engaged in any analytical thought about their faith.  It’s called “conventional” because most people at this stage see themselves believing what everyone else believes. They are reluctant to change their beliefs because of their need to stay connected to their peer group. Many church leaders may consciously or unconsciously attempt to keep people in this stage by discouraging analytical thinking about their faith. They imply that questioning one’s faith in itself shows a lack of faith. They prefer people stay in a sort of perpetual childhood where authority is located in themselves and their religion in order to continue exerting control.
 
Many men who leave the priesthood find it is necessary in order to further mature and progress to the next stage. In stage four, “Individuated Reflective” faith, young adults become aware of their freedom and burden to begin to sort through their beliefs, accepting or rejecting them. Here one’s sense of authority moves from the external to the internal.  A person is better able to govern themselves and is less dependent upon rules. The literalism of religious stories begins to give way to deeper meanings. The strength of this stage is the capacity for critical reflection, but the weakness is that a person may “throw out the baby with the bath water”, claim to be atheist, and fail to enter into the next stage.
 
Stage five is the “Integrating Faith” of middle adulthood. Here a person is able to expand their worldview beyond the “either/or” position of the previous stage, toward a “both/and” point of view. People in this stage are willing to cross religious and cultural boundaries to learn from people they may have previously avoided.  Here one believes in God, but not as a literal being living in the sky, and Heaven and Hell are no longer seen as physical places.  They re-examine their beliefs, while at the same time accepting that it is beyond their ability to comprehend. They realize truth can also be found in other religious traditions besides their own and no longer need to accept their faith on a literal level only.  This stage of faith makes it difficult to follow one’s conscious when church leaders insist their way is the only way.
 
Many priests find it necessary to separate themselves from the controlling tendencies of the ecclesiastical institution in order to mature in faith.  The same process is necessary for anyone experiencing the desire to mature when their tradition attempts to hold them  back.  Conservative religion is built upon unhealthy psychology. See this link for more discussion about the maturing process and faith.
 
When leaving the priesthood, it is wonderful, but not always possible, to have the support of family and friends. I found it very difficult to talk with my brother priests about leaving, even after being in a support group with some of them for over 12 years. I heard how they referred to other priests who had left and knew confiding in them would bring more pain than support. Besides, I might have been whisked off to a counseling program if they had reported to the Bishop that one of his priests was about to jump the fence.
 
I’m still amazed that I didn’t feel free enough to discuss something as important as leaving the priesthood with guys I had been meeting with in my “support group” for so long. For me, it became apparent that whatever fraternity we had was a mile wide and an inch deep. But, I think something else was at work. Leaving the priesthood is so taboo that even discussing it with “faithful” priests is perceived as sinful. Deeper still, even the thought of leaving is avoided by those who are repressing it, giving credence to the saying “Sow a thought, reap an action”.
 
If a priest is serious about leaving, it will be helpful for him to associate with others with whom he  can honestly discuss his fears, hopes and dreams.  It is important that he confide in people who are not brainwashed with Catholic fundamentalism, which eliminates his Bishop / Superior and most if not all his priest friends and other conservative Catholics.  The most understanding people I found were from the Corpus organization.  If he can find a Corpus group meeting in his area, that would be a great help. Corpus is comprised of priests and women religious who have transitioned out of ministry as well as other Catholics who are interested in significant change within the church. He may also want to find a good counselor who is supportive of his journey.
 
On the day of my marriage, as I spoke my vows to my beloved, I felt nothing but joy and happiness in the freedom to live my personal life out from under the oppression of mandatory celibacy. These vows made much more sense than the previous ones I had made in front of my bishop seventeen years earlier. The purposes of those were obedience and control, while the purposes of these were for love and companionship. Making the two mutually exclusive is an abuse of ecclesiastical power, an injustice to priests, and contrary to the will of God as found in the scriptures and first thousand years of Catholic Church tradition. The sixteenth century reformers were correct when they taught marriage is a divine right that no ecclesiastical law can negate. When you read the arguments against the practice of mandated celibacy these reformers made, you will find little has changed during the past 500, or so, years. You can find their arguments by clicking here.
 
Abused children are not the only victims of the sex abuse crisis in the Church today. Every priest in active ministry is a victim. Prior to leaving, I remember walking through an airport wearing my collar, when a mother pulled her young child closer to her as I approached. That hurt, and it had everything to do with the stigma of mandated celibacy.
 
Mandatory celibacy defines a priest primarily by sex and places an inordinate amount of attention on his sex life. When the typical lay person meets a priest, they perceive him first and foremost as a “celibate” and have an internal dialogue that goes something like this: “Is he really celibate? I wonder what he does with his sex drive. Is he gay? He must masturbate a lot. God, I hope he’s not a pedophile.” If he’s attractive, they think, “Father what-a-waste”, and, if not attractive, they think, “No wonder he went into the priesthood”. Those who think this occurs because our society is preoccupied with sex are mistaken. It’s always been this way. People are now just more willing to talk about it. The fact remains that, because “celibate” primarily defines a priest by his sex life, he is viewed and understood primarily by sex and for this he suffers now, more than ever. Priests are not “celibates”; they are “human beings”.
 
Priests who leave to marry are not looking only for sex.  From some of the emails received, many Catholics seem to think their quest is all about sexual union.  They cannot seem to see beyond sexual intercourse to the quest that a priest has for love,  emotional intimacy and nurture.  For them, it is all about f**king, which reveals what their marital lives must be like and one can only feel sorry for their wives.  The primary quest for priests who leave to marry is mutual love and intimacy with their spouses of which intercourse is only one part.  I find it offensive when someone implies that a priest leaves because “he can’t keep it in his pants”.  No, the issue is “he can’t keep the rock wall around his heart”.
 
The term “mandatory celibacy” implies that a priest is to abstain from sexual activity.  It objectifies sexual intercourse and separates it from the union of heart and soul that a healthy marriage entails.  “Mandated celibacy” gives the impression that f**king is what marriage is all about and tends to turn women into sexual objects.  Yet, that is not what most priests are after.  They simply long to have another person to love and share their life with like any other normal human being.  Mandated celibacy shames priests for having this desire, and because celibacy is all about sexual abstinence, their sexuality is shamed too.  This is a dark cloud that hangs over the priesthood, which all priests are forced to enter upon ordination.  They are forced to publicly declare that they will forever deny this important part of their lives.  This isolates them and makes them into an oddity that people often pity more than respect.  The problem is forcing celibacy upon priests.  The dynamic would change if celibacy was optional.
 
People may object by saying, “But celibacy is optional. No one was forcing you to be ordained.”  But you are mistaken.  Our Call is from God and it was profound.  The Church has imposed celibacy upon God’s call.  Mandated celibacy was not part of the early Church (Jesus cured the mother of Saint Peter’s wife. Mark 1:30-31)  and never became a law until around 1000 AD.  Mandated celibacy is not the will of God and it has caused tremendous problems in the Church.
 
It’s ironic that church officials, obsessed with controlling priests’ sex lives by mandating celibacy, have themselves created this sex abuse crisis. For centuries, they have constructed a mystical facade around celibacy and their efforts brought welcomed protection and privilege. But, like Toto in the Wizard of Oz, this crisis has pulled back the curtain and no amount of incense can hide the little man pulling the levers.  Mandated celibacy is far more integral to this crisis than the Pope and bishops are willing, or perhaps able, to admit.
 
Click here for a reflection about how mandated celibacy hinders healthy sexual integration. Click here to see the statement extolling the superiority of priests by Lacordaire and how it has created an atmosphere of clericalism, which has allowed sexual misconduct to become more prevalent within the priesthood. Click here to see how celibacy is a necessary component to a  clerical culture that enables sexual abuse. Click here to find where the ultimate responsibility should be placed for this crisis.  Click here to find a history of sex, choice and Catholics.
 
The Vatican’s public response to this crisis was the promise to screen out gay candidates for ordination during their seminary preparation. With this statement, they made homosexual priests the scapegoats in this crisis, even though they know pedophilia is a separate issue. They have taken the easy way out by exploiting society’s homophobia and sacrificing these priests on the altar of self-preservation. This is a far cry from Jesus, who stood with the marginalized and was crucified because of his solidarity with them. It’s revealing that the Vatican intentionally tied pedophilia to homosexuality in order to exonerate mandated celibacy and avoid having to make the systemic changes necessary to find real solutions. For more about scapegoating homosexual priests, click here and here.
 
Recently, the hierarchy paved the way for the ordination to the priesthood of numerous married Protestant clergy.  Most of these clergy left their denominations over the issue of homosexuality.  Their primary desire was to find hierarchical support for their homophobia, and sadly, they have found it within Catholicism.  History will soon prove the Catholic Church wrong on the issue of homosexuality as it has on so many other issues.  Even then, the hierarchy will continue to proclaim itself “Infallible” and those in the pew will again look the other way in order to maintain their illusion of faith.  Click here to see how the Bishops have lost credibility with the majority of Catholics when it comes to the issue of homosexuality.  Click here to read a story about the pain the Bishop’s homophobia has caused one man and how their teaching causes many gay people to commit suicide.
 
I have known I was gay from the time I was four years old, even though I could not articulate it to myself, let alone anyone else.  I thought everyone felt the same as I did, but gradually as I grew up and then went to school and observed others, I realized slowly over time that I was different.  And so did my classmates when I reached a certain age because I did not have, nor have any desire to have, a “girlfriend.”  Naturally, I became the butt of jokes from my male classmates from a very early age.  I became an altar boy at the tender age of seven and noticed immediately the profound respect I had from the older people in the parish that I never had before.  When I announced to my classmates at an early age that I thought I wanted to be a priest, it helped to stop the ribbing (at least from the Catholic ones), now; at least, they saw a reason why I stayed away from girls.  When I entered minor diocesan seminary with other students, we were surrounded by men who gave us an attention, respect, and honor that I had never experienced before.  Never once did they question my sexuality or make me feel uncomfortable.
 
Within the Roman Catholic priesthood, a high percentage of bishops and priests are bisexual or homosexual.  One should not be surprised at this.  As the priest cited above attests, the acceptance and respect shown to celibate priests is a strong drawing card for boys who feel alienated and demeaned because of a homosexual orientation that they themselves probably don’t understand.  The seminary environment is, itself, conducive to nurturing the emotional needs of homosexual men.  From the moment a man enters the seminary, he is surrounded by men and expected to associate primarily with men throughout his formation.
 
From the time a man enters the seminary and throughout his priesthood, special friendships with women are discouraged and often perceived as scandalous, while associations with males are, of course, acceptable.  Eyebrows are raised if a priest goes out to lunch with a woman, but he can live with other men and vacation with other priests, with no questions asked.  If he is gay, this is also a drawing card, as it would be for a heterosexual priest if the situation were reversed and he could freely, without raising any eyebrows or suspicion, associate with women.
 
In no way do we want to imply that an all male environment influences men to become homosexual, because sexual orientation is genetically predetermined.  However, within a male environment, it is understandably easier for a homosexual or bisexual man to have his intimacy needs met than it is for a heterosexual man.
 
Because homosexual relationships are frowned upon in most areas of society, welcomed in very few and completely rejected in others, the priesthood is, and has been throughout the history of mandated celibacy, a refuge for gay men. But, there is another reason why gay men are attracted to the priesthood, they are very good at it.
 
During our years in the priesthood, we found homosexual priests to be some of the most pastorally gifted and successful people in ministry and learned to respect them deeply.
 
Although it is easier for gay priests to have their intimacy needs met, they risk public ridicule if their sexual orientation becomes public knowledge.  Therefore they must keep their sexual orientation “in the closet,” and that is more easily done within a community of celibate males.
 
If the Church’s hierarchy were honest, it would acknowledge the high percentage of priests who are gay and affirm their ministry.  Instead, they appear to be ashamed of these priests and attempt to deny their existence.  In so doing, they are contributing to society’s homophobia and encouraging gay priests to view their God-given sexuality with shame.
 
Some cardinals, archbishops, bishops and priests in ecclesiastical offices responsible for homophobic polices are themselves gay, which shows to what degree they will sacrifice their integrity in order to maintain their power.
 
The history of the Church indicates that even some popes have been homosexual.  The hierarchy is well aware of the high number of homosexuals that minister within their ranks.  Sadly, their policy has been to be dishonest and deny it. Gay priests are also expected to join in this falsehood and be dishonest about who they are.
 
Regardless of whether priests are homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual, the real problem lies with the hierarchy’s seeming inability to deal with human sexuality in an emotionally healthy way.  Their outlook exemplifies an Augustinian view where sexual orgasm is perceived as a defiling act rendering the priest impure.  This sick, medieval view of sexuality is the heart of the problem and the foundation upon which mandatory celibacy rests.
 
It is very difficult for priests to integrate their sexuality in a healthy manner when it is perceived as an alien force within them.  My moral theology class in the seminary taught that masturbation (or even so much as thinking about it with delight) was serious sin.  My professor summed it up in these words: “If you are celibate, no orgasms!”  This came from a very conservative moral theologian whom the Church had elevated as an authority on human sexuality in one of the largest seminaries in the United States.  The message that came through to us seminarians was:  “Your sexual drive is evil and alien to who you really are and must be repressed, or you will be punished by God.”  This resulted in seminarians running off to confession every few days with sex as the major “sin” with which they were preoccupied.  Teaching such as this is psychologically damaging and harmful to healthy sexual integration.  This is why there will always be some sort of sexual crisis within the priesthood, and the responsibility for it needs to be placed at the very highest echelon within the Catholic Church’s hierarchy.
 
A priest who is gay and has transitioned created a blog intended to be a safe place where gay or bisexual priests (currently serving or have served) in the Church, can find support. He states, “It is my hope that, through the process of sharing the challenges that exist for being gay and priests, support and encouragement can be found regardless of dispirited rhetoric and dictums from the Church’s hierarchy, which oppresses gay and bisexual men into feeling lonely and shameful. This blog is intended to allow a healing process to exist, whereby priests can find understanding, hope and a sense of peace.” Click here to find the blog “Make It Known”.
 
For an excellent in depth discussion about homosexuality and the Catholic Church, see this article in Commonweal.
 
The experience of falling in love is overwhelming for anyone, but especially for a priest.  When love erupts in a priest’s heart, he realizes everything he has worked for is put at risk – his ministry, reputation, the esteem of parishioners, other priests, his bishop and possibly family and friends.  He risks losing his job, home, health insurance and, sadly in some dioceses, his retirement.  On top of all this is the fear of spiritual condemnation by the Church who claims to wield the power of God Himself.  So, rather than romantic love being a treasured gift from God, it becomes a threat to a priest’s very survival and puts him in crisis.
 
Even though they know this, most priests still yearn for a significant other with whom they can have a close, intimate relationship.  If gay, they long for a male, and if straight, a female companion who will see beyond the curtain of their professional lives into their hearts and embrace them with tenderness, nurture and unconditional love.  Their primary desire is not for sex, but for the warmth, tenderness and nurture that a healthy relationship of love offers.  Unfortunately, mandated celibacy makes all of this “sinful”, or at least, the near occasion of sin, which priests are trained to avoid.
 
It is true that there are priests who are primarily looking for sexual gratification and are willing to use others for this purpose.  But these priests are emotionally troubled and do not represent the majority.  Those who have been recipients of their abuse would call them criminals and possibly even attempt to sue them or their diocese or religious order for their behavior.  Mandated celibacy can and often does attract dysfunctional men who are emotionally and sexually confused.  Furthermore, it can arrest what would have otherwise been healthy psychosexual development because it prohibits the very intimate interaction necessary for this development.  This is particularly true for priests who are “lifers”, i.e. they entered the seminary during high school when the psychosexual factors of their lives were being formed.
 
Women who fall in love with priests—and the same is true for gay men who fall in love with priests—often find a sort of “schoolboy” mentality, which is indicative of men whose psychosexual development has been arrested.  But it is also a product of the environment in which priests live for all the reasons mentioned in the first paragraph of this section above.  A priest in love must keep it hidden and often the first person he tries to hide it from is himself.  What love he is able to show cannot be overt, and like a schoolboy he is awkward trying to express it, feels shame if anyone notices it, and if asked would strongly deny it exists.  What is going on in his heart is euphoric and at the same time frightening.
 
Rather than run from this love, priests may find it helpful to have a good trusted counselor with whom to discuss it.  They may find that attempting to run from love is actually running from God’s greatest gift and something they will someday regret.  On the other hand, careful discernment is necessary to see if he and his companion have the emotional maturity to make a marriage work.
 
Because mandated celibacy prohibits this relationship, proper discernment while in ministry is difficult.
 
If a priest finds that he would like to pursue the relationship, he may be better off leaving the priesthood.  In this way, he can be honest and express his love in the light of day, rather than in the shaming shadows of celibacy, where now his lover is also required to live.  I fail to understand why a priest would expect the person he loves to also live in this oppressive environment that perceives their relationship to be sinful.  She is susceptible to verbal and other emotional abuse if word gets out that they are in love.
 
Such is the sad situation of the Roman Catholic priesthood.
 
In order to leave, the priest needs to look at everything he does as a stepping stone out of the priesthood.  This begins in his own heart with a clear intention to leave, i.e. “Sow a thought and reap an action.”  Finding emotional support is helpful, but if he is looking for priest friends or his bishop to validate his desire to leave, he will be disappointed.  He must believe, not only in God, but also in himself.
 
To someone outside of Catholicism, they may think, “What’s the big deal?  If you want to leave, just leave!”  But it’s not that easy.  Click here to see more reasons why it’s hard to leave.
 
He can leave with or without going through the laicization process.  If he and his beloved want to continue within Catholicism, get married and receive the sacraments, he will need to be laicized and this process can be lengthy, but it can occur after he leaves.  Further information about being laicized is available on this website’s blog, “The Laicization Process”.
 
The first step to transitioning out of the priesthood is for the priest to have a theology that allows him to leave.  He must also perceive that he has the internal resources necessary to create a new life elsewhere.  Even if he finds that this particular love relationship does not end in marriage, it has served to help him mature and begin a new phase of life.  Once a priest tastes the sweetness of intimate romantic love, it becomes the benchmark for other relationships.  He has been to the mountain top of romantic love, where, perhaps to his surprise, he has found the presence of God and a whole new dimension of life.  It changes everything and he begins to see forced celibacy for what it is – an oppressive ecclesiastical law that stands apart from the will of God.  Of course, the situation would be completely different if celibacy was optional.
 
It takes tremendous courage for a woman to confide to a priest that she is in love with him, or for a priest to confide to a woman that he is in love with her.  And of course, the same would apply to gay relationships.
 
When a priest is in love, his love is often expressed with innuendo and under the table, so to speak, which is indicative of the schoolboy dynamic.  If the woman has reached a point in the relationship where she wants to be honest and express her love to him, she will be hurt if it is not reciprocated.  The rejection may occur for several reasons:
 
  • The priest is not in love with her and she has read more into the relationship than was there. In this case, he must ask himself if he intentionally led her on.  If this was the case, he joins the ranks of other abusive priests.
  • The priest lacks the courage to admit his love for her, though he may come around to it in time.
  • The priest may truly love her, but not enough to face the possible ramifications of developing a deeper relationship.  At least, he should admit this.
  • The priest truly loves her, but is too steeped in Catholic theology to ever seriously consider leaving because he fears putting either of their souls in jeopardy.  He feels that by remaining a priest he is practicing “sacrificial love” and awaits their perfect union in Heaven.  In this situation, in the mind of the priest, the ecclesiastical institution has become divinized.
 
By discussing the nature of their relationship, the woman has been the mature one by admitting her love, no longer willing to play schoolboy games.  She has been honest and called him to honesty too.  Like so many women in the history of humanity, she is the hero but is often viewed as the villain.  To all the women who have been hurt by priests who love them but are afraid to come out from behind their collars: your honesty, integrity and courage are an inspiration.  He is a slave of the institution.  Hold your head high and move on to a man worthy of your love.  Healing will come in time.
 
A priest in love normally wants the relationship to continue under the table, because of the crisis it involves for him to be honest about it.  Often when in love, his denial is primarily to himself about the blossoming love relationship, but he cannot deny the joy he feels while in her presence.  It’s time for him to man-up and face the truth.  It may be costly but such is the price of true spiritual growth and maturity.
 
He needs to wake up and see how he has been brainwashed by the Church and embrace this love as a gift from God.  Regardless of what the Church says, this is the real conversion where he takes responsibility for his own life.  Just as he found Christ present in ministry and now in romantic love, he will find him also present and guiding him into the future.  Faith is confidence assurance about things hoped for and conviction about things unseen.(Hebrews 11:1)
 
Mandated celibacy forces a priest to live a sort of schizophrenic relationship with himself when it comes to romance and nurture.  Intimacy lurks beneath the surface of his life and he dreams of someday finding someone with whom he can share it.  If he does come across someone that causes the violins to sound off, he feels both attraction and fear of where it may lead.
 
This can be a challenge for married couples as well, who find their hearts being touched by someone other than their spouse.  It is less an issue if their need for love and nurture are being met with their spouse, and this involves much more than sex.  But, for a priest, there is no one filling this void in his life.  While it is true that some find their needs for intimacy met in their spirituality, many do not.  Christ longs to bring these priests love, nurture and intimacy through another human being and they have a right for this.  Ecclesiastical law can never nullify the divine law to marry and experience the union of two people coming together as one.
 
There are women and priests in love who have made a mutual commitment to somehow live this love within the context of the priesthood.  Some of these relationships are celibate and some are not.  I don’t know how, over the long haul, they do it.  They live in fear of their love becoming public and must sometimes have to lie to keep it hidden.  I don’t think living  this way is emotionally, spiritually or physically healthy.  Yet, some have managed to make it work.  Love will have its way, even if it must be lived within the shaming shadows of celibacy.  However, priests who ask their beloved to live in this way must examine themselves to see if it is truly mutual or the result of a lack of empathy.  In some countries, a priest having a concubine is tolerated, perhaps even expected, but that is not the case in the United States.
 
Only in the Roman Catholic Church is God’s gift of love perceived as evil.
 
Some priests find their needs for love and intimacy met within their life and ministry but many do not.  An obvious solution to this would be to make celibacy optional.  Unfortunately, the Church is entrenched and blind to this, and it’s time for priests in love to move on with their lives.
 
Ecclesiastical leaders eager to pass judgment on priests who seek companionship need to understand that they have turned God’s gift of love into a force of evil.  This is one of the greatest perversions of religion today and they would do well to remember that turning God’s gift of love into a force of evil is the real sin.  By so adamantly maintaining the current law of mandated celibacy, they are mainly responsible for the pain suffered by priests and women in love and for whatever scandal might ensue from these  relationships.
 
A question women who fall in love with priests must ask themselves is, “Am I part of a fantasy world he is creating?” Most priests have no intention of leaving the priesthood, but welcome a romantic relationship, whatever the degree, because it provides relief from the loneliness of the priesthood. Women involved with these relationships can find their lives on hold sometimes for years only to find the relationship to be going nowhere.
 
If a priest is really in love, he would leave. Period. No, “Well, if only…” Or,  “I would leave if ….”  Many women who enter into the world of mandated celibacy and romance end up deeply hurt.  Romance and the priesthood are indeed an oxymoron.  If a priest is unwilling to be honest and discuss the relationship with the one he loves, it is an indication that the relationship is going nowhere.
 
Father, if you are in a romantic relationship, whether gay or straight, you are fortunate.  Giving and receiving romantic love is a huge part of what it means to be a human being.  It is an experience where the presence of God cannot be denied if one is honest about it.  If you are still active in the Catholic Church, no one needs to tell you how complicated the relationship is given the fact that you have to live it within the shaming shadows of mandated celibacy.  It is unfortunate that now the one you love must also try to express their affection within this oppressive system.  Your options are to force this love out of your life, or strive to secretively nurture it within the confines of the priesthood, or leave and live the relationship openly in the light of day.  True freedom is found in the latter.  Romantic love opens up a whole other world.  Your superiors will demonize this relationship, but how can love be evil?  Realize they and their predecessors have turned romantic love into a force of evil, which is the ultimate corruption of religion.  How can their corruption of romantic love be the will of God who identified himself with love?  Because mandated  celibacy is not the will of God, you are free to leave.   (source)
 

More  Resources:

Celibacy as the MAIN REASON for the lack of vocations
Priests talking about celibacy
The Tradition of Abusive Dishonesty
The Trouble with Celibacy in Africa
When a Priest Falls in Love

22 thoughts on “When a Priest Falls in Love”

  1. This is truly an extraordinary reflection on the experience of priests who fall in love. The transparency is both shocking and wonderful. Anyone thinking of becoming a priest today ought to read this every time he hears his bishop or his teacher talk about the “gift of celibacy.”

    These lines hit me the hardest:

    Father, if you are in a romantic relationship, whether gay or straight, you are fortunate. Giving and receiving romantic love is a huge part of what it means to be a human being. It is an experience where the presence of God cannot be denied if one is honest about it.

    The creators of this website describe it as follows:

    The purpose of this website is to provide information about challenges Roman Catholic priests encounter and the need for reform. It provides a forum for priests who have left the priesthood to share why they left and what they have learned through the process. It also provides a place of networking and support for priests at crossroads as they consider whether or not to leave, stay or return to active ministry.

    Aaron

  2. There is no such thing as “mandatory celibacy” in the Catholic Church. First of all, the vocation to the priesthood is a divine calling which is mediated by the Church. Check any book of the Bible, Old and New Testament and you will find that a vocation comes from God and only him and it requieres a free response. Generally, those called react with fear, as even the Blessed Virgin Mary does. It is a matter of faith and this whole analyisis about romantic love and priests is way off base. If the person truly had a vocation and got emotionally involved with a woman, then he is unfaithful to the vocation and should take the steps necessary to follow the call of Jesus Christ to conversion and with the grace of God remedy the situation. Just like a married person who “falls in love” with another man or woman, he must reject such an option which is not open to him and take the necessary steps to be faithful to the divine committment which he has undertaken, as God will not deny his grace or allow him to be tempted beyond his strength.

    All of this sloppy sentimentalism expressed in this article is not in accordance with the Will of God expressed through the traditon of celibacy in the Church which according to the most serious studies, is of apostolic origin. Why was Jesus cellibate? Why did St. Paul and all the Fathers of the Church without exception express the superiority of virginity over the married state, not that celibates are necessarily holier than married folk.

    The true value of a person is expressed in his or her fidelity to the sacred commitments taken on, be they marriage of sacred celibacy. The rest is a lot of baloney. God is faithful and he expects us to be so with the help of his grace.

    1. Dear Thomas H.,

      You say, “If the person [an ordained priest] truly had a vocation and got emotionally involved with a woman, then he is unfaithful to the vocation.” In so doing, you assume that no one can “truly” have a priestly vocation and, at the same time, be married to a woman. What evidence can you produce?

      Jesus never mentioned celibacy when he chooses any of his disciples. Peter, who is clearly recognized as a married man, receives no admonition to separate himself from his wife. But, more importantly, we read in 1 Tim 3:2 that “a bishop must be above reproach, married only once [a one-woman man]” and, in Tit 1:7, we read that a presbyter should also be “someone who is blameless, married only once, whose children are believers.” Instead of discovering a “flowering of Jesus’ gift of celibacy,” therefore, we find in the late apostolic tradition the requirement that bishops and presbyters must have a wife and children. Why so? For this reason: “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he be expected to take care of God’s church [which is an extended family]?” (1 Tim 3:5).

      So I put forward this evidence found in the Scriptures. This is where our discussion would have to begin. . . .

      Fraternally in Christ,
      Aaron

    2. Dear Thomas H.,

      I’m afraid that your analysis is not trustworthy. You presume that celibacy and priesthood have always gone together. History is against you here.

      #1 In the Hebrew Scriptures, only the sons of Aaron were qualified to be priests. To have sons was the result of marriage. Hence, the temple priests were married and their sons succeeded them at the altar. No one else could be a priest.

      #2 One can hardly overlook the clear evidence of the Gospels to the effect that Jesus never mentioned celibacy when he chooses any of his disciples. Peter, who is clearly recognized as a married man, receives no admonition to separate himself from his wife. But, more importantly, we read in 1 Tim 3:2 that “a bishop must be above reproach, married only once [a one-woman man]” and, in Tit 1:7, we read that a presbyter should also be “someone who is blameless, married only once, whose children are believers.” Instead of discovering a “flowering of Jesus’ gift of celibacy,” therefore, we find in the late apostolic tradition the requirement that bishops and presbyters must have a wife and children. Why so? For this reason: “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he be expected to take care of God’s church [which is an extended family]?” (1 Tim 3:5).

      #3 Every informed pastor (the Pope included) knows that celibacy was not universally imposed upon the clergy until the Middle Ages, but only very few are aware of the bloody history whereby the papal attacks on clerical marriage were resisted for many generations by pastors and their wives. The origins of clerical celibacy emerged as an unexpected byproduct when eleventh century church reformers tried to deal with problems surrounding the inheritance of properties and of offices by the legitimate sons of clergymen. Reforming popes initially tackled this problem by reducing the number of “sons” fathered by priests. Priests and their wives were required to sleep in separate beds. When this approach failed, wives of priests were required to live in separate houses. Fines were imposed. Priests living with their wives were suspended. Bishops bent upon making pastoral visitations and forcibly separating priests from their lawfully wedded wives were often bombarded by angry parishoners throwing rotten fruit. In some instances, wives who became pregnant were publicly shunned and priests wanting to advance their careers were forced to abandon their wives and children. The First Lateran Council (1123) was so frustrated by the inability to impose Vatican compliance to earlier legislation that they went so far as to render the sacramental marriages of priests “null and void.” The Council decreed “that marriages already contracted by such persons [priests and deacons] must be dissolved, and that the persons [husbands and wives] be condemned to do penance.” In a Church that was endeavoring to sustain the notion that no sacramental marriage could ever be dissolved by anything less than death of one of the spouses, the First Lateran Council’s open hostility toward the sacramental marriages of priests was a shocking (and many would say “ungodly”) departure from its own theology.

      #4 Many seminary students confided to me that they experienced an acute personal struggle between their calling to priesthood and their calling to intimacy.

      “What kind of God,” one seminarian urgently asked me, “would call me to be a [celibate] priest while confounding me with an equally strong call to be a loving husband and father?”

      pope-priest-celibacy-is-not-a-dogma #5 Our Pope Francis has made it clear on many occasions that “celibacy [for priests] is not a dogma.” In so doing, he wanted to make clear that a married clergy had always been an option for the Catholic Church [as has always been the case in the Eastern Rites].

      So, now our discussion would have to consider each of these five points. Which would you accept and which would you set aside? Then the dialogue can begin.

      From your starting point there can be no discussion since you regard priesthood and marriage to be ENTIRELY INCOMPATIBLE CALLINGS. The only problem with this starting point is that you have to radically distort the NT and church history and the experience of my seminarians in order to get EVERYTHING to agree with your position. As soon as the NT and history and my seminarians are allowed to speak for themselves, then it is manifestly clear that a celibate priesthood is only one way among many ways. And something that was deemed to be “the best way” for a long time may, for urgent reasons, “no longer be the best way.”

      If this is a “lot of baloney” (as you say), then we have to slice bread and make sandwiches so that we can spread out our picnic blanket and eat and digest our baloney sandwiches in the sunshine because this is the stuff of life on earth with the people of God. ‘In heaven it might be different, but in this world, to live is to change and to grow perfect is to have changed often’ (Cardinal Newman reflecting upon church history).

      Fraternally,
      Aaron

    3. Dear Thomas,

      I am a woman in love with a priest. He has not led me on in any way, and we have not discussed my feelings for him yet. . . .

      He is consecrated to God and I long to be as well. When I am around him that consuming love turns from Christ to him, and I just wish I could care for him, cook for him and comfort him and hear his voice everyday of my life. It isn’t sexual at all; that I can’t imagine. I just want to hear his kind voice for the rest of my life.

      I’m completely swept away, and I want to follow him and I would gladly and gratefully take second place to his duties as a priest if I could just be his wife. We could remain celibate if that is what the Church wants. I would follow him anywhere.

      I’ve been praying and praying for him, because I don’t want to take him from God. I want what’s best for him, and if that means my attending another Catholic Church to help him I would do so immediately. So is the depth of my love for him.

      Thomas, please pray for both of us. Please pray for me.

  3. Very nice article but it’s not too nice when it’s your wife a priest falls in love with! I have left the church over this!

  4. Hey! I’m at work surfing around your blog from my new iphone!

    Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and look forward to all your posts!

    Keep up the excellent work!

  5. Thanks for the article.

    its true what you are saying [I dearly hope so!]
    i think we should stand firm and fight to have it imposed. Its upon us to speak out and act.

    I myself am dating a priest for the third year. i believe God is with us. i hope to one day standout for the fact that priests should be allowed to marry and if it fails i wanna start another branch of catholics where priests wil b [will be] free to marry or not.

  6. You describe well the theological issues and emotional feelings and problems faced by the priest in love. The stages of faith through which the couple must progress in becoming comfortable with the relationship are also accurate. Perhaps you need to consider in more depth: 1. the effects of the lies, deceit and hypocrisy required to sustain such a relationship 2: the priests who have multiple concurrent emotional and/or sexual relationships.

  7. I love a priest. I have loved him for 25 years. But, because I respect his Priesthood, I would not do anything to jeopardize that. This priest continues to perform his priestly duties and I do not hinder him.

    I have told him of my feelings, and have held him close physically, as he has held me. Our feelings for eachother are intense. We have lightly kissed, and he has touched my face and hair. We know we love eachother, and he has also told me he loves me. We have never had sexual intercourse. So, what exactly does celibacy consist of? Is it just refraining from sexual intercourse? Is it possible for a priest to engage in intimate holding, touching, kissing and gazing into another’s eyes, and not have these things considered as breaking the vow of celibacy? Why can’t a priest be intimate in ways other than sexual intercourse, like other people, and stilll maintain his priesthood?

    I believe priestly celibacy is a noble feature. Mankind needs something to look up to, or where would common decency be if everyone ran around doing what they wanted. There has to be a standard, and celibacy is that standard. Even though I hold, hug, kiss, and express my feelings for this priest, I consider myself celibate, as I do not engage in sexual intercourse, and I am not an ordained priest. It is by choice.

    1. Dear Dee,

      I respect the road you have traveled. Authentic love has many routes. . . .

      Celibacy is a “noble feature” when it is freely undertaken and rightly ordered.

      I think back upon my own seminarians who told me that their priestly calling and their thirst for intimacy are seemingly incompatible. But this incompatibility is not God’s doing. Pope Paul VI violated God’s plan when (a) he removed priestly celibacy from the agenda of Vatican II and (b) he published his own flawed betrayal of God’s word and of God’s intention for my seminarians.
      Joy and peace,
      Aaron

  8. I have both calls. To get married and to be a religious person. A priest and a prayer group prayed for me to be able to see clearly what is the call God has given me. The more we prayed, the more it became clear inside of me that there is no division between the 2. God is asking me to do both, not to choose.

    I’m starting to understand that the celibacy rule is not God’s plan for priest, nuns, etc. Everybody is unique and God has a unique plan for all of his children, maybe for some celibacy will be there call but… we’re all unique. If the clergy want’s to go against God’s will, and impose (instead of letting us be free to respond to God’s will) celibacy, I don’t believe it is right. It is a lack of trust in God’s plans, that’s what it is. You can see all the bad that happened and is still happening because of that. All the sadness it caused, and still cause. It’s like putting handcuffs on someone to impose this while Christ is about giving freedom to us and teaching us.

    I think it is a fault to impose the celibacy rule. It is not God’s rule…

    For some, they might have the celibacy calling with the priesthood calling. But it is not a plan for most of them. I feel that churches are less supported because of that nonsense rule.

    1. Dear Private,

      I respect your discernment. This is what my student-seminarians were telling me in the 70s and 80s.

      Please look at my “Jesus and Sex” page for full details. Then, get angry, and discover how Paul VI passed off some half-baked and dishonest analysis that has obstructed any honest assessment of clerical celibacy ever since. Then comes Pope Francis who says, “[Priestly] celibacy is not an unchangeable dogma.”

      So how do you move forward? How about creating a website and movement to bring together the hundreds of men who want the dual blessed callings NOW?

      Fraternally,
      Aaron

    1. A heart-warming story of a life changed. Here is the outcome:

      It’s been just over a year since I left and I am thankful for the experience of being a priest. I am currently using the knowledge I gained to teach religious affairs and I am managing to find humour in my former life in the standup comedy I do.

      I really thought that from time to time I would regret my decision, but I never have.

      Since I left, I have had the freedom to question my old beliefs, take a step back from church and focus on discovering the world for myself.

      Other priests in similar situations can have very different experiences. I know men who have left the priesthood for love and have felt lost ever since – wanting to be priests again but being told that they can’t be. I know men who have pushed away the person they love because they are scared to leave the priesthood – and who can blame them when they were trained at a young age, then given a home, living expenses and prestige? I also know men caught between both worlds, unable to leave the priesthood and unable to leave their lover. This inevitably leads to secret affairs and even secret children in situations akin to Bishop Brennan’s in Father Ted. . . .

  9. I am a woman in love with a priest myself. However, my story is a little bit different in that my love for my priest (not in my parish) was love before he was ever a priest. He became one in 2015 in his 30s rather than right out of HS. He had a much loved career in the Air Force and gave up so much to leave and become a priest. We were intimate within our dating relationship before he ever even got “the call”. My heart was crushed when he did and while I loved God just as he did, I found it hard not to be angry about the fact that he had to choose between being a priest and being a father/husband. Why? He would have been talented at both. He was and is a precious man. We are friends and we stay in contact but are in different cities. However, my heart is for him.

    I so wish that the Church would rethink their strategy on mandated celibacy because it hurts so many people in the long run and is simply not Biblically based from my knowledge of the scriptures. I commend the priests who have decided that they want this kind of love and go about it in the right way instead of doing so secretly. SO many of them want to have it all and try to create a “one foot in, one foot out” effect of ministering AND getting their needs met. That is detrimentally hurtful for both parties.

    Thankfully, my love who is also now a priest has tried his very best to remain above board and I respect him for it but man, it makes it hard when I wish we were together. I think if we lived closer, it would be so much harder. I would never ask him to leave and would hate to be the reason he feels regret and resentment. But I think he would do so well as both a Priest and a family man.

    1. Dear Tara-Lee,

      I can hear your pain. I’m quite sure that your judgment is sound: “But I think he would do so well as both a Priest and a family man.”

      Do you ever wonder why the bishops at Vatican II didn’t take up this issue? If so, go to https://www.e-ir.info/2013/07/28/papal-politics-paul-vi-and-vatican-ii-the-reassertion-of-papal-absolutism/

      When I was training future priests in Cincinnati, I came across many future priests who came to me with their woes: “Why has God given me a calling to priesthood while, at the same time, giving me an equally powerful calling for sexual intimacy in marriage?” Did God get confused? Did God fail to remember that priests have to be celibate? I don’t think so.

      Paul VI is the one who was confused: “I suffered loneliness as I lived in a sexual wasteland for seventy years. If I could do it, then the twenty-year-olds today ought to be able to do what I did, namely, to join their suffering with those of Jesus on the cross.”

      So, did Paul VI get it right? Or is their something fishy with his notion that God “needs our suffering” to better redeem and renew the face of the earth?

      Tell me what you think.

      Peace,
      Aaron

  10. I’m in love with my priest and monk for 10 years now. We have a relationship with hugging and kissing and sometimes he visits me, but rarely.

    I believe him being my twin flame. I am about 35 years old.

    I believe being told by God that this is my man. There are struggles because we can’t marry and I believe he does not want to leave preisthood but I’m okay with that, knowing that he is my twin flame and not able to abandon this relationship as I know by experience, I am just happy to have him.

    He is an christian orthodox monk, not allowed to have a woman.

    You can share your story also on my forum/blog.

    https://twinflameforum.jimdofree.com

    It is absolutely noncommercial!

    Would be nice if I find women who also maintain a relationship with their priest or monk, like me and are unable to leace because of strong love.

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