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QuestioningAPriest wrote:

Hi, guys —

Tonight in my youth group we got on the topic of priests and sabbaticals. The topic came up regarding a former priest that had left on a sabbatical due to stress and other problems. It also came out that he had feelings towards another woman at his former parish and was leaving the priesthood to marry her.

  • How does leaving the priesthood work?
  • Is this common or something the Catholic Church frowns upon?
  • Where could you find out more information regarding this?
  • Why are some priests married, especially in other religions?
  • Also he blessed a cross I had so does that mean the blessing isn't honest because his heart was somewhere else with this woman?

I guess it just shocked me and kind of changed my perspective though I understand priests are human too. My youth group leaders were hesitant to bring it up and I don't think a lot of our congregation knows about this.

Thanks for your help,

I needed somewhere to start!


  { How does leaving the priesthood work and while are some priests married in other religions? }

Fr. Jonathan replied:

Dear QuestioningAPriest —

I understand your confusion. Let me try to help.

First, no priest ever leaves the priesthood. The priesthood leaves an indelible mark on the soul like Baptism. You cannot be unbaptized and you cannot erase the Sacrament of priesthood.

Second, celibacy is not something that existed from the early Church. It is something that came into the Church and is still a part of the Latin Rite. Eastern rite priests have continued to be married and are not vowed to celibacy. So there is a variety of styles of priesthood but Latin rite priests promise celibacy.

Third, some men find they cannot live celibate lives and live double lives. This sad situation is not sustainable — they will either be caught and cause scandal or they realize their fraudulence and come clean.

What they do is they take a leave of absence from the active priesthood to think about things and then they decide:

  • if they can come back and live celibacy and their priesthood or
  • they ask the Church to be dispensed from the obligations of the priesthood including living celibacy.

They remain priests but they cannot function as priests accept for hearing Confessions in emergency situations. If they celebrate Mass it would still be valid but illicit.

So, because they are priests forever their actions as priests are actions of God. Thanks be to God, the validity of the Sacraments such as celebrating Mass does not depend on the morality of the priest. Even if the priest is in the state of mortal sin, his blessing of the article is a blessing from God's priest. This is not saying that it is good for a priest to be in the state of mortal sin — just that the efficacy of the Sacrament doesn't depend upon the morality of the priest.

Pray for the priest who left, that he finds his vocation — he needs your prayers.

On a personal note, I consider myself extremely fortunate in that I love being a priest. I don't really struggle with it. I keep my promise of celibacy with not too much extra effort — probably with the same effort that a happily married man stays away from relationships with other women.

I hope that one priest's struggle doesn't disillusion you to the rest of us and that it doesn't effect your faith. I am sure that priest feels bad enough and doesn't need the extra burden that he hurt your faith too.

Fr. Jonathan

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