From popular blogging priest and fellow convert Fr. Erik Richtsteig, a rather unsympathetic look at priests who leave the priesthood over women [My comments]:

Every profession has it euphemisms. The Catholic clergy is no exception. For example, if a priest is sent away for treatment for some issue psychological or otherwise, one might hear that he has “gone to Camp Snoopy.” (These euphemisms are by no mean universal.) If a priest has left the priesthood, usually to get married, he has “gone over the wall.”

Last week, it was announced that a well-known TV priest [you know who] had “gone over the wall.” In a letter he released, he said that he had developed a relationship with a widow that he was trying to help and as a consequence he was going, “to take some time off to prayerfully and honestly discern my future.” Whenever I hear something like this, my thoughts and feeling run to disappointment, anger, sadness, and surprise. I do not propose to speak about this particular priest and his particular situation, but rather I want to reflect on the general issue [but since Father has put it in the context of the specific incident, we can safely assume that, in his generalizations, he means to cover Fr. Francis Mary’s specific case as well].

First, whenever I hear of a priest “going over the wall”, what comes to mind is a man leaving his wife for another woman. In my view, this is a cowardly and selfish thing to do [understandably strong words from a fellow priest]. Certainly, men have left the priesthood because they are psychologically unsuited and for these I have some sympathy especially if they wait to be laicized and then are married. But to leave because they have found ‘love’ is something entirely different. When one is ordained one makes an informed choice. Perhaps at one time men were rushed into the clergy, this doesn’t happen any more [well, maybe it doesn’t happen very often any more, but I could point out a few instances]. And this choice is for life, not just until you meet a real nice gal [kind of like the choice I made when I met a real nice gal]. (Though in my experience, most guys who have left to marry have ended up marrying ‘devil women’ [some of these might be what are called “collar chasers” in these parts].) Most of the men who do this are like the guys who trade in their wife of 20 years for the new, unwrinkled and unsagging model. Acts of selfishness and sin (or temptation to sin) need to be recognized for what they are [Whoa . . .].

Second, I have precious little patience for the apologists who say something to the effect of, “well, the priesthood is a lonely life.” A priest is no more or less subject to loneliness than persons in other states of life. You are only lonely if you allow yourself to be. The solution to loneliness is healthy, prudent, holy friendships, not sex or romantic love. When I hear a priest opine that marriage is the solution to problems, it always occurs to me that he is not hearing enough confessions. Don’t get me wrong marriage is a good and holy thing, but it is also a life sharing in the Cross of Christ as is the priesthood.

Third, even if it makes things ‘better’ for the priest, it won’t for other people. People especially spiritual sons and daughters of the priest will feel betrayed and they have a right to. The priest’s life is not his own. He does not live it for himself and his personal fulfillment, but for the salvation of souls. The departure of even a bad priest will effect in a negative way those he has ministered to. [While this is true, has Father considered the corollary situation of divorce for the sake of the injured party? The Church has no need of priests who can’t or won’t do their jobs, and should wish these who go of their own accord a sincere farewell. Like a divorce, it is awful and painful and harms the august status of the binding sacrament. But, if one party makes it impossible for the other party to live a holy life, then divorce is tolerated. Ditto a priest going “over the wall.”]

Fourth, a word about discernment. The time for discernment is before ordination, not after. [I always thought that discernment was like conversion: You do it, then you get to do it a little bit more over and over again for the rest of your life. I have to prayerfully consider my vocation every day. Some days it is harder than others. Mind you, I never think about giving up all together, but sometimes I have to discern quite a bit to determine a reason to get out of bed.]

We now have two priests, one a fellow EWTN presenter, who have emphasized that we should perceive Fr. Francis Mary’s situation as tragic rather than particularly romantic (as though we were considering some kind of ecclesiastical Duke and Duchess of Windsor.) But their words do carry a certain sting that may be off putting. Between Fr. Trigilio and Fr. Erik, one begins to wonder if Fr. Francis Mary would feel welcomed back by his fellow priests after so public a betrayal.

Above all, gentle readers, continue to pray for our priests.

WAC

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