Out the Front Door

WHY GOOD PRIESTS QUIT

It’s hardly news that in recent years some priests have been cast out of the church and defrocked. Some are in the middle of litigation. Some are in prison. Some were removed from parishes and simply disappeared. But has anyone noticed how many are voluntarily leaving, through the front door—no sex scandal, no embezzlement, just leaving of their own free will? Five of my colleagues have called it quits in the past three and a half years. All of them are theologically moderate, grounded in the church of the Second Vatican Council, and were effective and talented ministers in highly regarded parishes or diocesan offices. And I wonder—is it just coincidence, or an alarming new trend?

For one of these guys, a two-decade struggle with celibacy finally took its toll. Peace came to him after years of meeting with an insightful spiritual director, and through reading the powerful writings of Fr. Donald Cozzens, author of The Changing Face of the Priesthood and an eloquent articulator of the problems of priestly celibacy. My friend finally figured out for himself that despite what we were told in the ’70s, the “gift” of celibacy doesn’t come with holy orders automatically, like a side of fries, and he decided to leave.

For another, disillusionment proved the decisive factor. For years he had worked hard to “clean up” a significant parish in his diocese, laboring to build an integrated...

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About the Author

Fr. Nonomen (a pseudonym) is the pastor of a suburban parish. He has been a priest for more than twenty years.