Father Moreilli Considers Leaving the Priesthood

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It was December 26, Boxing Day in Canada and there in Italy, it was St. Stephen’s Day, a national holiday. Father Morelli wondered what Genet was doing. How was she going to spend the day?

After they had made love last night, they fell asleep in each other’s arms. At four in the morning, he stirred. Genet was lying on her side with her back to him. He leaned over and kissed her on her bare shoulder before he got up from the bed. He quickly got dressed and then, going over to the bed, he picked up the pillow and pulled down the bedspread. He put the pillow back, lifted the bedspread and gently pulled it over so that it covered Genet’s naked body. Then, he crept out of the room and let himself out of the apartment. It was dark when he got to the rectory. After he showered, he had something to eat and then, did his morning devotion.

A couple of hours, later, he went up into the loft to read his Bible and until it was time to change for the midday Mass. His sermon was about St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. “Yesterday, we celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ but today, we reflect on the life, faith and martyrdom of St. Stephen. What do we know about this man? He was a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit. He was full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Those who disputed with him were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke.  What lessons can we learn from this man called Stephen whose face was like that of an angel’s?”

An hour or so later, when the sanctuary was empty and everyone had left, Father Felice approached Father Morelli. After they greeted each other and Father Felice commended him on his powerful sermon, Father Morelli invited him to join him for lunch.

After lunch, they returned to the sanctuary and Father Morelli told him what had transpired between Genet and him last night when he took her home after having Christmas dinner with his family.

“What are you going to do now?” Father Felice asked him. “You have to make a choice. If you want to remain a priest, you must end your relationship with this young woman. If you don’t want to be laicized by your bishop, you will need to request a voluntary laicization.”

“I know that priests request voluntary laicization for a variety of reasons such as not being able to the vow of chastity, a personal desire to pursue another vocation or they don’t want to practice a formal ministry anymore. Sometimes, it’s an issue with a Church doctrine or practice.”

“In your case, it is a woman.”


“Father Morelli–Roberto, you became a priest because you believed that it was your calling. I looked at the faces of the people as they left the sanctuary after Mass today and they looked like they have heard good news. Pope Benedict said that is an indication that the priest has clearly done his job well.”

“You’re right, Father Felice. I became a priest because I believed it was what God wanted for my life. I love preaching the word of God; baptizing, offering the Sacrament of Confession for the forgiveness of sins; offering Mass daily; praying; providing pastoral guidance and spiritual direction and visiting and anointing the sick. I love everything I do but, the truth is that when I decided to join the priesthood, I was really running away from my feelings for Genet. I was in love with her but she was dating my cousin Fabrizio. I tried dating a girl I’ve known since we were children but I eventually broke up with her to become a priest.”

“What about your parents? How do you think that they will react to your leaving the priesthood because of this young woman?”

“I don’t know.”

“And what about the Church you are responsible for shepherding? How will they feel when you forsake them and your priestly duties for purely selfish reasons?”

“The decision to leave the Church isn’t an easy one and it isn’t for selfish reasons. I care about the congregation and the last thing I want to do is to give up my ministry to them but I believe that leaving the priesthood is something I have to do.”

“You may leave the church but you can’t resign from the priesthood. You’re a priest for life.”

“As a layperson, I’m not obligated to remain celibate.”

“Father Morelli, many priests who leave the church are under the impression that they are no longer bound by any of its rules, including the vow of celibacy. However, once the vow is made, as far as the church is concerned, it is in effect forever. Every priest who leaves the church to marry is breaking canon law and his vows.”

“I know that the only way I can be released from the vow of celibacy is through a dispensation from Pope Francis.”

“I wouldn’t get my hopes up if I were you. We don’t know how many of dispensations have been granted since it was instituted under Pope John Paul II.”

“How can the church expect me to remain celibate when I plan to get married? Marriage is the reason why I’m leaving the church.”

“Marriage is one of the most common reasons for requesting a voluntary laicization. However, in order for you to get married in the Catholic Church you would need to be older than 40 and require a dispensation from the pope. I must warn you, though that such dispensations are rarely granted.”

Father Morelli stared at him. “I can’t wait until I’m 40.”

“That’s what you will have to do if you want to get married in the church.”

“Then, I guess we could get married in a registry office or in her church.”

“The Catholic Church will never recognize your marriage.”

“As long as God recognizes it, that’s all that matters.”

“As far as God is concerned, you’re forsaking His plan for your life. You were meant to be a priest and you’re throwing it all away for a woman. I think you’re making a terrible mistake.”

“I don’t think I am.”

“As a laicized priest your life will undergo several changes. You will not be allowed to wear clerical clothing and you may not perform most Catholic sacraments except in an emergency.”

“Yes, Father Felice.”

“You will no longer be addressed as ‘Father.'”

“It will take a while to get used that.”

“I strongly advise you to pray about this. Think about all that you will be giving up.”

“Yes, Father Felice.”

“Remember once a man validly receives sacred ordination, the sacrament never becomes invalid. The priesthood is like baptism. Even though a baptized Christian stops practicing his or her faith or even denies Christ, he or she can never undo his or her baptism. It’s the same concept with priestly ordination. You don’t stop being a priest because you’re no longer a practicing one. Once a priest always a priest. It is a calling that ought to be treated with the upmost respect. A priest is In persona Christi because he acts as Christ and as God. The priest and bishop act in the person of Christ the head in their leadership of the Church.”

“If I could be a married priest, I would gladly stay and continue to serve God and His Church–“

Father Felice looked reproachfully at him. “You cannot be a married priest.”

“But what about Aaron? He was a high priest and he was married with sons who were also priests.”

“Aaron was chosen to be a priest after he was married. But the priest Melchizedek whose priesthood was forever wasn’t married just as Christ and St. Paul weren’t married.”

“What about bishops?”

“Bishops must be unmarried men or widowers and a married man cannot become a bishop.”

“But didn’t St. Paul say in his letter to Timothy that ‘that a bishop has to be “husband of one wife?'”

“Yes, a bishop can be married, however, the Church has asked priests and bishops to be celibate. Paul is not saying is that a man chosen to be a bishop must be married but that the man chosen for that office shouldn’t be married more than once. If marriage were a requirement to be a bishop, then St. Paul himself couldn’t be one.”

The question which popped into Father Morelli’s mind was, where does it say in the Bible that St. Paul was a bishop? Instead, he said, “I know that St. Paul wasn’t saying that that marriage was required in order for a man to be a bishop. That would be no different than prohibiting a married man from becoming a priest if that’s what he wants. In his letter, St. Paul made it clear that a bishop could be single and then, later marry if he chose to.”

“Let me make it clear that St. Paul did not say that bishops must be married. Marriage is not required for episcopal office. And for all intent and purposes, it would be best for bishops, like all clergy to remain as he did–unmarried so that they could be completely devoted in their service to God and to the church. “

“But what about St. Peter? He was married and so were some of the other apostles. Even St. Paul asked the question, ‘Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?'”

“As you know, Paul wasn’t speaking about himself because he was unmarried. As for St. Peter and the other apostles, they were already married when they were called to be apostles. They left their families, jobs and homes to follow Christ. We, as priests are to do the same. We are to follow St. Paul’s example and serve God without the distractions of family.”

“What about Christian couples serving God? A perfect example would be Aquila and Priscilla.”

“The church encourages couples to serve God in what ever capacity He calls them to but a married man cannot be a priest nor can a married woman be a nun. They must be unmarried and take the vow of celibacy.”

“If God can call married men to be priests and High Priests why can’t the church do the same?”

Father Felice gave him a withering look. “Might I remind you that  priests serve in the place of Christ  which means that their ministry specially configures them to Christ? Scripture clearly shows that Christ was not married but in a mystical sense to the Church, which is His bride. Remaining celibate and devoting themselves to serving the Church, priests are more likely to emulate Christ and consecrate themselves to Him. Married priests cannot do that. St. Paul who encouraged and practiced celibacy, said, that a man who isn’t married is more concerned about all that pertains to the Lord and how he can please Him.  But a married man is concerned about the world’s concerns—how he can please his wife.  His attention is divided. Christ wasn’t divided so, why should His servants be? Married men have no business serving as priests.”

“Isn’t it common in the Eastern rites of the Church for married men to be ordained to the priesthood? And aren’t there are a few married men who converted from other faiths who are ordained to the Catholic priesthood?”

“While that is true, it isn’t common. In the Latin rite or the Eastern rites priests or deacons don’t marry after they have been ordained, except in very unusual circumstances.  In the Eastern Catholic Churches, a married priest is married before he is ordained. St. Paul strongly believed and testified from personal experience, no doubt, that remaining single protects a person from undivided service to God. St. Paul said,  ‘For I wish that all men were even as I myself’ It was his wish that everyone be celibate, especially ministers whom he called soldiers of Christ. A minister is not to get himself entangled with the affairs of this life so that he may please Him who enlisted him as a soldier.”

“St. Paul also said that if a man if he has strong feelings for a woman and it seems like the right thing to do, he should do what he wants—he’s not sinning—they should get married.”

“He also said, ‘But if a man stands firm in his decision, and doesn’t feel the pressure, but has his own will under control, he does right if he decides in his own heart not to marry the woman.  Therefore, the one who marries the unmarried woman does right, and the one who doesn’t get married will do even better’.  So, you would fare better by not marrying this young woman.”

“St. Paul did what was best for him and I have to do what is best for me.”

“How can you think that leaving the church is the best thing for you?”

“I don’t want to leave the church because I love what I do but I don’t have a choice.”

“You can choose the church over self.”

“How can I remain in the church and continue to serve as priest when I’ve broken the vow of celibacy?”

“If your relationship with the young woman does not result in scandal, you can confess it for absolution and sin no more. However, if you continue to live a double life despite being warned, you can be suspended or worst case scenario, be dismissed from being a cleric. I strongly advise you to fast and pray before you make a final decision.”

“All right, Father Felice. I will fast and pray.”

“Good. I will pray for you too.”

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“Thank you, Father Felice.”

“I hope you enjoy the rest of this holiday and that you’re spending it with your family.”

“Thank you. I hope you enjoy the rest of it too.”

Father Felice smiled. “I know I will because I’m visiting my niece and her family and having dinner with them.”

“Good for you. Goodbye, Father Felice.”

“Goodbye, Father Morelli. I’m happy we had our little chat and I pray that you will make the right decision.”

“I will.”

They said their goodbyes and Father Felice left. Father Morelli sat down on one of the pews and thought about his conversation with the older priest. Today, he saw a side of Father Felice he had never seen before. There was a hardness. He knew that if he made a decision which the priest didn’t approve of, their friendship would turn sour or end. He remembered reading an article about Lorenzo Maestri who, when he decided to leave the priesthood, found that everyone against him, from the altar boy to the bishop. In that same article Giovanni Monteasi, another former priest was mentioned. He left the priesthood in 1983 and fathered a son. He was the president of Vocatio, an association of married priests. While he and the other members weren’t against celibacy, they believed that priests should be able to choose whether or not they wanted to get married.

I’m not against celibacy either, Father Morelli thought to himself, but like Monteasi, I believe that it should be a matter of choice. Celibacy is not a church doctrine but a discipline. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that priests can’t marry and have families. I love Genet and I want to spend the rest of my life with her. If I hadn’t become a priest, she and I would have been married by now and have children. Celibacy isn’t for everyone. It isn’t for me. I can’t remain a priest when my heart and my mind are filled with love for Genet. I would be doing God and the Church a disservice.

He knelt down and clasping his hands, bowed his head and closed his eyes. In earnest prayer, he sought the Lord’s will.


Sources: Classroom; Catholic News Agency; Ranker; The Guardian; Canon Law Made Easy; Wikipedia; Catholic Answers; DW; Wikipedia; Ron Conte; Scrupulous Catholic; Life Teen; World Crunch; Bible Info; Got Questions; Church of Christ; Wikipedia; Catholic Answers; Bible Hub; Catholic Register; Vocation Center

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