Priests are not robots. They experience, think and reflect on their experience. Like all people they face crisis. Now the crisis brings them face to face with a choice: either they change the church or else they are forced to leave. No priest ever dreamed of leaving the church. Yet, experience shows them another face of the church. It’s not the idea of a church presented in their theological books or in their early teens’ years where everything was rosy and charming. It is the real church where at times superiors stop some priests from doing some sterling work just for a slim excuse. Other priests recount incredible, horrible stories. Other priests find difficulties in working with the faithful. It seems that some of the laity want the church to remain tied to the middle ages! Some priests find people who are unchurched, more willing for some changes in the church. All this would lead to one decision: leave to work in a greener area.
We like this book (Why we walked away) for one particular reason: it makes people aware that priests do not leave just because they fall in love with a woman! There are so many issues going on internally in a priest’s life. The woman comes in because she listens carefully and is so understanding to the priest’s life situation. On her part, she sees the priest so loving, charming and full of good principles which is a turn on in itself. Married priesthood is not just about sex but rather a new enriching life style i.e. his experience in his family, helps him to manage the larger community. It helps him to formulate the thinking of the church, the spirituality etc….
This book is another addition to our wonderful collection. We are always happy that writers dedicate more time to the issue of priests who walk away. We are aware that the expression walk away might convey the meaning of running away from something….in actual fact, some of the married priests are still serving, though under new conditions, where in most cases, they feel more free to act. Ultimately it proves that they did not run away at all.
I would like to comment on the review published Aug 29th in the Evanston Indiana Courier & Press (printed below) of a new book titled Why We Walked Away by Phillip Field et al. (Libra Agni, 2014). The fact that the author, and presumably his companions number exactly 12, one has to ask: is it a coincidence?
The reasons they give for “walking away” are accurate enough, as far as it goes, but leaves out a major factor: There seems to be no mention of the celibacy issue, at least from the reviewer, Sarah Corrigan. But I’m biting my tongue; to even call it an “issue” is inaccurate, because having a girl-friend or even in some cases, a wife — the situation of most of the men that left — was not an academic question. It was not an “issue,” it was a life choice; and in the context of a job description that called for a vow of celibacy from young men, many of whom had never even kissed a girl by age 26 when we were ordained, pitted raw unintegrated humanity against naïve rationalized delusion. The “reforms” that Vatican II helped us imagine, included a recognition that these life choices were an integral part of the picture; human sexuality cannot be dismissed in any re-definition of the religious community. The obdurate insistence on doing so has exploded in the paedophile scandals and the hierarchy’s hasty decision to cover them up. A recognition of the sexual dimension in “why we walked away” would make this book more authentic in my estimation, though its absence may simply be the omission of the reviewer who may be unsympathetic to the problems of male sexual repression and found it, as a reason for leaving, politically unimpressive. Corrigan’s review suggests these men were heroes and martyrs. That may or may not have been the authors’ intentions, but if they were anything like us, they did what was right, but they were neither.
Having said that, I don’t mean to downplay the social and political disagreements that also motivated quitting; they would have made it impossible for us to work in that Church with that hierarchy and those values, even if the celibacy “issue” had been resolved to our satisfaction. But it’s not even possible to imagine such a resolution without there having occurred a simultaneous change in the reactionary values defended by this hierarchy affecting all social and political matters across the board. All these “issues” — social, political and life-choice — are intrinsically entwined and inter-related. It’s not easy to demonstrate that in our over-rationalized / compartmentalized world. But leaving it out in the interests of self-justification does not help … at all.
EVANSVILLE, Ind. – In the decades between 1975 and 2008, more than 18,000 U.S. Roman Catholic priests walked away from their calling, said Phillip Field, of Evansville, who was among them. Worldwide, that number was closer to 120,000, he said.
In their departures, which were often sudden, priests left their parishioners without explanation.
They remained silent — as did their bishops — creating an information void that parishioners filled with their own wildly varied guesses. In “Why We Walked Away” (Libra Agni, 2014) 12 such priests, including Field and his two brothers, Clark and Bill, explain their experiences as priests and their decisions to leave.
The stories are compelling and at times heart-wrenching, as the authors plumb the depths of their personal struggles — not with God, but with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and its at-times soul-crushing resistance to change. It will likely offend some.
Generally, these 12 stories come from an era of great social upheaval and change in America — the 1960s and 1970s and, not coincidentally, the impact of Vatican II. In addition to the Field brothers, submissions are from Joe Kirsch, Ed Griffin, John Ardizzone, John Raymaker, Carl Roos, Jerry Griffith, Dick Eckel, Jim Koerber and Gerry Charbonneau.
From the introduction: “These 12 tried to implement the changes of Vatican II. They were opposed at every turn … when they caused trouble bishops moved them from parish to parish like pawns on a chessboard … (and) these priests started to leave.”
But the volume is not a vengeful tell-all, Clark Field said.
It details history of the mid-20th Century American Catholic Church from a rarely offered and largely unflattering perspective, but it is dedicated to Pope Francis who, “…has made it clear he wants the church to become the home of all. “He has reached out to the homeless, those outside the church seeking the truth … he does not mince words. He has shown over and over again that the trappings of a former age must be left behind so as to speak to the modern world.
“We 12 who have left the active ministry … have not given up ministering. We hope the struggles this book describes can serve as a point of reference for lay people who seek to understand how priests today could best function in a world ever more in need of evangelization.”
That being said, Phillip Field said the book’s introduction is important to understanding where the church was 50 years ago and where it is today and how, in many regards, things have not changed much.
“The Laments” was the opening session at last year’s conference of the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, he said.
A selection of priestly laments from that session is included in the introduction and shows, Field said, how little has changed in 50 years.
“The main differences today being the influence of Pope Francis and the hope priests have now that they will be heard,” he said.
“Fifty years ago, leaving the priesthood was the only option.”
Sara Anne Corrigan