Why I Wish Jonathan Morris Had Remained a Priest
National Catholic Register, 20 June 2019
COMMENTARY: There are burdens, often undeserved, that accompany every path in life. The priesthood is no exception, and the burdens of our life are not without blessings.
The declaration from Father Jonathan Morris came as a blow. His decision to leave the priesthood hurts his brother priests as well as his parishioners, but it is one that has, at the same time, he tells us, brought him joy.
Morris’ circle of influence is wider than most, given his prominence as a frequent guest on Fox News and his books.
It is a most unusual case. Morris has not been accused of misconduct. He has not been thrown under the bus to solve a problem for his superiors. He has not fallen in love with a woman whom he desires to marry. He has not fathered a child or lived a double life. He has not fallen at all. He simply wants out. And he says now that he should never have gotten in.
In a statement on Facebook, Morris revealed that, after a time of sabbatical, he has petitioned the Holy Father to return him to the lay state and dispense him from the promise of celibacy. While he “loved and thrived” in priestly ministry, he has long struggled with his “vocation and with the commitments that the Catholic priesthood demands, especially not being able to marry and have a family.”
In a subsequent television interview, he revealed that while a seminarian he had had a short, intimate relationship with a woman, and he told his superiors then that he wanted to leave formation. Instead, Father Morris, then a Legionary of Christ, was sent to Mexico to meet with the order’s founder, Father Marcial Maciel. The master fraudster, prodigious in his own criminality and corrupt to his very core, saw nothing wrong in Jonathan being tempted to live a double life. He told Jonathan to stay and advanced his priestly ordination by two years.
So Jonathan became Father Morris in an environment of brutal malformation, and, despite all that, he lived an (apparently) happy and fruitful priesthood. We crossed paths in Rome as seminarians, and our media work brought us together on other occasions.
When he left the Legion to join the Archdiocese of New York, I would look him up when he was stationed at Old St. Patrick’s in Lower Manhattan. It has been a few years, though, since we last had any significant contact. So the news came like a bolt out of the blue to me, as it did to many others.
I will not hide my disappointment, but the Church does make provision for such cases, and it seems as if Morris has done everything the proper way. I cannot think of my disappointment as anything but the fitting response, and Morris concedes the same. Indeed, he expected just that: “My fear of disappointing people’s expectations of me has always held me back from taking this step.”
Yes, I can sympathize with that. I have not experienced anything of what Morris has. But I think I would rather die an unhappy priest than let down my family, my students, my parishioners, the Church, in search of a happiness — perhaps elusive — elsewhere. Morris likely thought the same for many years. And he did try to get out before he got in, only to be manipulated by one of the most wicked men in the history of the Church.
And yet, and yet … God can and does write straight with crooked lines, and he wrote some beautiful lines with Father Morris as his pen.
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