Thoughts on Fr. Jonathan Morris’ Laicization Request

Thoughts on Fr. Jonathan Morris’ Laicization Request May 21, 2019

Deacon Greg Kandra, fellow blogger on the Catholic Channel on Patheos, has written twice on the issue (one / two). His second article ended as follows:

Absent any other details, what we have here is heartbreaking, but it is not — strictly speaking — evil. Sad? Yes. Sinful and scandalous? No.

Pray for Father Morris. Pray for all of our priests. The road is long. The journey is difficult. The laity sometimes do not make it any easier.

And, indeed, sometimes that itself can be a scandal.

Deacon Greg also replied on my Facebook page:

It has been disheartening to read some of the judgments being made about this priest, from people who don’t know his heart and really aren’t in a position to be taking potshots. I have to wonder if they would prefer to have an unhappy priest stay in his vocation. What good does that do anyone?

Good question. We’re in a very judgmental age, for sure. It depresses me constantly.

For an example of relentless idiocy and judgmentalism and lies about Fr. Jonathan, see the related thread at Michael Voris’ disgraceful Church Militant site. I respond to this sort of thing with a Bible passage:

James 3:5-12 (RSV) So the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! [6] And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell. [7] For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, [8] but no human being can tame the tongue — a restless evil, full of deadly poison. [9] With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. [10] From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so. [11] Does a spring pour forth from the same opening fresh water and brackish? [12] Can a fig tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

The following comments of mine are from a dialogue on my Facebook page:

We take vows to get married, but sometimes when it is seen that this decision was wrong, we obtain an annulment. Wouldn’t that be analogous, at least to a degree? I don’t think this is ideal. But it’s better than staying and becoming a fornicator. Divorce and remarriage is not an option in Catholic moral theology. I’m making a partial (and only a partial!) analogy to annulment, not divorce.

In both cases, it may be years in one state (outwardly or ostensibly), and then it is no more (in practice). This includes sexual relations and usually children in an ostensible marriage that is annulled. That’s pretty involved, isn’t it? I didn’t intend to make any analogy to mere sinful desires. Both marriages and ordination involve vows. Sometimes things go wrong and it becomes the case that the vows aren’t for a lifetime.

Therefore, I think there is some valid analogy: a priest determines that he can’t live the celibate life, and so asks to be dispensed from that. Yes, he should have known all that from the first, etc., and in formation, but we are all fallen and imperfect human beings.

In an annulment situation, it can also be that one discovers what was unknown before: such as a partner claiming they don’t want children when before they said they did. That is grounds for an annulment.

Likewise, the priest may discover over time that he was not cut out to be celibate: that the temptations and desires otherwise are proving to be too much for him: that he was indeed called to be married and a biological father. They are natural desires, after all. Not all have the same capacity for heroic renunciation.

I agree with Deacon Greg, in holding that it would be scandalous if a relationship were present already, but not if one voluntarily asks to be dismissed out of felt inability to remain celibate.

It’s different from Luther, Calvin et al forsaking their vows, because they were questioning the entire concept of the evangelical counsels and heroic celibacy and even vows themselves. That’s not occurring here, as far as we know. He is saying, in effect, “I feel that I am unable to personally carry on these vows. I am not questioning that they are perfectly legitimate and good for those truly called to them for a lifetime.”

I myself felt a call to be an apologist and evangelist, back in 1981 when still Protestant. I think my life and work have borne out that this was correctly discerned. And I see it as a lifetime job. But I can certainly imagine getting to a place where I felt I no longer could do it. Maybe it would be because of not having a lot of money, or the constant insults, or the fact that so few are interested in apologetics.

It’s all perfectly conceivable. Likewise, I can imagine that an interior struggle could take place whereby a man feels that he was not cut out to be celibate. He may have truly believed it to be the case before, but now he does not. And so he honestly seeks laicization.

Currently the laity are having a field day savaging not just priests, but also bishops and the pope himself. And that is scandalous and disgraceful, whatever one thinks of this particular situation. The devil, of course, works extra hard to make priests and religious fall. This is why they need our faithful prayers. Now with such a lack of appreciation and everyone thinking they are child molesters, it has to be very difficult. People (especially ones exercising heroic renunciation) need to feel appreciated. Maybe a few need no human support whatsoever (hermits in the desert or what not), but very few . . .

Priests are attacked more (by the devil and the demons), and exercise heroic sanctity in undertaking their vows; therefore, some discover in time that they are unable to continue fulfilling their vows. And I’m not sure that that is necessarily a sin every time (though it is clearly weakness and a failure in some sense). Marriage doesn’t involve the heroic renunciation that priests and religious exercise every day.

None of this is stated in order to justify Fr. Morris’ decision; it’s simply to note that it is difficult to be a priest, and all the more, a celibate priest (which Eastern Catholics and Orthodox are not required to do); therefore, they need our profound prayers and moral support.

Lastly, I enthusiastically support the celibate priesthood in the western rites, and have written many articles and portions of books defending it. This is not about some impulse to get rid of that.

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Photo credit: John Sweepy (4-24-08): Fr. Jonathan Morris at St. Paschal Baylon Catholic Church, Thousand Oaks, California [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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