Father Jonathan Morris, a former member of the Legion of Christ who was at one time among the most prominent Catholic priests in America as a contributor to Fox News, has asked to be dismissed from the clerical state, indicating he wants to be free to “marry and have a family” though saying it’s not about an “existing relationship.”
In a statement released Friday, Morris writes that the decision has filled him “with newfound joy,” though he says he knows some people won’t understand his decision to leave the priesthood.
“After taking some months of sabbatical to be with family and to dedicate more time to prayer and retreat, I have decided to ask the Holy Father, Pope Francis, to release me from the duties and responsibilities of the clerical state,” Morris said in a statement, which he made available to Crux.
Morris left the troubled Legion of Christ in 2009, three years after the Vatican suspended its founder, Father Macial Marciel, from his priestly duties, having found Maciel guilty of various forms of sexual abuse and misconduct as well as abuse of power. Morris was incardinated into the Archdiocese of New York with the support of Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
He’s appeared on several TV networks and is best known for his role with Fox News, though he was also a theological adviser to Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ”, and was the program director for “The Catholic Channel,” a project of the Archdiocese of New York, on the Sirius XM radio network for three years.
His full statement:
Some personal news:
After taking some months of sabbatical to be with family and to dedicate more time to prayer and retreat, I have decided to ask the Holy Father, Pope Francis, to release me from the duties and responsibilities of the clerical state (priestly vows).
Taking this step is something I have considered often and at length in years past and discussed with my spiritual guides. While I have loved and thrived in so many aspects of my ministry, deep in my interior I have struggled for years with my vocation and with the commitments that the Catholic priesthood demands, especially not being able to marry and have a family.
My fear of disappointing people’s expectations of me has always held me back from taking this step. Only now, because of this sabbatical, have I had the clarity of mind and peace of soul to move in this direction.
My decision is not about an existing relationship, but rather about the peace and spiritual freedom I trust will come in the future by following God’s will for my life now. My own experience should not take away anything from the many heroic men and women who are living out their religious vocations with admirable fidelity and fulfillment.
I will be in the pews ready to support you, because my faith in God and love for my Church is stronger than ever. I look forward to serving in new ways alongside of you. I hope you are able to hear in my written word the newfound joy I have in my heart as I begin this new chapter, despite my fear of stepping into the unknown.
I am grateful to God, my family, and to all of you for so much love, support, and understanding. Some will not understand; I’m okay with that too.
Please pray for me. Jonathan Morris
UPDATE: People on social media have not been shy about sharing their opinions about this news. It has generated everything from disappointment to praise — but quite a few have offered judgements that are, to put it mildly, uncharitable. Some opinions were downright un-Christian. Let’s get a grip. As disappointing as this news may be, it is not scandalous. (Unlike one other high-profile priest, he is not leaving the priesthood because he was photographed kissing a woman while lying on a beach.) Father Morris says he is leaving his vocation and returning to the lay state after a period of difficult and prayerful discernment. And note this: he began his priesthood living in community, as part of a religious order that ended up being rocked by scandal. He chose to leave that life and make his way as a secular priest, living in a rectory. As at least one commenter noted: that’s a big change. It wasn’t what he chose at the start of his vocation. It clearly wasn’t the best fit. Judging from his statement, his greatest desire is to remain a faithful Catholic. Pray for him and for others like him — and pray without ceasing for vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life.