I am saddened by the continued unfolding of Father Jeremy Leatherby’s story in the Diocese of Sacramento. Catholic News Service recently linked a letter written by Father Jeremy Leatherby addressed to his bishop, his brother priests, and the lay faithful. In summary, his recent actions speak of a greater division that everyday becomes more evident in the Catholic Church. It saddens me to live through a fracturing of the Bride of Christ, the Church.
In his letter, Father Leatherby expresses deep remorse for having violated boundaries with an adult woman. Priests make a promise of celibacy which is only possible to fulfil with God’s grace and the healthy habits the priest develops. It is difficult. In some way, however, the fact Father Leatherby had a fall in this area should not be a shocker. Men are attracted to women, and women to men.
Father Leatherby writes about the deep pain and loneliness he has experienced over the past four years ever since he was removed from active ministry. As I mentioned on my previous post, canonical processes and investigations can be excruciatingly slow. I have learned from working closely with my previous bishop, that when action is needed, it is best to act swiftly and decisively. Otherwise, the priest falls into the category of “unassignable” where nobody knows what to do with him. Drawing from his account, Father Leatherby has been living a true purgatory without knowing when this ongoing uncertainty would end. I feel for him. That is no way to live. He has been unable to return to pastoral ministry, and at the same time, has been unable to move on to something different and new. A final decision should have been made within a reasonable amount of time.
Up to this point, it is reasonable to understand Father’s plight. Could he have taken recourse to the Congregation of the Clergy in Rome? Was the process stalled by the Bishop, Father himself, witnesses, or a combination of all three? I do not know Bishop Soto, nor do I presume to know his intentions, but with the shortage of priests we face, there must be a serious reason to keep a priest away from ministry. I am certain that we do not know the whole story.
The end of Father Leatherby’s letter breaks my heart, not just because of the situation he finds himself in, but because it illustrates what is happening within our Catholic Church right before our eyes. It speaks of schism and separation. It speaks of anger and rebellion. If there is something that keeps me awake at night sometimes, it is this. The fracturing of the Church in our midst: rather than the faithful coming together, there are forces within that are pulling us apart.
“Bishop Soto’s sentence of excommunication again [sic] me is consistent with my relationship with Jorge Bergolio (Pope Francis), with whom I cannot morally, spiritually or intellectually, in good conscience, align myself. Bergoglio’s act of idol worship in Saint Peter’s Basilica in October of 2019, his consistent promotion of religious syncretism, and his violation of the Church’s constant sacramental tradition regarding the reception of Holy Communion by the divorced and remarried, among other things, has left me unable to consider myself in ecclesial communion with him.”
Wow. This deserves so much discussion. Has Pope Francis truly done all these things? Are there not reasonable responses to all these accusations? Many today refuse to see the good of Pope Francis, and interpret his every move in the worst possible light.
Father Leatherby, who has no faculties, has been celebrating the Eucharist without praying for his local Bishop, and praying for Pope Benedict XVI rather than Pope Francis. This is an official act of schism.
“I deservedly incur excommunication if Bergoglio is indeed the valid Successor of Peter, and I am guilty of causing great division within the Mystical Body of Christ… No longer being in union with the church over which Bergoglio reigns, I am seeking a dispensation from the clerical state in the church.”
We must pray not just for Father Leatherby, but for the greater movement within the Church that this specific case illustrates.
Many are angry, frustrated and disappointed. Yes, many of the faithful are angry at the many moral failures of our leaders. We need a Saint Francis. We need a Saint Benedict. We need faithful who will rise to reform from within, and not from outside. The Catholic Church is amazing because of her ability to reform herself throughout the centuries. The 21st century is no exception. We must pray for men and women of communion and vision, men and women of God who will draw us closer together rather than pull us apart.