“I JUST want to live an honest life.“

This was the answer of Father Jay, one of the 12 dispensed priests featured in Fr. Emmanuel Fernandez’s Leaving the Priesthood, A Close Reading of Priestly Departures (Ateneo de Manila University Press), as to why he left the priesthood.

The book narrates the stories of 15 priests who struggled in their efforts to stay or leave the priesthood. Among the 15, 12 left the vocation while the rest remained in their ministry.

Fr. Fernandez presented the factors that contribute to a priest’s exit from his ministry through comprehensive statistics, sociological findings, conclusions, and recommendations. The book tries to tell readers the nature of the commitment priests need to grasp and the journey they have to take.

With the varied orientation in the life stories of the 15 priests, the notion that there is a woman behind every priest’s departure from the vocation is refuted.

Their stories revealed many other reasons. Fr. Fernandez presents the three levels of reasons behind the departures—the personal, the organizational, and the cultural.

Fr. Fernandez compared the departures to the “explosion of a long-buried bomb that was bound to explode at some point.” The departure process of some priests had started many years before they finally decided to leave.

Fr. Dondy, one of those who left, admitted that he was uncertain about his decision as early as his ordination. He saw the priesthood as a “temporary commitment.” He fell in love shortly and finally left the vocation.

There are also priests who left the priesthood twice. Fr. Joel made his first departure because “he felt the need to leave the priesthood in order to become a full-time revolutionary.” He finally left the vocation when he faced the dilemma of being a priest and being a family man.

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On the other hand, Fr. Bobby’s reason of leaving the priesthood was quite different. He left the vocation because of his unwillingness to be a “hypocrite” and lead a “double-life.” According to him, his deep sense of honesty made him decide to leave the vocation in favor of his “other role as a lover and would-be husband.” “He (Fr. Bobby) could not afford to be a hypocrite, preaching morality while living a secretly immoral life,” as Fr. Fernandez narrated.

“The very process of leaving the priesthood and starting a new life, a new career, entails unlearning certain habits of thought and acquiring new ones that are more in line with the new path one has taken for oneself,” Fr. Fernandez explains.

The book also raises the immediate results of a priest’s departure from the Church—that it is not only the loss of the priest but also of the Church herself. “The Catholic Church’s sacerdotal manpower is rather scant vis-à-vis the work it has to do… one Catholic priest in the Philippines has to take care of 8,570 Filipino Catholic faithful,” Fr. Fernandez says.

Leaving the Priesthood is more than a spiritual book with the quantitative figures and qualitative details combined. It provides readers insight with a heart.

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