There are a lot of Catholic “elephants in the room,” aren’t there? One that never gets spoken of is hands down a major #Catholicgirlproblem and that is…romantic feelings for priests.
Why on earth do we never speak about this? There should be an introductory course on this for all Theology majors. After all, we stick our sweet Catholic young women in Catholic formation programs or put them in leadership roles in dioceses and parishes surrounded by cream-of-the-crop men and pretend they won’t fall in love? Yeah, right!
What’s even worse is that many of these women feel they can’t tell anyone and have to navigate those feelings on their own, which is a devil’s playground!
I journey with women, many of whom are just budding in the Catholic faith or are just reaching psychological health for the first time in a long time. Occasionally, one of these women will have romantic feelings for a priest, wondering if she’s called to marry the ordained man. Then, she thinks there’s something wrong with her and that God must hate her for the feelings she’s experiencing. She’s ultimately left with the feeling that she’ll never find another man as amazing as this one.
For all my Catholic sisters out there who’ve ever felt this way, this is for you!
No, there’s nothing wrong with you.
The women who timidly tell me that they’re experiencing feelings for a priest automatically think there’s something wrong with them. They ask: “Why do I have these feelings?” “There must be something wrong with me!” “Am I evil to want an exclusive relationship with him?” “I’m just another news story waiting to happen!” No, there is nothing wrong with you. On the contrary, everything is right with you! Your attraction is normal. You’re attracted to everything good in this masculine person.
What you’re attracted to is what my own spiritual director has explained to me as “the share in the priesthood to which all men are called.” That’s right. All men are called to be priests. They are called to lay down their lives as a sacrifice for their brides. And this is attractive. Why? Because God designed you to be attracted to virtue, holiness, and gentleness…to someone who has taken it upon himself to be formed in the faith and to love others well. You aren’t in love with him because he’s a priest. You’re in love with him because he’s somewhat “ordered” and a decent human being!
Additionally, the male-female attraction is natural law. However, one must pay attention to the use of a powerful position, such as the priesthood, and the possible abuse of it. If you have been hurt by a member of the Catholic clergy or any other ministry leader in the Church, please report it to your (arch)diocese.
Be honest in your actions. Not all love is romantic love.
I’ve heard Father Thomas Loya say it more than once: “We need to be honest with our actions towards others.” Our actions need to reflect our vocations. So, if you’re having long phone calls and ongoing text exchanges with a priest on a routine basis, how is this being honest to both of your vocations? (Priests need friends too. I have many priest friends. But, we need to be honest about what is driving the communication and the relationship as a whole.)
If you hold hands with a priest, how is that action reflecting both of your vocations? If you kiss a priest, how is that being honest in your actions? Our actions must always reflect our vocations. And what’s at the center of our vocations? It’s how God has called us individually to love…and to love means “to will the good of the other.” Sacrifice is involved. On the other hand, we can sometimes confuse our feelings and attractions. Influenced by modern culture, we tend to make attraction only about romance and sex.
Truly, not all love is romantic love, and thank God that it isn’t! We would lose one of the greatest types of love in the world: friendship! However, if you can’t have a real friendship and support one another’s vocations, then it’s time to move on. Easier said than done, I know. But, it must be done if we desire to honor God and one another.
Related: Why I Travelled Across the World to Teach the Theology of the Body
His vocation is not your vocation.
Again, we tend to romanticize a lot. “If I can’t have him, I will make his vocation my vocation.” “I will express my love to him by making sure his priesthood thrives even if at the cost of my own vocation.”
Where in this, though, do you see mutuality? Or, even freedom? An individual priest’s vocation cannot be your own primary vocation. That’s not to say you can’t support him or even join a religious order that prays and upholds the priesthood, but you on your own, single, focusing on him 24/7…this can’t be your sole vocation.
The vocations in the Church for women are single life, consecrated life, and marriage. How is God calling you to serve His Church with joy by using the gifts with which He has blessed you?
Related: Practical Ways to Obtain Joy
Do not discern a relationship with him.
Latin Rite Catholic priests take a vow of clerical celibacy. That means they’re not available for marriage. Period. Their “singleness” might be deceiving to your subconscious, but…they…are…not…available.
The priest you may be crushing on is ordained and that means you can’t actually get married, because the Sacrament of Holy Orders is an impediment (legal prohibition according to the law of the Church) to the Sacrament of Marriage.
Now, if he should ever abandon the clerical state (which the Church does allow for in very particular circumstances,) this does not make the man a bad person. If he pursues such a course of action, it should always be discerned separately from a relationship with you. It would be very easy to blur the lines of romantic attraction and feeling called out of a serious commitment like the priesthood.
Again, these would be two very separate discernment processes, one certainly before the other, that should involve spiritual directors and counseling.
Reasons for his departure from the priesthood might include anything from physical/psychological inability to perform priestly duties to abuse in the past that influenced him entering the priesthood, to anything else the Church deems worthy of such serious consideration.
However, in most situations, the priest will live out his priesthood for the entirety of his life. And what a gift that is to us in the Church who are kept spiritually alive by the Sacraments! In order to have the Sacraments, we must have priests!
One of the gifts of being Catholic is that there are some things we don’t need to worry about discerning. For example, we don’t need to discern anything contrary to the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes. We wouldn’t discern marriage to an already married man. In the same way, we don’t need to discern marriage to an already ordained priest.
Related: Joy Seeker Spiritual Direction Package
Do not let your fixation on him keep you from your vocation.
Don’t believe the lie that there aren’t holy and available men left in the world. As my dad has always said: “It just takes one!”
Give God thanks for the priest you are attracted to. Reflect on what it is you’re attracted to and look for that in a spouse if God is calling you to marriage. Do the work of discerning what you understand to be your vocational call in this life, and begin to prepare yourself for that lifelong task.
Pray for God to give you the strength and courage to live out that vocation in the timing that God has chosen for you. And look forward with joy to that reality!
And remember this – there is nothing wrong with you. On the contrary, there is everything right with you! Take these truths rooted in reality and take your next steps. Embrace the freedom and life they offer. God delights in you and wants a life of joy and freedom for you!