Escaping from organized religion: I quit the priesthood


Vatican city.  Suggested reading: Video: Cat Stevens’ Path to Islam

I quit the priesthood

Source: New York Times

Len Schreiner couldn’t help falling in love. So he wrote a letter to Pope John Paul II and waited.

Interview by Danya Issawi

I grew up in a very Roman Catholic atmosphere in western Kansas and had always been drawn to the priesthood.

I joined the Capuchin religious order in 1976, and I was ordained in 1978 at age 28.

Almost immediately, the underlying tension I had felt about intimate relationships really came to the fore. I struggled greatly.

I was in various flirtations with women, or little romantic relationships, but that’s a normal part of life. The Roman Catholic priesthood, though, with its mandatory celibacy, discourages any close contact with women.

I would look at my brothers and sister and the families they raised, and I couldn’t accept the notion that I was making a greater sacrifice than they were in their jobs and raising children.

I went on a leave of absence from the priesthood in 1989 and started dispensation two years later, which means I had to write up a paper to John Paul II in Rome to explain why I wasn’t able to continue. I wrote that there were two things that prompted my leaving: that I wanted to be more involved in social justice and peace work, and that I felt I could not successfully live a celibate life.

I sought dispensation both for my own peace of my mind and for my family. I knew it would soften the blow for my parents — it was a heartbreak for them.

A lot of priests did not get dispensations. Their applications would be in a pile someplace for years. One priest said to me, “They haven’t gotten back to me in 11 years.”

In my case, by the grace of God, I received a letter and document in January of 1992 granting me “a dispensation from the obligations of priestly ordination, including celibacy, and from religious vows.”

Then I was considered, in the eyes of the church, a lay person. I was free, and in June of that same year, I got married in a Catholic church in Seattle.

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3 replies

  1. Organized religion appears to be more like organized crime these days but anyways the point is that if you desire to be close to God/Allah/Whatever name of the being you choose to believe in?

    You don’t need organized religion, you do not need ceremony, you do not need masonry, you do not need acceptance from others, you do not need to do anything other than just love God and be good to others to the best of your abilities since mistakes are always allowed if we learn from them after all.

    • We have to differentiate. I agree that in some cases organized religion can look like be like organized crime. That is when religion is just ‘used’ to lure the innocent. On the other hand if you look at the Khilafat of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community: The Khilafat strengthens all communities. A small community would ‘drown’, an individual would be ‘totally weak’, but with the bond of Khilafat the smallest Jama’at (community) is part of the big Jama’at (community) and is therefore strong also. That happens with the rightly guided Khilafat. Alhamdolillah.

      • That is very true, good and bad on all sides.

        Most days government acts worse than the mafia alongside other companies and organizations.

        Other days you see the hell’s angels helping children so in all reality there are not really any bad groups or businesses, simply bad individuals who tend to group up at times under whatever names.

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