BY Hermant Metha – The Friendly Atheist.

MAY 2019

James Carroll was a Catholic priest from 1969 to 1974. He was raised in a Catholic family and was proud of that… until he could no longer be. The sex abuse scandals were the tipping point, but the fundamental Catholic beliefs didn’t help either.

Carroll says the exclusion of women from leadership, the requirement for celibacy among priests, and the opposition to LGBTQ rights have helped him realize the Church’s problems are far too large to overcome.

Now, in a cover story for the June issue of The Atlantic, Carroll says the Church should “abolish the priesthood.” In other words, the Church should eliminate the tradition that has arguably been the root cause for most of its biggest problems.

What Vatican II did not do, or was unable to do, except symbolically, was take up the issue of clericalism — the vesting of power in an all-male and celibate clergy. My five years in the priesthood, even in its most liberal wing, gave me a fetid taste of this caste system. Clericalism, with its cult of secrecy, its theological misogyny, its sexual repressiveness, and its hierarchical power based on threats of a doom-laden afterlife, is at the root of Roman Catholic dysfunction. The clerical system’s obsession with status thwarts even the merits of otherwise good priests and distorts the Gospels’ message of selfless love, which the Church was established to proclaim. Clericalism is both the underlying cause and the ongoing enabler of the present Catholic catastrophe. I left the priesthood 45 years ago, before knowing fully what had soured me, but clericalism was the reason.

I heard the confessions of young people wracked with guilt not because of authentic sinfulness but because of a Church-imposed sexual repressiveness that I was expected to affirm. Just by celebrating the Mass, I helped enforce the unjust exclusion of women from equal membership in the Church. I valued the community life I shared with fellow priests, but I also sensed the crippling loneliness that could result from a life that lacked the deep personal intimacy other human beings enjoy. My relationship with God was so tied up with being a priest that I feared a total loss of faith if I left. That very fear revealed a denigration of the laity and illustrated the essential problem. If I had stayed a priest, I see now, my faith, such as it was, would have been corrupted.

Carroll also sheds light on how “good” priests aren’t enough to save the institution in part because of the oppressive doctrine:

While a relatively small number of priests are pedophiles, it is by now clear that a far larger number have looked the other away. In part, that may be because many priests have themselves found it impossible to keep their vows of celibacy, whether intermittently or consistently. Such men are profoundly compromised. Gay or straight, many sexually active priests uphold a structure of secret unfaithfulness, a conspiracy of imperfection that inevitably undercuts their moral grit.

He adds that this outlook has been adopted by Catholics, who routinely ignore Church rules when it suits them. After all, why do so many practicing Catholics support birth control and marriage equality? Because, says Carroll, “Catholics in general have perfected the art of looking the other way.”

Getting rid of the priesthood isn’t the same as getting rid of the Church itself. Carroll writes that practicing Catholics would have to pick up the pieces by doing good works in the community, “taking on injustice,” and empowering lay leaders who aren’t bound by the rigidity of the priesthood. That may sound fine, but plenty of activist groups have done all of those things entirely without the Catholic Church.

The institution itself isn’t worth saving. That means Carroll’s short-term fix of eliminating priests would still leave the most problematic doctrinal issues in place. It’s not like the Catholic Church would be so damn attractive if not for all the pedophile priests.

Until the beliefs change, Catholicism will continue to be a problem. And if the beliefs change, Catholicism may as well cease to exist. Just look at how Catholic-run hospitals are putting patients in harm’s way. That’s not a priest problem. That’s a problem with doctrine. Unless that changes, Carroll’s argument amounts to nothing more than a bandage.
Still, it’s a powerful piece because the author is someone who loves the Catholic Church and wants to save it. If the Catholic Church can’t convince a guy like that to keep supporting the institution, what hope is there for anyone else?


The priesthood does not need to be abolished.

But it does need to be reformed?

We need to go back to the NT and early church model of priesthood – working, self financing priests not depending on the community but financially independent.

Powerless priests, SERVANTS of the community, not power weilding bosses.


This article seek a to be honest about the bogey men in the narrative: imposed celibacy; unrealistic human sexual expectations which are present but given tags of shame and guilt if responded to; the lessing of vocations to priesthood, yet the Bishops expect the same levels of commitment and more. Worse still is their own lack of insight to realities on the ground, sitting on their own stifled reforms. As it is, priesthood is almost something you make up and surround it with rituals. The absence of gifted women from our comunities is an affront to all the baptised people of God. We have nothing to fear but fear itself. We are bereft of poets, dreamers, prophetic voices and imaginary, creative minds…..When can we lead these people onto the stage to fire up, renew and stir up the embers which still have a faint flicker. Let God join the task. As someone once said the greatest obstacle to His ways is “me”. So lets get rid of the “mes” and find the “wees” — together let us draw back to the centre – Christ….

Liked by 1 person

The culture of looking the other way is deeply embedded. However, we live in denial in a deeper sense when we hold onto pre-Vatican II models of Church which are patently no longer viable. We continue to run parishes, pray for “vocations” and celebrate the “religious” life as if turn-around could be imminent, and we could go back to fifties full-to-capacity churches, and schools run by monks, brothers, and sisters. What really could Vatican II have been but a revolution and a crisis, akin, if you like, to the fall of Jerusalem, or the later destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans and subsequent Jewish diaspora? Maybe even now the Lord is offering us a new way ahead. We certainly cannot continue with clerical dysfunction and the cognitive dissonance which allows parents to “look away” while sending their children to Catholic schools, knowing they are going to be indoctrinated with nonsense – concerning human sexuality for example – which they certainly don’t for a moment accept themselves. The beard and sandals brigade, and their associated females with short hair and Mary Jane shoes, continue to pass resolutions in favour of married priests and women deacons ( i.e. people such as themselves! ), whereas traditionalists dream of the return of Fulton Sheen and acolytes in lace. As somebody commented the other day, the bishops care only about perpetuating forms of these pipe dreams, and not one is ever appointed to challenge the system. The system is broke: it is the problem not the solution. Can we just get real?


7.42: How far from your frilly lace curtains did you notice that Una? What utterly frivolous concerns…your comment is bizarre and I’m wonderring what kind of brain it took to make so empty and inane a comment? Are you still peeping through the lace??


It’s a pity they can’t be permanently electronically tagged, Bp Pat, to monitor their activities, e.g., which gay bars they like, their preferred saunas, or just the number of trips they make to the gents every day.


7.50: We’re not living in pre communist Romania or Russia. What a most ludicrous suggestion. It’s clear where your brain resides. You phillistine and utter plonker.


I think Carroll is right about there being an underlying and systemic toxicity to the priesthood as it is currently established. Whilst it may in origin have had noble and pure roots, over the centuries it has become something that is damaging and corrosive not just to the individual priests themselves, but to the Church at large.
I won’t rehearse all of the usual disabilities of the priesthood – clericalism, exceptionalism, hierarchy, being set apart, exclusivism, immunity, dysfunction, etc. etc. It is all expressed by Carroll and has been written about on this blog so many times. What does interest me about what Carroll is saying is the complicity that priests, and indeed the faithful, share in supporting what is so evidently a discredited, broken and dysfunctional priesthood, even from those who are good priests themselves, because they know that they too are largely not up to the unrealistic requirements for priesthood as currently publicly expounded, and therefore are themselves hypocritical. The whole clerical structure appears to be one of compromised people who cannot therefore stand out and up for meaningful reform.
I have a lifetime of experience as a priest. On balance, I believe that it has been a damaging aspect of my life, and I have had to spend considerable time and effort to find counterbalances to the corrosive influences of the priesthood on me and my life. For all sorts of reasons I have stuck with it, in part out of faithfulness to the positive elements of it, particularly the pastoral privileges that it has enabled to be useful and helpful to people, but I have had to ensure that it did not take over my life completely and cause me to become ever more dysfunctional. I see that dysfunction in so many priests that I know. For the most part, the priests that I know are not happy and settled individuals, but hollowed out, lonely and tending towards dysfunctional behavior of one kind of another to make up for the glaring emptiness of their lives. Chief amongst these is loneliness, and the inability over the decades to establish meaningful and mature relationships which are supportive. Prayer, whilst helpful, is no substitute for human warm and love.
I’m now retired, and am very happy to be, and I ensure that I limit my involvement with the institutional Church and its hierarchy, even to the extent of refusing to accept from them any support, which of course comes with many strings attached, and to live independently with my own resources. I connect with those aspects of Church, lay people especially, which have a goodness and grounding to them, and which inspire one’s faith. I’ve grown beyond priests, and bishops, and the hierarchy and institution of the Church, and life is a great deal better for that. I have a sadness in my heart for priests who are stuck in the Church, tied down to an institution that keeps them corralled, and in an arrested state of human, psychological and emotional development, almost as they were when they came out of seminary. I don’t really have much hope for those (few !) who are coming behind them, given the parlous state of seminary training, where the emphasis is on dogma and history, with very little effective emphasis given to human development and emotional maturity. Priest ares still being turned out more or less as they were 50 years ago. Clericalism and hierarchy are still alive and kicking. So, I do not see much hope for gradual improvement. Rather, there will be a revolution at some point, and the whole thing will come tumbling down.

Liked by 1 person

Well said! We should not underestimate the complicity of the “faithful” in the phenomenon of clerical dysfunction amounting to an unhealthy co-dependency. Rather than continually exposing the sins of the Fathers, which is a never-ending story, it would be useful to focus on the failure of the laity to implement Vatican II. They/we were being offered the chance to build something better, and we blew it.


Yes, you’ve ‘got’ it. By George you’ve ‘got’ it!😃
Blame the clerical serial ‘kiddie fiddling’ and its systemic cover-up by other clerics (including popes) on the laity.
Your logic is intellectually impeccable, and utterly compelling.


A scintilla of self-awareness would help you to realise you know little or nothing about intellectual impeccability? Cutting and pasting from Wikipedia doesn’t require much intelligence. The problem is you have no ability to evaluate your sources. Combine that with a peevishness of style, a proclivity to use vulgar language, a one-sided and myopic view of the world, a bombastic tone, a self-righteous tenor, an inability to listen or even to hear, and a blinkered and prejudiced perspective on most subjects, and the results is what appears here on a near daily basis.


10.04: Thank you Father for this searingly honest reflection. I suspect it reflects the sentiments of many priests, especially those in the 60 + age group (or even younger!). I too have many years of ministry behind me, mostly filled with gratitude for the wonderful pastoral opportunities given to be with people in all kinds of situations in their lives. I have had much fulfilment in my life and have tried my best in all endeavours. I face each day now with much difficulty, aware that my once held certainty about the value of my life and work is eroded and eroding all the time. In light of all the scandals, cover ups, clericalism (which I always hated), Diocesan and Presbyterate political manouverings, Machiavellian characters, back stabbing, mistrust which all characterise modern priesthood, I often wish I had your freedom of spirit. But I will keep my word of commitment to Christ, for it is to him alone that I give my life, in all its fragmented, sinful and broken ways. There is a truth in admitting to the emotional, spiritual and mental damage done to priests through priesthood as prepared for – and lived by priests. It was only in recent years through a series of necessary psychotherapy sessions that I “truly” first heard someone say and tell me that I am a human being first and foremost before being a priest. A simple observation. Yes, but when you live as if you were born a “priest” and do not see beyond this label and judge all your life and activities only as a priest, deep inner turmoil will be a constant companion. My therapist brought me back to a very sensible, realistic and more positive way of interpretating and coping with the challenges and vagaries of life. The concept of priesthood needs a radical re-think today. When most people are retiring at 66 years of age or younger, ” priests” are still expected to keep going, almost as heroes and to be full of energy for all the dreamed up projects and initiatives by those out of touch and who seem oblivious to the reality of the myriad of problems which we, as priests, seem unable to solve. Your reflective comment is very inspiring and thought provoking and stands in marked contrast to the vicious, poisonous, objectionable and nasty hatred of Magna’s narrative. You inspire, he invites and pours out only hatred. Just look at the negative, condescending and ridiculing nature of his comments today. Thank you.


Oh, my! 😀 What a waste of God’s precious bounty, time, with that post of yours. Here you had a God-given opportunity to address my points. And how did you use this biblical talent? You didn’t even do what that coward in the parable did (bury it underground for safekeeping); you just tossed it aside by turning to adolescent petulance and insult.
How grown up of you! 😆


Should Roman Catholic priesthood be abolished?

Fulton Sheen wouldn’t think so. He had a very high opinion of priests indeed, had Archbishop Sheen. To him, priests were cast in a sacred mould, like Christ himself, and took ‘the Cross of Calvary, with Christ still hanging on it, and they plant it in New York, Cairo’, etc.

And on he mused in this self-glorying, heroic vein: the priest is not ‘just another guy’, but is ‘significant to his fellow men not by being a “regular guy”, but by being “another Christ” ‘. And here endeth the fairytale. At least, it should have ended with such self-conscious self-aggrandisement, if for no reason other than institutional embarrassment at this unseemly theological self-decoration.

But Pope Benedict topped this on 19 June 2009, when (amid one of the darkest periods in Church history, in which priests around the world were being exposed, in growing numbers, as serial child-sex abusers and their bishops as their paternal protectors), he initiated the Year of the Priest. The event, at the Vatican, was almost surreal, with the comicality of a Monty Python sketch. The year supposedly aimed to foster ‘spiritual perfection’ in these men and was marked as a time for both clergy and laity to reflect on the importance of priesthood. I’m sure the jaw-dropping irony of this was not lost on the abused and their parents.

It is pointless, utterly pointless, trying to foster ‘spiritual perfection’ in Roman Catholic priests, since they are vowed in obedience to the Roman Catholic Church, not to the God of the church. This form of priesthood is not only not biblical; it is anti-Bible. And it is evil. Hence its ever-accumulating harvest of moral corruption.

So, in answer to the question above, yes, priesthood not only should be abolished; it MUST be abolished, for the genuine good of the Church. Priests have driven countless thousands of ‘cradle’ Catholics away from the Church (and many away from Christ). They have driven others to internalised worlds of torment over sexual abuse, and over its systemic concealment (based on canon law, which, incidentally, has not changed significantly on the matter); others they have driven to suicide.

That odd-looking, anorexic French neurotic, Father Jean Vianney (the ‘Curé of Ars’), was wrong: after Christ the priest is not everything, unless Roman Catholic priesthood is considered in purely practical terms (with the growing pile of rotting moral fruit plucked and strewn by priests) instead of a theology, written by men, that virtually deifies priests, making them Christ’s near-equals. In this, practical sense, the priest is indeed everything…in terms of ecclesial destruction.😕


Certainly a dreamers post however at the last count there was 1.4 Billion Roman Catholics and growing under the current Pontificate.

You do not throw out the full apple cart because of a few bad apples you clear the rot.

The Church will always be around and Pope Francis has started the cleansing and hopefully his successor continues the great job he has started.

Many Good Holy and Humble in the Royal Priesthood.


The way in which you describe priesthood (‘Royal’) expresses your lack of objectivity about it and makes your bias towards it cringingly obvious.😕


Many abusers,many promiscuous practising homosexuals,many many rotten apples ,
I wouldn’t eat a tart made of rotten apples .
You are trying to pedal a myth that has been well a truly blown away.


You are quite right, because I shouldn’t have wanted to ‘pic up on’ that biblical reference as used by the poster at 12:06.
Why? Because the fool misunderstood and misused it.
I’ve ‘lost’ you, haven’t I?😆


4.50: Magna, your mockery of everyone on this blog is ignorantly objective. There is, sadly, a psychopathic disorder in your psyche, evidenced by the frequent need you have for vitriol, nastiness, hate speech and your odious contempt for everyone. Are you not capable of some human decency and rational, balanced behaviour? Whatever about abolishing priesthood, you ought to be abolished or even better – banished.


I don’t need bias here: the truth about Roman Catholic priesthood is quite sufficient.
Ha ha ha 😅


The priesthood and the papacy were left untouched after the Second Vatican Council, any changes to both were cosmetic and self chosen. The Sacraments were all altered, names changed, bible passages stuck in, and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass said in Latin became the Lords Supper with a presider and only one prayer retained by the direct will of Paul VI that offends Protestants. Now the Papacy is seen as whatever the man in charge of the time wants it to be ( we have two living popes at the moment), the priesthood is in decay both spiritually and in numbers , only a Spiritual reform can change anything for the better as it always has during history not the suppression of the priesthood.


I want to pick up on a point often made here, that Catholics currently number the most they ever have or that the number is rising.
This is playing fast and loose with numbers and ignores a number of other variables.
The main variable it ignores is that the population of the world is the highest it has ever been so of course Catholics are rising in numbers. There are also the highest number of Moslems, homosexuals, you name it.
In parts of the world (for example Europe) the population is falling. Church attendance of all sorts in Europe continues to fall as a proportion of the population.
In other parts of the world (for example Africa) the population is rising exponentially and so is church going. Whether this will continue when the next wave of revelations about church abuse comes, remains to be seen.
To say the number of Catholics is rising is true, but it is not the whole story and it is certainly not some indicator of the rightness of the current Pope’s approach or proof of the truth of the Catholic faith.


I think we can all agree that the clerical, hierarchical, Catholic priesthood as expressed by the likes of Bishop Fulton Sheen, is something that is exclusive, particular, self-promoting, and unhealthy for priests themselves and for the Church at large. It is not the priesthood of the Apostles as handed on by Jesus Christ.
We also know of the grave damage that this contrived priesthood has done to the Church, and in particular to the young and vulnerable who have been abused under its cover.
So, there seems to me little point in arguing for more of the same. There must be a change. I think Francis is using the language of change – saying that bishops / priests should have the smell of the sheep about them, the language of servanthood. It will take a long time for this to become the dominant culture of priesthood, however.
What is crucial in any development and change are the seminaries and the system of formation for future priests. They form the next generation. At present my sense is that they are producing more of the same, and still inculcate a sense of clericalism and exclusivity. Until this changes, we will get the same priests we already have.
Does anybody on here know of seminaries / formation systems that produce the servant priests with the smell of the sheep that Francis wants ? If so, please tell us. Because, the young soon to be priests and new priests that I have come across are evidently out of the old mould, and perhaps even more so, interested in their vestments and their Roman tailored cassocks, usually traditional and conservative in outlook, and very keen on the G&T and gossip circuit. So, if you know of any signs of hope, please let us know. Otherwise, I will continue to despair !


This suggests that there are men who are drawn to a form of priesthood based on a servant model , I’ve never met one and I can’t see how such an outlook could be sustained day to day. How many members of your family have become priests ? Go into your local Catholic school and say to teenage boys in 2019 they should be servants and have the smell of the sheep and see what they say that’s if they can stop staring at their phones or playing games.There is no model of the priesthood that they will be interested in at all, perhaps the totally traditional version may appeal to someone with a sensitivity to Catholic culture.


Hi up hi. The priesthood is not a job. If you abolish priesthood ya abolish Christianity. Sure aren’t all Christians baptised into the priesthood of Christ Priest Prophet and King. Thing is thauld priests have lost the plot but. Priesthood is a role in the worship function of Gods people. Get the skirted ones down off their high horses and ditch the paraphernalia. Start and continue as those in the upper room did. Don’t forget the few prayers hi


5.04: Magna, any one with a modicum of self respect and integrity should resolutely ignore your comments. They are not helpful, too full of gratifying vulgarity, mock indignation and laced with an arrogant self righteousness . Your aim is not to enlighten but to scorn, to demean, to belittle all before you. You really should be scrapped and removed from this blog as your rhetoric is mostly ignorant and an incitement to hatred. Apart from plagarising so much from Google and elsewhere, your prose is too predictable and repetitive.


Looking forward to ‘Scotch Thursday’, Bp Pat, and hope it will become a regular feature now Catholic Truth Scotland is on the way out… and not a moment too soon.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s