The priest who turned his back on the church – for love

After years of training and conditioning – brainwashing, if you like – Kevin Hartley walked away from a life of teaching Catholicism for the ultimate sanctity: love of a good woman

Kevin Hartley

Marriage was the last thing in my mind as I knelt in the chapel of the English College, Lisbon, in June 1962. My family and a bunch of friends had come all the way from England for my ordination. The palms of my hands were anointed with oil, the bishop had laid his hands on my head, I was a priest forever.

The Lisbon College had been founded in the 17th century to train English men to become priests who would return in secret to minister (at the risk of their lives) to the scattered Catholics of their home country, and I was their inheritor. I wouldn’t be risking my neck to go back to England, but I was prepared to serve for the rest of my life wherever my bishop required me.

Apart from brief visits, I’d been away from England for six years. Within a couple of weeks of my arrival I was plunged into the challenge of parochial duties in a parish in south Manchester. To be called “Father” by people old enough to be my grandparents didn’t seem odd, though I could be defensive when someone challenged me, a grown man of 24 and a priest, on some point of morals. I still blush to think of the time I had a set-to with a couple about their use of the pill. It started quite innocently, with them telling me they’d given up going to church. Then as the reason became apparent – they were using the pill because it was out of the question they should have more children – I found myself arguing forcefully how artificial contraception was contrary to Church teaching because it was a deliberate thwarting of the natural function of sex. I was so adamant, so sure of myself, so wrong-headed. We parted angrily and I never saw them again. But that was how we had been trained; the Church had the right answers and if someone couldn’t be convinced, that was their lookout.

On the whole, people seemed to accept me as they found me; they, like me, had bought into the traditional image of the priest as the leader, the authority, in matters to do with the Catholic faith and, secure in my status, I was able to relate on friendly, not intimate, terms with all the different people I encountered in my parish. I’m not saying I was brilliant at what I was doing but it was satisfying. It was good to visit happily married families, to sympathise with those in difficulties – “Fred’s away, Father” meant a woman had been left on her own to look after her children while her partner was in Strangeways – but there was always my own corner to retreat to in the presbytery at the end of the day.

Why does it take six years to train a Catholic priest? What he needs to know in order to function could be fitted into a year, a couple of years at the most; six years is for conditioning, brainwashing if you like, to ensure obedience to the Church’s teaching and, inevitably, to inculcate acceptance of celibacy. Some people find the idea of a celibate male unimaginable, unnatural. Didn’t you feel frustrated, I’ve been asked, when you saw attractive women who were beyond your reach? You might as well ask a member of the SAS if he envies the easy life of civilians. You’d probably get a short, unprintable answer.
It’s perhaps an unfair comparison but the point I’m making is that those years of conditioning formed the life of the priest. If the soldier can’t accept that ultimately his job is to kill or be killed, he’s declared unfit for duty. If the Catholic priest can’t accept that celibacy is a way of life dedicated to the greater good of his parishioners, he’s regarded by his superiors as spoiled goods, a waste of space. That at least was the attitude in former years.

Of course I noticed pretty girls. In college, the joke had been, “just because you’re on a diet it doesn’t mean you can’t look at the menu”. But like other priests I exercised prudence in the company of women. I’d been warned by senior clergy about predatory females, women who would see the dog collar as a bit of a challenge and sure enough there were some in the parish who liked to flirt, and not always single girls. I was naive enough to be flattered by their attention but secure in my celibate armour I managed to keep them at arm’s length.
One of my duties was to act as chaplain to the nearby Catholic secondary school where Miss Maben Maclean, a newly appointed PE teacher, caught my eye mainly because she was nearer to my own age and, perhaps because she wasn’t a Catholic, she didn’t treat me with the same mixture of deference and reserve I got from the rest of the staff.

Author Kevin Hartley as he is today (Cartwright Photography)

The school organised a trip to Belgium one summer holiday. I was invited to join 50 Manchester kids on the loose and a handful of staff seemingly more intent on getting drunk than looking after their charges. For a week Maben and I found ourselves dealing with drunken teenagers, trying to keep vulnerable kids out of harm. That gave us a special bond, it was good to have a close female friend, nothing more than that. I don’t think we ever kissed and marriage certainly wasn’t in my mind. But a firm friendship had been formed, out of adversity, you might say.
Then Maben announced that she’d had enough of miserable wages and grotty accommodation in Manchester. She was off to join her brother in Canada.


No hype, just the advice and analysis you need


A year or so afterwards I volunteered to teach in a junior seminary in Rwanda on a five-year contract. It wasn’t on any sort of rebound, not even subconsciously; a romantic relationship with Maben never even crossed my mind. I’d had enough of working with an alcoholic parish priest, especially since the Church authorities preferred not to do anything about it. These days one might ask for a transfer to another parish but that wasn’t done in the Sixties; volunteering for missionary work, however, was encouraged and though I didn’t know anything much about Rwanda except that they spoke French and produced exotic postage stamps, it seemed a exciting challenge (it just happens to be also the setting of my next novel).
Five years in a remote part of a very undeveloped African country was quite an experience. I met some interesting people, got a different perspective on the effects of colonialism and learned a lot of French and a little Rwandan.
Maben wrote to me, I wrote to her. She told me about the novelty of being the single teacher in a country school before moving to a high school run by nuns in Midland, Ontario. I described what it was like living a remote African country. She told me about her engagement to a local man and later I had to commiserate with her when she broke it off.

With hindsight I think we may have both been beginning to dream the impossible dream. Certainly I vividly remember a strong sense of resentment when I heard there had been a Papal pronouncement condemning men who abandoned their priesthood for marriage. My first thought was that it was an unwarranted slur on the integrity of people who had come to realise they had no vocation to celibacy, a disciplinary requirement that could be relaxed rather than an essential element of priesthood – as we were to learn much later when the Church began to welcome to the priesthood with open arms married former Anglican clergy, while at the same time officially still declaring the absolute necessity of celibacy.
But looking back, I think there was also a sense of personal fragility. Philip Larkin’s pithy comment on parental influence might well have been applied to to the Church’s training of candidates for ordination. I’d never had any sort of relationship with a girl; from the age of eleven, when I’d expressed a wish to be a priest, I’d been been set apart, culminating in six years in a quasi-monastic environment. Now I thought, when I heard what Pope Paul VI had said, that could be me, that’s what people would think of me if I ever left. I’d heard rare examples of priests abandoning the ministry but didn’t know any of them personally. What would it be like, I wondered, having to leave the security of the priesthood – because it’s about the safest job going, from ordination to the grave. It won’t make you a fortune but you will always be looked after.
I came back from Africa, went on holiday to Toronto. Was I hoping? If so, it was a hope buried deep in the subconscious. Self-deception, if you like. I think most of us are capable of a fair degree of that. Perhaps there was also a chancy element of “what if?” But certainly as I set out there was no definite thought in my mind of leaving the ministry – this was an opportunity to visit a new country and meet up with an old friend. I didn’t know it at the time but later I found out that a nun friend, one of Maben’s work colleagues, had told her, “You’re going to marry him.” So it seems other people could recognise signs I wasn’t aware of. As for Maben, her reply to the nun was that marriage to a priest was impossible! But before the end of the holiday “impossibility” had become something of a certainty. We seemed to make up our minds with almost indecent haste.

All the same, I returned to England in a turmoil. The “what if” had quite suddenly turned into “how do we get through this?” I broached the subject with my parish priest who was amazingly supportive. And then I went to see my bishop. “What would your reaction be if I told you I wanted to get married?” He was quite distressed at the news but seemed to recognise he wasn’t going to get me to change my mind. There followed  a couple of difficult interviews with senior clergy, the first question being “When did you realise you had no vocation to be a priest?” My reply, that while I thought I had a vocation to be a priest I knew I had no vocation to be celibate, fell on uncomprehending ears. Eventually they were resigned to me leaving, but I would have to write to the Pope, asking for a dispensation from the vow of celibacy. That was how much I was in thrall to the institution of the Church.
By now I was intellectually prepared for departure but emotionally all at sea. In Catholic eyes, priests were on a pedestal, different from ordinary folk, owed reverence because of their sacred calling. Falling off that pedestal, leaving the ministry, made you a renegade in some good people’s minds because there was a powerful ingrained sense of the priest being bound by a calling from on high. In leaving I was betraying the cause. Was what I doing wrong, a sin? There was a sense of guilt that took a long time, years even, to totally overcome. Guilt is probably the wrong word; I’m sure I was influenced by the way students who decided to leave the seminary were treated – with no announcement, simply an empty place at table and no explanation given either by the departing student or the staff. So I might be forgiven for thinking of quitting the priesthood as something shameful. I was convinced I was doing the right thing for myself but, thin-skinned as I was, I dreaded what others might think of me. The more I found that people accepted what we had done, the less I felt sensitive about the step we had taken.
Eventually permission to leave the ministry was granted, grudgingly I imagine, and with conditions, and I was cut adrift, with no question of financial assistance in recognition of what I’d given the Church. In Catholic teaching priesthood ordination can’t be removed from a person but priestly practice can. Being given permission to leave meant I was, in the jargon, “reduced to the lay state” – I was not allowed to celebrate Mass or administer any of the sacraments (with the exception of hearing someone’s confession in danger of death). I was not allowed to teach in any Catholic institute of higher education. I was also warned that I should not continue living in any area where I was known “for fear of giving scandal”.

Fortunately, perhaps because attitudes were already beginning to change, no one in my immediate family ostracised me. Only one relative, an elderly aunt who lived in Ontario, snubbed me. She was very much an old-school Catholic and never answered the letters I sent her every Christmas. Friends were very much more understanding. If any didn’t approve they certainly never showed it. I think there was even then beginning to be a divergence between the official position of the Church – this man is something of a renegade – and the attitude of (most) clergy and laity. I certainly didn’t have difficulty in finding work teaching in a Catholic school and the parish I live in now is very welcoming, as is the bishop of the diocese. Some years after my marriage I visited my old parish church, to show my children where I used to minister. I happened to meet one of my former parishioners who greeted me warmly with, “Hello Father”, before halting in confusion. My reply, “That’s right, two times a father now”, made us both giggle.

Pat says

Now, this feels like a man of integrity to me.


Pat. Can I request that you link to your sources when you copy and paste please? I’d like to read the articles in the context of where they were originally published.


I agree with Pat that it is an honest account, which highlights so many of the unresolved issues we face in the Church today. At least this man was conditioned to believe all that crap about say contraception in contrast to today when we have contingents of young men – and swivel-eyed old trouts who adore them – preaching nonsense they neither truly believe nor affects them in the slightest. Please note that this man shows integrity because he left. He was part of that exodus of straight men who got the hell out of it during the pathetic reign of Paul VI. It’s the ones who stayed, as identified in yesterday’s posts, whom we need to worry about. And who the hell was Paul VI to condemn those who had the courage to leave? In fairness, it is worth saying, again with reference to yesterday’s postings, that bishops of that time were not necessarily the shits we have today. Heenan was famously sympathetic and understanding, and I was astonished many years ago to discover that a colleague had not only been ordained by that sacred monster, Archbishop Cyril Cowderoy, but married by him too after his dispensation. Nice one, Cyril!


Pat, somebody is pretending to be you on grindr and their profile is saying chaplain to the gay community. I reported the profile but its still there. this is Belfast east area.


The gay community in Belfast do not support Pat Buckley because of his campaign in outing gay clergy. There is no such a thing as chaplain to the LGBT+Q community anywhere and that includes Belfast.


@ 0953 – It is not + Pat who has outed gay clergy, but the gay clergy who have outed themselves, by hanging around lay-bys, cruising grounds, the Giant’s Ring, the saunas, going on Grindr and Gaydar and posting pictures of themselves and their genitals (think of Rory). If they haven’t been doing that, then they’ve been propositioning parishioners and young men, if not vulnerable children, and been ‘outed’ in that way. So don’t blame + Pat. These guys have brought it on themselves. They have outed themselves. They can’t blame anyone else. They could have kept to their vows and promises ?


And I only got to know about them when their victims contacted me to tell me the church authorities were ignoring their complaints.


The Catholic Herald reports that the bankrupt and disgraced Diocese of Buffalo is cutting sustenance and health benefits to priests against whom substantiated charges of abuse have been made; they will, however, continue to receive their pensions. This will affect 23 priests, many of whom have been comfortably provided for for years while not allowed to exercise ministry. The diocese admits it has had around 100 or more priests, including those now deceased, against whom allegations have been made which have either been proved or admitted; a law firm acting for victims, however, puts the figure at 131. A police officer dismissed for misconduct loses their pension, but for the clergy, the gravy train continues to the end. Maybe now, only owing to hard financial realities, and nothing to do with morality or admitting responsibility, accountability is starting to bite.


Rory and co could find themselves in a similar position in the not too distant future. In other words, standing on their own two feet like the rest of us. How many more do we know of in this kind of cosseted cocoon of clerical support and comfort ?



Don’t you yet understand? They ALL are in ‘a cosseted cocoon of clerical support and comfort’. It is a major component of clericalism.


9:25 am
I know a priest out of ministry for years supposedly due to ‘illness’. His ‘illness’ doesn’t prevent him playing golf, driving, or leading a life of apparent leisure, courtesy of the finances of the laity! Interestingly, he no longer calls himself ‘Rev’. At least two other priests ‘went missing in action’ while another former priest from the same diocese has been out of ministry for years but doesn’t work.


I’m sure + Nichols will clock that story, and draw up plans to do the same. Any more news about his plans for the old and retired of Westminster, and the proposal to move them on to the social security system rather than honouring the Diocese’s obligation to support them in their retirement ? Maybe + Nichols could lead by example ? Take up residence when he retires in some social housing flat rather than moving to Chiswick ? Now, that would be a great, heroic witness, wouldn’t it ?!


9.56 Cardinal Nichols is too busy planning for the future he is 75 in November and therefore time to retire as Archbishop.

He will continue likely for a few years in his Vatican committee’s choosing his successor.

And I guess + Portsmouth and Birmingham will most likely out of it now.

GB awaiting a new Papal Nuncio and appointment to East Anglia soon.


@2:36 Don’t you believe it, if Elsie feels like a last shot at any of her targets to make the remaining years of their lives miserable, she will do it and enjoy doing so.


I truly don’t understand, in any shape or form, the association of the word ‘integrity’ with Romanist priesthood, since every one of its priests knowingly and willingly committed himself to a corrupt institution, er, under the gross pretense of serving the incorruptible one, Jesus Christ.

The defence of this committment by some posters here is, frankly, risible.

I’d have more respect for a Romanist were he to take his unholy episcopal vow or promise by heavily qualifying it TRULY in the name of Christ. But then, no such man would be ordained and, therefore, no such man would make this type of vow or promise.

Integrity, and Romanist priesthood?

I think I’ve proved the NON-INTEGRITY of this priesthood, not least by the fact that every time I mention the matter, one or more parasitical, scrounging, sponging, Romanist moochers blows a fuse, followed by a lot of ad-hominem drivel on this blog.

There’s denial of hard truth for ya. 😆


8.42: Magna, you only see your ‘truth’ which is narrow, biased, judgmental and prejudiced. As a priest I consider myself to be a person if integrity and I assert the same of some wonderfully dedicated Priests I’ve worked with. Try inspirational. Despite your repeat narrative each day, your easily expressed hatred, lies and obnoxious insults will never deter me from believing in my integrity. Ever. Do, spout on with your dysfunctional madness. You, Magna, are the loser.


Lol it’s Fr Capital P again. Priests are the most important thing in his life and come before Prayer, the Sacraments and even God. Of course the irony is he himself is a priest and it is sad that a grown man should have to ridicule himself dressing up in search of self esteem.
He has also perfectly demonstrated Magna’s point with his comment proving he’s a twat and will now do the same to me 🤣



Satan probably thinks he’a quare fella, too.

There is only one, reliable judge of human integrity, and that is the source of it: God.

But you forsook God for obedience and loyalty to the institutional Church.

There’s ‘integrity for you. 😁


@1:17pm – MagnaTroll is a twat. But so are you and, really, you would be much better employed resisting the temptation to try and answer him, because you cannot. MagnaTroll is smarter than you are. All you do is make a complete idiot of yourself.


At 8:42am – The vast majority of the priests I have encountered in over 70 years of life are men of decency, goodness and integrity. This “Magna Carta” is a liar. It’s lies and hate, however, cannot change or alter REALITY.



Yes, goodness and integrity within canonical bounds, not those of conscience. This is not true goodness and integrity, but moral relativism. And its compass is the institutional Church through Canon Law, along with the penalties it prescribes for priests who step out of line with episcopal ordinances, in order to step into line with personal conscience.

I’d bet not one of those priests ever, publicly and openly, put his head above the parapet to condemn the ill -treatment, and disregard, by Romanist bishops (especially their own) of victims of sexual abuse by Romanist priests. Not one of them, I’d bet, was prepared to put his comfortable, cosseted, and privileged lving on the line.

Frankly, I’m sick to death hearing about so-called ‘good’ priests on this blog. WTF is wrong with people?! Are they really so self-deluded? Or, more likely, are they just liars?

These parasites are loyal to one of the most morally corrupt institutions in human history, for Christ sake, not to Jesus! And the casualties of this conspiracy are all around us; some are in the ground through suicide.

It isn’t a Mensa puzzle, ffs!


The vast majority of priests I have met in nearly fifty years have literally belonged to one of two types. One type is unhappy, frustrated and cantankerous. The other is less so, and more likely to be getting his end away.
I started this division when inspired by two Benedictine priests. One of them is now in prison and the other only escaped prison because of a lack of evidence.


3.28: Your repetitive contributions are revealing you as a total twat too. It seems that being a twat is contagious on this blog. It’s Magna’s fault….


This is a story of someone who was honest with himself and went forward with integrity. It stands in stark contrast to the other individuals and cases we have been discussing over the last few days, where priests settle in to lives of duplicity and lies, living parallel lives of priest and someone who on the quiet is breaking their promises and vows. Integrity is the difference.

+ Pat, please keep exposing the lies and duplicity that is going on amounts the clerical ranks. They are very good at fooling most people most of the time. People have been conditioned to believing the clergy implicitly, although that has taken a bit of a battering recently. But, we do need a window on to the underside of the clerical world, in order to see whether our priests are people of honesty and integrity or not. It is only when blogs like this take an interest in these matters that these clergy will sit up and think about their behaviour and their culture.


Funny how people who challenge a corrupt system are always bitter. Have you now relieved your conscience?


Oh dear, while the world is in the midst of the Covid pandemic, some swivel eyed loon right wing culture wars Catholics will no doubt jump on this one and stir up a fuss. You will probably hear something about this from the likes of + Egan of Portsmouth and + Davis of Shrewsbury.

At least towards the end of the article there is a more balanced view. I like the line about the cobbles of Rome having been laid by slaves, but we still chose to walk on them.


No “swivel eyed” loons on the left of course, ain’t that right 10:47am?

And you, of course, are the very essence of reasonableness yourself ain’t ya? 🙄

You will find the “woke”, pro abortion etc., culture warriors of the left to be extremely vicious indeed.


Pat have you ever read The Swimming Pool Library? If not its a superb novel set in the gay world just before AIDS intervened.
The protagonist’s nephew asks him if all men are homosexuals, and he replies, ‘I sometimes wonder’. 👨‍❤️‍👨


2.23: What paradigm of virtue and perfect self actuuzation have you achieved in your life? We won’t talk about maturity or integrity!! I doubt you personify either virtue.


Bishop Pat I do pray Rory Coyle and Stephen Wilson will not relapse onto the Dark Web or Tor Browser. These guys needs our support and direct assistance. Just think every day monitoring them a young adult or younger is saved from grooming.


4.16: Very exaggerated language. Very apoplectic – explain yourself with truth and verifiable facts. Tell us your concerns.


Armagh have a cringeworthy video on YouTube entitled, ‘Considering Priesthood’. No mention of Rory, McCamley, The PP – Pomeroy Porn priest, Marshall or Wilson.


Watched this and it’s cringeworthy as you say. Which one in Armagh demanded that someone address him as Father? There has been so many Armagh culprits that you do get confused.


3.50: And good luck to him in his life. Let him get on with his new beginnings. He deserves to be left alone. God be with him.


Two contributions today perfectly encapsulate the twisted morals of the church.
The one criticising you for exposing priests, er, who expose themselves to that exposure.
The other is the article about the vaccine for coronavirus. I note that the person quoted says that Catholics should decide by their own conscience, but the reaction above already indicates that the vaccine is bound to be considered unacceptable because made from a foetus aborted in 1973. The moral approach of the true believers is only to have respect for life in the womb and after birth none.
It is so obvious that this vaccine should be used to prevent deaths from coronavirus that only a monster perfectly happy to sacrifice lives to their ideology would suggest not using it.


3.35: Problem with Magna Stupid Bitch is that she sees and believes only one narrative: her own. And that narrative is hate filled, biased, prejudiced and underpinned by a pathos of obvious psychological dysfunctionality. Her screams are, quite frankly, revealing of an emotional wreck, someone who is stuck in prepubescent hissy fits. Hey girl, Mags, grow those man balls quickly. Get a grip on your stunted emotiins. Mags, you are a cracked repeat record. Rotten to the core. Come back to GOD….


6.13: The absence of any god in Magna’s life is patently obvious. He sees the absence of GOD in almost everyone else but his language, hate speech and poisonous commentary are proif enough of spiritual emptiness. Enough said.


3:35 pm

Cracked repeat record! Have you ever listened to yourself?
Now, don’t go having another hissy fit.
Your attitude wouldn’t entice anyone to ‘come back’ to your ‘God’.


2.21: God bless our many good PRIESTS….and bless the haters who surface on this blog every second comment: repeat commentators who either despise everyone or are totally unhappy, disgruntled priests or ex priests or just simple malcontents in life.


Anon at 6.04: Try to choose better language. Sound bytes are your favourite and all too frequently. An empty shell I imagine.


Phylis at Portsmouth is after money at a time when most face financial problems . On the web site-

” Support our Seminarians
Good Shepherd Sunday Appeal
If you would like to ensure the future of the Church in our Diocese by sponsoring our seminarians, please consider donating to support the training of our future priests.
We thank you in advance for any donation you may make.”

” Collection for Vocations
Without priests, the Church would be without the Sacraments: there would be no Church at all.

We are blessed to have eleven men currently in formation for the priesthood, who have generously given their lives in response to God’s call. We have accepted six more men to start formation in September. It costs £85 per day, (£30,000 a year) to train one seminarian, and priestly formation can take up to seven years.

​If you would like to ensure the future of the Church in our Diocese, please consider donating to support the training of our future priests. We thank you in advance for any donation you may make.”


Sugar Ray Kelly recently won £30,000 for old rope, I wonder how much of it she has donated to priestly formation. Nowt, if we know that greedy ol…


Right at the start of Priest School, we were told 75% of seminarians drop out before they reach ordination. The only seminarian ordained at the end of the programme was the last one of twelve from his first year, all the others packed it in.


Rev Hartley. Descent chap by the sound hi. One crucifixion in history is enough. Pat you were never against gay folk just those who think life is an x rate movie. Come to think of it, there are a lot of disgruntled auld quiz bottles out there and on here hi


Hi Pat, any truth that Nicholas o Mahoney who is VG in Waterford is in line to be named Bishop of Ferns.
And is it a definite valid rumour that Leahy of Limerick is about to be named Co Adjutor of Archdiocese of Dublin.


6.24 There is no need for a Co Adjutor for Dublin as the Archbishop tendered his notice months ago and is past retirement age.

Co Adjutor’s usually come when in ill health or nearing retirement and asks for help.

This Covid 19 is hold everything up.

One New Bishop elect does not was made Bishop just now as only a few would be there and other would have to view it on line so he has put it on hold (big party )

Pope Francis appears to want to appoint rather than Co Adjutor’s


That rumour originated with you. It’s called ‘flying a kite’. Are you doing it for fun, to poke fun at the Tramore PP who must be approaching retirement age, if he hasn’t already passed it? Why target him?


Dog muzzle or no dog muzzle… let’s get this show on the road.
Do make sure you check your answer machines and email inboxes, both secular and non-secular. This includes local shops, medical centres and ALL Municipal buildings.
As previously highlighted… Safeguarding is EVERYBODY’S responsibility.
I will show you how it is done, Alex x


The Maynooth gay sex scandal was unique in Europe. The level of sexual activity was very high compared to other jurisdictions. Pat why is this.


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