. . . always a priest ? I have already commented on the supposed permanence of priestly powers, in spite of renunciation of, and even papal dispensation from, the function. It is curious, in fact, that half a century after checking in my chasuble, people who know or discover my previous profession continue to identify me as an “ex-priest”. I don’t really mind, any more than I would being called an ex-child, an ex-paperboy or an ex-army cadet officer. I have moved on – fortunately. It’s called growing up. Yes, there is something infantile or at least adolescent in continuing to believe that God has chosen you to do “His work”, to enlighten the ignorant with the light of the Gospel, to forgive their sins, to offer them the grace of the sacraments, and even the Body of Christ in the Eucharist.
I was, indeed, “once a priest”. I don’t deny it, though for years I saw no point – rather disadvantages – in revealing it. I am not ashamed of my teenage decision to become a priest, nor do I blame anyone for influencing me in making that decision. My family and teachers shared the illusions of Christian faith and felt proud to have contributed to my fulfilling my “vocation”.
In 1968 I abandoned the priesthood. In 1978 I abandoned belief in God and Christianity. I spent half of my life as a fervent Catholic and almost a quarter of it as a religious and priest. I am approaching the end of the second act in the play that has been my life. There will be no third act. I take that back. Since the recent production of a short film in which I played the leading rôle, I may be at the beginning of a new career . . . More seriously, I am delighted that I discovered nearly fifty years ago that in spite of the difficulties, pain and risks involved, I was able to leave the priesthood, and later all religious belief, behind me. I cannot say I’ve never looked back – this blog is proof to the contrary – but I have never regretted my journey from Illusions to Illumination, my itinerary as a Franciscan priest from Catholicism to Atheism.