Religion News Service Q and A with a Catholic man who left the priesthood after falling in love

PORTLAND, Ore. (RNS) Tom Farley left the Catholic priesthood because he’d fallen in love.

Farley, 57, a priest for 30 years, served his last Masses at his parish here in March.

The former priest talked recently about his years as a priest, the process that led him to give it up, and the life he’s embraced since he left.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 Q: Why did you become a priest?

A: I was raised a Catholic, and my faith was important to me. And then the next question was, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” The idea of the priesthood came to me. As a sophomore, I transferred to Mount Angel Seminary. I did OK, academically, socially. But I guess the real reason I became a priest is I wanted to serve.

 Q: How do you describe your 30 years as a priest?

A: The thing that I always come back to is there’s this incredible honor as a priest—being invited into the middle of people’s relationship with God. It’s an intimate place. It’s a privilege.

 Q: Why did you leave?

A: I fell in love. Early on. More than once. People are attractive and I am not a dolt. I’d ask myself, “Am I going to explore this relationship, risk my priesthood to explore this?” and I always said no and ran away. There was this background of loneliness—and I know that loneliness is existential, that we’re all alone and I don’t believe that a partner can take that away. But romantic love was never an option.

Q: What changed for you?

A: I’d had a long relationship, a friendship with a woman. And last summer, I realized that I loved her, that I loved someone again. I don’t quite know why, but this time I said I’m not going to run away, to shut the door. Maybe it was a midlife crisis. Maybe it was loneliness. Maybe it was the boredom of doing the same thing over and over.

I got a good counselor and talked to my spiritual director. The three of us worked for almost four months to unpack this love. It was a very intentional discernment.

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