Father Jonathan Morris, a former member of the Legion of Christ who was at one time among the most prominent Catholic priests in America as a contributor to Fox News, has asked to be dismissed from the clerical state, indicating he wants to be free to “marry and have a family” though saying it’s not about an “existing relationship.”
In a statement released Friday, Morris writes that the decision has filled him “with newfound joy,” though he says he knows some people won’t understand his decision to leave the priesthood.
“After taking some months of sabbatical to be with family and to dedicate more time to prayer and retreat, I have decided to ask the Holy Father, Pope Francis, to release me from the duties and responsibilities of the clerical state,” Morris said in a statement, which he made available to Crux.
Morris left the troubled Legion of Christ in 2009, three years after the Vatican suspended its founder, Father Macial Marciel, from his priestly duties, having found Maciel guilty of various forms of sexual abuse and misconduct as well as abuse of power. Morris was incardinated into the Archdiocese of New York with the support of Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
He’s appeared on several TV networks and is best known for his role with Fox News, though he was also a theological adviser to Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ”, and was the program director for “The Catholic Channel,” a project of the Archdiocese of New York, on the Sirius XM radio network for three years.
Morris said in his statement that the fear of “disappointing people’s expectations” has held him back from taking the step he’s now taking, something he’s considered “often and at length in years past and discussed with my spiritual guides.”
In his statement, Morris acknowledges that even though he’s “loved and thrived” in much of his ministry, he’s struggled with his vocation and the commitments demanded by being a Catholic priest, particularly not being able to marry and have a family.
Morris writes that his decision “is not about an existing relationship, but rather about the peace and spiritual freedom I trust will come in the future by following God’s will for my life now.”
Lastly, Morris says that his decision shouldn’t “take away anything from the many heroic men and women who are living out their religious vocations with admirable fidelity and fulfillment.”
“I will always be in the pews ready to support you, because my faith in God and love for my Church is stronger than ever,” Morris said. “I look forward to serving in new ways alongside of you.”
Morris told Crux he’s “just beginning the process to request laicization,” and there’s no indication of when a response to his request is expected.
Morris is a native of Cleveland, Ohio, and a graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio.