There has been some comment in the combox about a Catholic priest named Fr Francis Mary Stone. I was unfamiliar with this story and did a quick check. He is the host of an EWTN program, and has stepped down to ‘discern his vocation’ after ‘getting involved with a widow.’

Our Scottish friend asks, “…just because Fr Francis falls in love, is he any less a priest?”

What precisely does James mean by such a question?

Is the man any less a priest for having fallen in love? He’s still a priest since the sacrament of ordination imparts an unchangeable ontological character on a man. You can’t suddenly be ‘less a priest’ or ‘more a priest’. You’re a priest forever. That’s it. Morally speaking, you could be a better priest or a worse priest, but you can’t be less of a priest. It’s like saying one is ‘a little less pregnant.’

Perhaps James means Fr Stone might be a worse priest for having fallen in love? That all depends what ‘falling in love’ means. It could mean anything from yielding to lustful temptation or infatuation or chaste affection or genuine love for the first time. Since ‘falling in love’ is such a subjective term it is difficult to make any call. It is also difficult to accept ‘falling in love’ as necessarily a good thing if we don’t have a definition of what ‘falling in love’ actually means.

If however, ‘falling in love’ means the man broke his solemn promise to remain celibate for the sake of the kingdom of God then he isn’t less of a priest, but he is less of a man.

He is less of a man not because he has fallen in love, but because he has broken a vow he made.

When a priest ‘falls in love’ he is , like any other man, supposed to submit his natural affections and desires to the restraints and disciplines that his society, his religion and his existing commitments demand. If a married man ‘falls in love’ with a woman other than his wife, if he is a Christian, he is supposed to resist his emotions and desires and not act on his ‘love’. If he breaks his marriage vow and sleeps with another woman we don’t say, “is he any less a husband for having fallen in love?” In such a case he hasn’t so much ‘fallen in love’ as fallen into sin.

None of this, of course, has any bearing at all on the question of whether or not Catholic priests should be celibate. That is a question that may be raised and a good discussion can be had, but we mustn’t muddy that discussion with an incident where a man has broken a solemn vow made before God just because he has ‘fallen in love.’ (If that is indeed what happened)

If however, the priest in question, has ‘fallen in love’ and remains chaste until he is dispensed from his vow of celibacy and laicized, then marries the woman, then so be it. The Church has ways for this to happen.

In the meantime, let’s pray for Fr Stone and mind our own business.