Negative Self Esteem For Women Left by Priests

I’ve received a large response to my post, Advice for Women in Love with a Priest. Thank you all for your comments; it makes us feel not so alone in these unfortunate and life-defining circumstances.

Sadly, I see in the Comments section, so many comments where women blame themselves, as I often have:

“It hurts more than anything that has ever happened in my life, even now, over a year later.”

“I feel like if I was a better person, prettier, more successful, smarter, he would want to be with me. I also feel so stupid for thinking he could love me.”

“I am a stupid sheep...”

"Is not a secret marriage optional?....I think it is a mature solution....I mean she agrees never be seen etc."

"I felt so stupid it nearly killed me....FROM A SAD BROKEN WOMAN........"

"I've been broken up with my priest for over a year.... It's gotten easier, but in no way am I over it....He turned on me in the end..."

All of these comments (except for one, that I will mention below) could have been written by me, and I suspect, most women who have loved a priest. It saddens me to read of so many other women going through these same self-esteem issues in the wake of being jerked around by a priest.

I haven’t addressed each comment specifically so I wanted to write a few thoughts I have about these comments and about the wonderful women who have had the courage to comment here and email me personally:

  1. It hurts. A lot. One commenter pointed out, “...children are perceived as victims but women are seen as victimizers themselves.” This is so very true—we are viewed by mainstream Catholics (especially happily married ones whose personal lives are just hunky-dory) as the manipulators of these poor, lonely priests whose deepest desires are to remain celibate and be left alone by women.  As another woman wrote, “Since it was a secret relationship, the grieving has to be secret too.” This is important—it’s not like we’ve just lost a husband, and the pity comes pouring in. Since many of us come from Catholic families ourselves, we have no one to turn to with our grief and must bear it alone.

    I’ve received only two nasty comments so far, that I will not publish, from a truly disturbed man who stated how lucky he is that the women who have come into his life (I sense he’s not partnered, however!) have a deep sense of personal responsibility unlike the temptress that I am, then later that day advised us all to become the priest’s housekeeper and have his baby that way. Yeah, that would work. Not.

  2. Contrary to our thoughts, we are exceptionally pretty, smart, and successful. Think about it. Priests are not allowed to view women as more than a sister. They see us as either the Virgin Mary or a whore; there’s little middle ground. Their minds are not even allowed to “go there” by viewing us as someone they could fall in love with. But they have crossed the boundary to love us, enjoy our company, and considered us special (and probably always will). We don’t see them crying their eyes out at night when they go to bed, but it happens, that I know for a fact. If we were not pretty, special, etc, we would not have been the object of their attraction in the first place. Still, I too feel “what man could love me” if Fr. X wouldn’t leave the priesthood for me. Since we would have gone to the ends of the earth for them, why can’t they do this one little thing for us? Fear is the only reason. That, and a warped theology.
  3. We’re not stupid. We fell in love, that’s all. What’s stupid is the celibacy rule that the Catholic Church invented (yes, “invented”) around 1100 A.D. due largely to St. Paul’s opinion that unmarried men should not marry because he thought that the End Times were imminent. Well, he was clearly wrong that the End Times were imminent, so might he be wrong about one other little thing too? There is no scripture to support celibacy as being superior to marriage, other than St. Paul’s warped, misogynistic view. Some of these men took the vow of celibacy as teenagers, not realizing, let alone feeling, the full consequences of this vow. Eventually, many do, and they become scared.

    Fact: the Catholic Church itself sets us up for failure, sets us up for temptation. For spiritual counseling, it’s recommended we seek a priest. We confess our sins to a priest. We receive all sacraments from a priest. These are the rules of the church, and the way a relationship with a priest begins is typically by the priest—since both parties know we can only view the other person in our proscribed roles, we’re caught off guard and ashamed to discover we have feelings for him. But by then it’s too late. We’ve already fallen for him, and what follows is nearly impossible to avoid (by this, I mean, feeling that we are stupid for loving a priest.)
  4. He will probably turn on you in the end. Today, most priests do not leave the priesthood for marriage. I’ve written an article about the reasons for this, but his reputation and livelihood, not to mention his theology, is on the line. Priests are largely cut off from the “real” world and even if he does decide to be with you, one visit with his spiritual advisor is enough to turn his heel back to his brethren. He is told that he will experience eternal hellfire, and what’s more, so will his beloved. If he really loves you, he’s told, he will let you go—he will not send you to Hell.
  5. A Secret Marriage is Not Optional. That is my opinion. I’ve been told that the couple should move away from the priest’s home parish if he is to be laicized and married, or not laicized and married. It might be awkward for the couple to stay in the same small town where he was a pastor, and a move might benefit them both. But, a secret marriage where “she” is not seen? I respect this poster’s courage to comment, and the rest of the comment, but cannot see the logic of imposing shame on two people in love who want to make a commitment. They should be able to share time with family and friends as before. Those that do not support the decision do not have to agree with it, but it doesn’t necessitate cutting people out of each other’s lives. We all make decisions daily that the entire world will not agree with—it’s what makes the world go ‘round, after all—and we need to all learn to live with each other.

I would like to write a post about How To Get Over Loving A Priest, or at least How To Cope in the Aftermath of Loving a Priest.

If anyone has any respectful ideas for this, please email me at: aftercatholicism@gmail.com. You can either use your real name and be quoted, or be anonymous. Suggestions are welcome!


Lily said...

C.S. Lewis once said "the only place outside of Heaven where one is safe from the dangers and perturbations of love, is Hell.". The loss of relationship with those we love is one of those dangers we risk when we make ourselves vulnerable to love. However, if the only place to be free from such pain is to be in a place where love doesn't exist, then I rather take the risk. And I did so when I fell in love with a priest. And he broke my heart, but the lesson God taught me was this, there is a difference between the pain that comes from being hurt because you loved someone, and the pain that comes from harm. And once you understand the difference, it makes it easier to trust, knowing when to stay and overcome, and when to protect and leave. Loving someone should never make you feel less of a human being. So dealing with the pain of lost love, one needs to ask how was I hurt and how was I harm? Rejection hurts, but rejection is a reflection of the person doing the rejecting not the one who was rejected. One can overcome rejection by remembering all those who have not rejected them. But if you have been abuse, made to feel invalid or worthless that is harm, and harm is inflicted, it is imposed on you, you didn't cause it. Don't accept another person's lies for your truth. So for all those with wounded souls because of love, go through those wounds and determine if it was due to hurt or by harm. The hurt you feel because you dare to risk to love will bring lessons and make you a better lover in the future. Harm, was meant to bring you down, to destroy your ability to love, don't let evil destroy the greatest gift God gave you, the ability to love. Love God, love yourself and love others, and if romanatic love comes your way again do not fear it,because a world without love is Hell, so stop living in it, take baby steps to love anyone, and that love will heal you soul. I promise-

Anonymous said...

Marie- I feel not so much stupid as I do foolish because the priest I developed feelings for was not only a priest, but one who wase attracted to men not women- I have to wonder how many other priests who slammed the door of woman who confessed their feelings for them are protecting their vocation or thier orientation, because the Church is very dangerous place for a gay man still

Anonymous said...

"I love you. I love you. I love", he said to me over and over again. We were to be forever. "Come down and stay as long as you like! Come and stay for three months", he told me. I am her with him. I moved down for two months. Return to my home for a month then he was flying me down after a few weeks. Now it is as if I am not even here. He changes right after I gave the church a big donation. Broke now and want ALL MY MONEY back that I gave to his church. I am episcopalian