NEW YORK (ChurchMilitant.com) - A popular New York priest is announcing he's leaving the priesthood.
Father Jonathan Morris, former Legionary of Christ and a frequent contributor to Fox News, published a statement on Facebook Friday that he has asked Pope Francis "to release me from the duties and responsibilities of the clerical state (priestly vows)."
"I have struggled for years with my vocation and with the commitments that the Catholic priesthood demands, especially not being able to marry and have a family," he explained.
Morris clarifies that his decision is not based on "an existing relationship" but rather about "following God's will for my life now."
Among his duties was serving as communications assistant to Cdl. Timothy Dolan, who also occasionally appeared on Fox News.
Morris raised eyebrows when he went on a six-month sabbatical in the middle of Lent, an unusual move during a time the Church deems the holiest period in the liturgical year. Morris claimed then he was taking a break from ministry to be with family and spend time "discerning," although he did not publicly go into specifics.
Morris has been praised for taking a stronger stance than Dolan took against Andrew Cuomo, Catholic governor of New York, when he passed the nation's most radical abortion law earlier this year. Dolan was blasted for refusing to excommunicate Cuomo and even refusing to say whether he should be denied Holy Communion, per the requirements of Canon 915.
Morris was more blunt, however. "Anyone with right reason would say that, if I believe in this crazy stuff that we just talked about, well, then, I'm not in communion with the Catholic Church," Morris said on The Tucker Carlson Show Jan. 30. "I should not even be going to communion."
"So the Catholic Church has to decide, well, are we going to publicly say, 'You are now excommunicated,'" Morris continued. "If that's going to be helpful for the soul of that person, let's go for it."
Morris has taken heat in the past for taking a soft stance towards homosexuality. When Republican presidential candidate John Kasich said during a televised debate in 2015 that he would attend a same-sex marriage, Morris' response was praise.
"I thought it was brave of him. He knows not everyone is going to like his response," Morris said on Fox and Friends. "It's a real issue what you have to say — what does my faith tell me to do in some situation. Other people wouldn't have gone to the wedding. He looked at it very seriously and decided this is what his faith told him to do. I congratulate him for it."
Morris also welcomed pro-gay Jesuit Fr. James Martin to his parish in Sept. 2017, when Cdl. Dolan presided over the dedication of a new altar at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in the Bronx.
Martin displayed photos of the event on his Facebook page, referring to Morris as "a friend."
Martin has caused major controversy, with various events canceling his speaking engagements because of scandalous statements he has made praising gay "marriage," for his support of open dissenters like censured Sr. Jeannine Gramick, founder of the condemned New Ways Ministry (which rejects Church teaching on chastity), and for statements he has made claiming that chastity is not required of homosexuals, among other things.
Father Morris' full statement follows:
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 (priestly vows).
Taking this step is something I have considered often and at length in years past and discussed with my spiritual guides. While I have loved and thrived in so many aspects of my ministry, deep in my interior I have struggled for years with my vocation and with the commitments that the Catholic priesthood demands, especially not being able to marry and have a family.
My fear of disappointing people's expectations of me has always held me back from taking this step. Only now, because of this sabbatical, have I had the clarity of mind and peace of soul to move in this direction.
My 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.
My own experience should not take away anything from the many heroic men and women who are living out their religious vocations with admirable fidelity and fulfillment. I will be in the pews ready to support you, because my faith in God and love for my Church is stronger than ever. I look forward to serving in new ways alongside of you.
I hope you are able to hear in my written word the newfound joy I have in my heart as I begin this new chapter, despite my fear of stepping into the unknown.
I am grateful to God, my family, and to all of you for so much love, support, and understanding. Some will not understand; I’m okay with that too.
Please pray for me.
PS. The best way to reach me is by email: firstname.lastname@example.org In a few days, I will temporarily suspend my social media accounts to help me live out more peacefully the remainder of my sabbatical, but I wanted you to hear this news from me first. Only after my sabbatical will I respond to media inquiries and re-engage in the media.