My agony: to stay a priest or to marry?
David Gréa asked God and the Pope for help with an impossible choice when as a priest he fell in love. He tells Connexion about his life-changing decision
David Grea was overjoyed when he met a woman and fell in love. But there was a problem: he was a Catholic priest.
He prayed, fought with his conscience, and even consulted the Pope, but he finally realised what he had to do.
After 17 years as a parish priest, he gave up the vocation he loved – and married the woman he loved.
Mr Gréa says his life today is joyous, but if it were possible he would still like to return to being a priest.
He has no anger towards the Church, no feeling of having been rejected. He simply thinks it should be possible for married men to be ordained in the European Catholic Church, as they are elsewhere.
That moment may not be as far off as it seems.
Archbishop of Poitiers Pascal Wintzer has called for the Church to ordain married men – the most senior priest in France to do so.
He is not alone. Increasing numbers of Catholics feel it should be possible to ordain married men.
Mr Gréa, 50, enjoyed life as a successful priest in the parish of Sainte Blandine in Lyon.
His church was busy, with 2,000 people attending Mass regularly.
He ran various groups and organised trips to Lourdes, as well as attending to the usual parish affairs.
But when he met his future wife Magalie and they fell in love, everything changed.
He did not hide the relationship from his superiors, but he tried to find a way to become a married priest, which is allowed in certain eastern churches.
He prayed, consulted his bishop, and even managed to get two audiences with the Pope.
But in February 2017 he was laicised (relieved of his duties). Two months later, he and Magalie were married in a civil ceremony in Lyon. Their son, Léon, was born the following autumn.
He makes no secret of how difficult he found the journey from priesthood to husband and father.
He recorded every detail in his book Une vie nouvelle: prêtre, marié, heureux, published in April 2018.
He says his decision to marry required much soul-searching.
“I had the good luck to have an audience with the Pope, and I explained my situation and asked if I could join an eastern church as a married priest,” he said.
“At first, he seemed to think that was a good solution but the next time I saw him, he asked how we could be sure it was God’s will?
“He said the solution suited me as a man, and suited the Church too, but he wasn’t sure it was God’s will. It was very profound, very intense.”
He says that wanting to be a priest again is no longer a daily preoccupation but he is convinced the Church will have to change.
“I know this will happen. I feel it inside me. The Church will have to allow married men to be ordained.
“I loved the job, found it very rewarding, and would love to do it again. But there was something missing, and being married has made me much more balanced in myself, and would make me more balanced as a priest.
“I don’t think married priests are necessarily better equipped to understand the challenges of modern family life, because a priest’s vocation is to help people look at life through the prism of faith, so it doesn’t matter whether or not he has personal experience.
“But being celibate leads to emotional emptiness, and that isn’t good. How can it be?”
He points out that in many eastern Catholic churches, married men are allowed to become priests even if they cannot get married once they have been ordained.
It is also true that married, ordained ministers from other Churches – such as the Church of England – can convert and become Catholic priests.
“So there are already married priests in the Catholic Church.
“Priests were only banned from being married in medieval times as a way of avoiding priests’ offspring inheriting Church property.”
The Church is rich, he says, and times have changed, but the celibacy requirement has remained.
In March, the archbishop of Poitiers voiced his belief that paedophilia in the Church is connected to a celibate priesthood.
The Church is still reeling from the sentencing of Australian cardinal George Pell to six years in jail for sexually abusing boys, as well as prosecutions of other Catholic priests worldwide.
That disgrace extends to the Church for spending decades shielding paedophile priests.
“I’m not so sure,” said Mr Gréa. “Paedophiles are sick, there’s something wrong with them. It’s not the same as a celibate priest who feels the lack of emotional intimacy, the joy of a relationship, a family.
“But hiding paedophiles, protecting them from the law, is a sickness of the Catholic Church.
“The Church has acted to protect itself, to protect the way it functions and that was wrong.
“Priests have always had a certain status in society, and that enabled some of them to commit crimes undetected. So there is a major problem to be solved.
“But the Church doesn’t follow the times. It follows the word of God. That is its strength and its weakness because it allows clergy to avoid questioning themselves.”
Now living in Bordeaux as a married man and proud father of a young son, Mr Gréa’s first consideration is his family and pursuing his new career as a coach.
“In some ways it is similar, but in others it is different because with coaching the aim isn’t religious, it’s about making money. I work mainly with business people who want to know how to make decisions that align with their values.”
He enjoys the work and has new projects. “People often sign up for coaching which lasts for months, but I try to speed things up.
“We go for walks around the city, look at architecture and monuments and find a new way of thinking about things. It’s amazing how fast people find it helps.
“Actually, as the method develops and evolves, I’m thinking that I’d like to write a book about it.”
Mr Gréa has found happiness.
His new life with his family is fulfilling, he enjoys his work and although he is no longer a priest, he remains a committed Catholic.
He shares meditations on life online at davidgrea.com.