Recommended Reading
The Priesthood in Poland
Maciej Bielawski
(Homini, Krakow 2007), pp. 195 (cf.

ODEJSCIA can be translated as “leavings” or “departures.” The book talks about the leaving, departures or abandonment of the “clerical state” by priests, religious brothers and sisters, monks and nuns in the Catholic Church. Interest is this problem has increased in Poland recently because several prominent theologians have left the priesthood or the church. Newsweek Poland quoted part the book. It is significant that even a Catholic magazine ran an issue on Bielawski’s book and the problem of rejection of the clerical state.

This is not an anti-catholic book or denunciation, but simply recounts that such a phenomenon exists and reflects on different problems related with this movement. It is a personal and existential essay written to explain about people who leave ministry and the effect on people most personally effected by their change in role and status—parents, wives, husbands, children, friends, neighbors, people in the ecclesiastical institutions, and in the hierarchy.

The book and the author have already received a positive response from readers who claim the book has been therapeutic. Some Polish newspapers published reviews and one of the prominent Polish Catholic magazines (Wiez) dedicated a whole issue to the problem Bielawski outlines and the publisher, Homini, organized a large public discussion about it in Krakow.

The book has three parts and in includes an interview with the author.

Part I—Confronting the phenomenon—introduces and accustoms the reader to think and talk about a problem that up to this time has remained “taboo.” In fact this is one of the main problems with the phenomenon, even for the men and women who leave the clerical system and the institutional mentality. Complex emotions and old prejudices bind and paralyze men and women that don’t know how to think and how to talk about it.

The book first analyzes the language used to talk about Odejscia— abandonment, betrayal, failure, leaving the habit, being out, being an “ex,” getting married, etc. Statistics about how many men and women have left the ministry are almost impossible to establish, but a baseline of 15 to 25 percent is a safe estimate. The process continues; it should not be denied. Any person who takes the risk to enter into a religious or clerical state has to be aware the he/she also risks the possibility that one day “ex” may be a prefix to his or her identity. The institution also has to give some serious thought and discussion to what is happening.

Odejscia is not the end of spiritual life but often a new beginning.

Part II—Portraits—offers vignettes of a dozen people who “left” and who offer some reflection about their departure. Prominent among them is: Karen Armstrong, an ex nun who has written two autobiographical books Through the Narrow Gate (1981) and The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness (2004). Currently she has become famous for her writings on religious topics. Leonardo Boff and Paul Collins left their orders and priesthood because of a conflict with the Vatican. Both recorded their departure in open letters quoted by Bielawski. John Dominic Crossan is a scholar who left the priesthood, married, and dedicated his life to exploring the question of the historical Jesus. Among his published works is an autobiography A Long Way from Tripperary: A Memoir (2000). Eugen Drewermann, the most widely read German theologian, is a former priest and psychotherapist who in his Kleryker. Psychogramm eines Ideals (1989) analyzes the clerical soul. Helen Rose Ebaugh Euchs is a former nun who wrote an important sociological and psychological studies Becoming an Ex and The Process of Role Exit (1988). Raymond Fontaine is an American and former priest and religious who wrote simple, honest and beautiful book My Life with God: In and Out of the Church (2000). Matthew Fox is an ex American Dominican priest who promoted Creation Spirituality and was chastised by his order and the Vatican and wrote Confessions. He married and became an Episcopal priest. Giovanni Franzoni wrote The Making of Post-Denominational Priest (1996). He is the former Abbot of the Benedictine monastery of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome. A theologian and one of the main leaders of the Base Communities he was thrown out of office by the Vatican because of his political statements. Tomasz Jaeschke, who along with many other ex clergy, belongs to the multiform movement of “Married Priests.” Ten years after his departure and marriage he wrote Nierzadnice: O moim kaplanstwie I moim Kosciele—translated Harlots: About my priesthood and my Church (2006). Jean-Yves Leloup is another former Dominican priest and psychotherapist. He is now an orthodox priest; he describes his life in his autobiography L’absurd and grace (1997). The author describes this reviewer in poetic terms as a “former priest and Benedictine who dedicated his life to the study of clerical sexuality and celibacy. He can be compared to the pilot of the ferryboat: he tries to transport people/priests/religious, who today stop in front of the big river of sexuality, on the other side of emotional and personal maturity.”

The choice of these personalities is rather casual. They are presented because they wrote or said something related to the topic of the departures and together they offer examples of the diversity inside the whole problem of odejscia. They present positive examples in the author’s estimation. The book does not address the negative personalities of priests, monks or nuns, although he is aware of various clerical criminals who left or who were forced out because of indictments civil or institutional.

Part III—Meditations—offers six reflections on topics that often come to mind when somebody deals with odejscia. (1) Autobiography offers some chance to consider how we think and talk about the departure in the different stages of one’s life. (2) Varieties of departure demonstrate that they are different kinds and reasons for odejscia. Today the most common reason for leaving is the rejection of celibacy. Conflicts with authority and obedience also present occasions to leave. Departures can happen in any stage of religious life, early, during middle age or in the “evening of life.” Sometimes departure is related with a crisis of faith. At times people leave the Catholic Church as well as clerical life, but not always. Some men and women affiliate with another religious confession while others become agnostics. (3) The church in the face of odejscia discusses reactions of lay people and hierarchy as they confront people who left. Sometimes the authority of the Church authorities can make life difficult person who left. Examples of punishment, prejudgment, delay of dispensations, hampering employment and other obstructionist tactics can be found. But there also instances of positive responses, understanding, and help. The Church needs to improve its way of thinking about the exes and react constructively toward them and confront the phenomenon that reveals one important aspect of the crisis of Catholicism. Nothing is gained by denial. There is no escape from reality. Two meditations  (4) Doubts and (5) Guilt reflect on problems that face any ex. These challenges are not presented in a negative light, but revealed as a gates towards humility and freedom which place a person in a new external and internal space—the area of margin where dialogue and compassion become possible. The last meditation (6) Refusal shows that sometimes somebody is compelled to leave the institution in order to follow a new vocation—mysterious call to go beyond institutions toward the Incomprehensible One.

The journalist Jarek Makowski interviews the author, a former Benedictine monk and priest, in the final section of the book. The dialogue focuses on Bielawski’s personal experience inside the institution and about his own departure.

see Newsweek Article