Religious priests reaching a decision to change vocation

There are no studies, about how consecrated individuals reach a decision to change vocation, and no guidelines for counseling psychologists regarding how to support priests in that process.

The aim of this study was to explore experiences and challenges of Roman Catholic clergy who relinquish the priesthood. Ten former priests shared their experiences during semi-structured interviews which were subjected to interpretative phenomenological analysis.

Overall, the study found that priests experience needs and aspirations conflicting with their social role and expectations made of them. They found making decisions about vocational change frustrating and stressful because of concerns about breaking community norms, fear of social stigma, and disbelief in their ability to cope in lay life.

These findings suggest that leaving a high-commitment role may reactivate separation conflicts which should be thoroughly addressed during counseling sessions. Psychologists should be aware of the interplay between personal and contextual factors affecting the decision-making. They should analyze clients' motives for joining and leaving the community, meanings ascribed to a priest's role, anticipated consequences of leaving, perception of assets and resources, and coping strategies. They should aid clients to make an autonomous decision and help them develop self-efficacy.

Reference: Pietkiewicz, I. (2016). Reaching a decision to change vocation: a qualitative study of former priests' experiences. International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance, 16, 379-404. doi: 10.1007/s10775-015-9318-2

See full report: ResearchGate 

Research team:
Igor Pietkiewicz, Ph.D.; Zbigniew Mlak, M.Sc.