Becoming a Priest as a convicted felon

Hello all,

I have recently found out my court case is being ‘redocketed’ as it’s called. This means reprocessed through the court system. This is because I have failed to attend my ‘intensive outpatient’ substance abuse/mental health program often enough and I was discharged. I was charged with carrying a dangerous weapon last October and was given the privilege to probation. I am facing, probably, up to 3 years in jail. This of course really troubles me. The background to the story is that I had a knife in my pocket longer than 4 inches by a quarter inch. I was carrying it because I was wearing a rather offensive halloween costume. Walking into a bank (as a prank) got the cops called on me. It wasn’t a good time. Induced by a manic episode. Yes, I’m bipolar…usually depressed. But that sort of thing will never happens again, as I’ve learned my lesson.

Now, not knowing exactly what’s in my future I do know one thing - I have a vocation to become a Priest or possibly a monk. Will I be able to enter seminary and become a Priest with such a legal record? Who should I talk to in person about this? I assume a Priest at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception where I go. I’d like honest opinions about this. I’m putting my name out there because I want this to be clear to everyone. I have such a calling and wish to follow it. I suppose the best I can do if serving time in prison is to study my Bible and pray.

Best wishes and God Bless,


It will, most likely, depend on the necessary requirements of the diocese you are applying to. I believe, however, that you will probably be told that you won’t be able to pursue the priesthood - at least not now. Canon Law requires that you be free from canonical impediments including:

"1/ a person who labors under some form of amentia or other psychic illness (mental disorder) due to which, after experts have been consulted, he is judged unqualified to fulfill the ministry properly;

You would need to contact the Vocation Director for your diocese. If you are sentenced to a term in prison, you would - most definitely - not be able to study for the priesthood during that time.

Contact your diocese’s office of vocations and find out what their policy is regarding your legal and medical situation. You should also do EVERYTHING in your power to resolve your this court case, as soon as possible.

With God anything is possible but that said, I know the Catholic church also has requirements for eligible candidates. I’m not certain what it is, but I would speak with the person in charge of vocations to the priesthood and see what he says.

Considering your record, I would be surprised if you could become a candidate because of the severity of your charges.

As a plan B have you considered looking at some of the orders that have lay associates? The premise is different meaning you don’t join the order but they have a branch which allows you to have some type of association with them. I don’t know exactly how they work but it could be a plan B.

Plan C- if you want to help others, have you thought about doing a degree in social work or something similar and aim to help troubled teens and young adults in different areas of your city or beyond? With the things you are experiencing right now and what you could be experiencing in jail in the next few years, with some time, you could be a great candidate for it because you could show the teenagers what not to do and you could help them avoid some of the mistakes you made. I know some colleges offer distance education courses which you could do while you are in jail. If you have to spend the next three years in jail, you minus as well take some courses that will help you get a job once you have served your time.

If you like this idea, I know some churches or ministries have programs to help troubled teens so with your experiences, and some education under your belt, you could be an asset towards reaching the teens. Up here we have a former convict or a person who was into drugs speaking with teenagers. It is only by travelling the same road as these kids can you reach them.

Regarding Plan C- if you like the idea, it could be a great way to serve God as you would as a priest only at the very grassroots where help is needed. In addition, taking college courses while in jail will look very good on your record.

Think about it.

Remember, you don’t have to become a priest to serve God. God needs all sorts of people to reach his people.

I agree with Secret Garden. If you want to serve people and make a difference, become a social worker. You don’t sound like priest material. Lets sum up:
Failed to attend substance abuse/mental health program.
Criminal record.
Carrying a weapon.
Manic depressive/bipolar.
Poor judgment.
Wearing a costume that you know offends others.
Playing “pranks” stupid enough to get you arrested.

You don’t have a vocation to the priesthood. Set your sights on something manageable and realistic. Sorry about the bluntness, but diplomacy and beating around the bush is not what you need to hear.

I logged on to say essentially what you have said but you said it better.


Being a parish priest requires a lot of responsibility that most diocese, if your level of judgment and difficulty persists, may not find realistic for you. You expressed an interested in monastic life. Realistically speaking, being a parish priest (through a diocese) requires a lot of careful examination. They are in charge of a parish or several and have many responsibilities.

Monastic communities and various orders are a lot more flexible. Whatever happens in the near future, you will need to prove yourself, so to speak. I’d recommend getting involved in your diocese and parish. Get to know your pastor or another priest. It will be good to have someone that can speak for you and recommend you. It will probably take at least a year or two. You will need to have a steady life, involvement in the Church and good mental health. If you are not capable of these, then I do see much for you realistically.

A parish priest needs to take excellent care of himself and be able to carry out a lot of difficult responsibilities. A monk at the very least needs to be able to care for himself and maintain good mental health, with an ability to contribute to his community.

Acceptance into a seminary or order is pretty much not going to happen in the immediate future but it may be a possibility later on, some years down the track after you’ve put some time in between this episode. For now though, what’s important (for both your future desires and your criminal proceedings) is that you demonstrate that you’re taking responsibility for the situation that you’re in. This includes getting help for your mental health issues and, more importantly, getting yourself back into a substance abuse program ASAP. Courts like to see that offenders are (a) acknowledging the causes of their offending and, (b) seeking help themselves for that offending. In that same way, if you do wish to apply to a diocese or order later on then demonstrating that you acknowledged your issues and sought help with them will greatly assist you.

Thank you, all, for the honest and informative answers. For the record, as far as my mental health goes, if there’s one thing that’s really beyond my control a lot of the time it’s my tendency to be depressed. But the ridiculous thing I did in this manic episode was drug-induced mania, just to be clear. If I can stay sober, it ensures that nothing like this ever happens again. My mental issues by themselves don’t cater to such behavior or impulses. I think you’re right that it’s an individual issue. All of this would have to be explained with sincerity at least to start, with my own Priest. This is something I’ve yet to do. In any case, should I go to jail for up to 3 years, whether it’s 1 or 3 years I will spend a great deal of my time there studying the Bible. It’s also good to know that the monastic orders are more lenient as far as these matters go. I’ve actually been in contact via email with a monk at Pluscarden in Scotland, a beautiful Abbey. I really do have a desire to lead Masses, along with the other number of reponsibilities of a Priest. I’d hate to have to defect to another denomination to become a minister.

Should none of this work out, I’d actually pursue something in the line of becoming an educator in an institution… but this really more hinges on me NOT becoming convicted (not going to jail). I have been in contact just since I found the bad news out, with another intensive treatment program at St Mary’s hospital in my city… I will find out within 2 days if I can attend. If I can, even if my probation officer tells me it’s not acceptable per probation terms - it’ll look a lot better in front of a judge to tell he or she that I did enter such a program on my own upon failing the first one. Any more comments are certainly welcome. It’s really harsh to hear ‘you don’t have the vocation’, but I do respect everyone’s opinion. God bless!

Plan C requires a number of background security checks and requires a clean criminal record check. I used to be a probation officer and I always warned the younger ones, their actions, though seem to have minimal consequences now, but they will come back to bite them when they start seekIng a career. Many tears have been shed in my office over learning tha reality.

St. Dismas Ministries
3195 S Superior St, Milwaukee, WI 53207
(414) 486-2383

You say you would consider other denominations if the RCC wouldn’t let you but I have to point out that no mainstream denomination would ordain you without a long series of background tests. In fact, in Mainline denominations you have to gain admittance to a divinity school (which you pay for), graduate after 3 years with a Masters of Divinity, and then complete units of Clinical Pastoral Education. It’s not like you can escape this. If I were you I would talk to a priest at some point and just discuss it. For now though, you need to concentrate on staying sober, managing your health issues, and on staying out of trouble. I will pray for you.

Hello, Christopher. Your history of mental illness, substance abuse, and poor judgment, along with your legal record and you stated willingness to defect from the Church in order to serve as a minister in one of the denominations (which is not very likely) militate against the Church seriously considering that you might have a vocation to the priesthood at this time. The door is of course not closed forever, but it looks like you have much graver issues to deal with now.

Remember that all of these issues we must deal with in our lives are not hurdles to our fulfillment of our destiny, but means of sanctification if we accept them as such. Your esteem of the priesthood being quite strong, I would recommend prayers to Blessed Nicholas Horner, an English layman who was martyred in the Elizabethan era for harbouring priests.

I would also recommend doing all the courts or your doctors tell you. There is great sanctification in obedience. There is also great sanctification in work. If you are not to be imprisoned, then pursue your chosen trade–or, if you’ve not chosen one, then choose one. Remember always that the Gospel is to be lived today, not at some future date that might never arrive.

God bless.

I agree. Totally. I’m from another mainline Protestant denomination and they also have very strict rules regarding who can become a minister. First of all you need to be an active member of that denomination for at least two years and you can’t just attend but you also have to actually join it through a specific ritual which varies according to the church. Then once you have completed your courses, they have a process that the candidate must follow in order to determine they are ordination material.

These are just the basics since each denomination has its own procedures regarding who can be admitted into the ministry. Not everyone is selected therefore don’t think joining another denomination will automatically allow you become the pastor you dream of. It won’t. The christian church doesn’t work that way. You need to face your problems like a godly man and with God’s guidance hopefully this will become a great testimony and witness for others.

That said, I know many pastors who were former drug addicts and alcoholics but to work in the ministry requires a certain maturity and dedication to God that takes years to acquire.

Right now it sounds like you have the potential but you have years to go before you are ready to begin that new journey. Whether this dream will happen, I don’t know but it has been my experience that God loves you and although some dreams don’t come true, it just means that God has better plans.

Please keep us posted regarding what’s happening with you. Although we are honest and blunt, it is only because we care and we don’t want to sugar coat the reality.

I would caution that it is not yours to determine if a person has a vocation or not. A vocation is determined between God, the person answering and the proper ecclesiastic authority.

A person sincere enough to overcome the impediments to ordination should be encouraged to discern with proper guidance (thru spiritual direction) to determine if this is the path the Holy Spirit is leading the person.

God did not call saint’s into the priesthood, He made saints out of the priesthood.

Christoph, just a question: how old are you? I was just wondering.

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