Should I stay or should I go?: one man's decision to leave the priesthood

In Boston, Father Brian Bachand worked alongside the new Archbishop, supporting victims of the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. Bachand was passionate about the work but he began to have thoughts about a life beyond the priesthood, one where he could live freely as a gay man.

“When you're standing in your truth and you embrace what's in your heart, then you are free to do what you nee

Brian Bachand (Submitted by Brian Bachand)

As a newly ordained priest in the 90's, Brian Bachand's career took on an unexpected trajectory. 

He was working as a parish priest in a historic, picturesque New England town, performing lots of weddings, when an investigation into the Church changed everything. 

His home-town newspaper, The Boston Globe, uncovered the extent of the sexual abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic church.

"Every day through the news, faithful individuals were learning about the horrors that had taken place in the Church. And I was learning it at the same time," Bachand said. "I saw the anger. I saw and experienced their frustration, the concern, kind of the overwhelming sense of really what had happened at church."

Inspired by an impassioned speech made by Seán O'Malley when he was being installed as the new Archbishop of Boston, Bachand decided he wanted to be part of the solution. 

"I remember sitting there in the pew listening, saying, 'I want to help this man rebuild.'"

Bachand became O'Malley's priest secretary, which is similar to a chief-of-staff position. In this role, he traveled internationally frequently and worked attending to victims of the sexual abuse scandal in the church. 

Bachand was passionate about the work — but he began to have thoughts about a life beyond the priesthood. 

Contemplating a new life

He started to imagine a different kind of life for himself, one that would allow him to embrace his sexuality.  

"I really came to accept that, OK, I want to love someone in my life," Bachand recalled.  And [I] also came to terms with being comfortable being a gay man and owning that, but also wanting to live in freedom and be truly authentic to me."

But this would mean leaving the priesthood. 

Brian Bachand and Archbishop Sean O'Malley meeting with Pope John Paul II in his private office at his summer residence of Castel Gondalfo six months before he passed away. (Submitted by Brian Bachand )

It was not a decision he made lightly.

"I knew I had to make a decision to make a change — not to quit," Bachand clarifies. "When someone says 'I quit' there's anger or there's frustration. But I knew I needed to be attentive to who I was and what was going to be the best for me."

When Bachand came out as gay, the reactions he received surprised him.

"I had many friends that I no longer ever heard from. What I came to realize is there really is conditional and unconditional love in the world, from family and also from Church and also from friendships."

Helping others to make a change

Despite the disappointing lack of support from many of his peers, Bachand left the priesthood and found a job with the American Cancer Society in New York City. 

Once there, Bachand assumed a new informal role as counsellor to other priests who were struggling with the decision to leave the Church began to reach out to him.

Brian Bachand became Canadian citizen in March 2019 (Submitted by Brian Bachand )

Bachand focused on giving them very practical advice on topics that most priests don't normally have much experience with: finances, making resumé and interview skills.

But he also counselled them on how to feel confident making such a big life decision.

"The hardest part that I think most the priests were challenged with — and I even felt this too — were the expectations," he recalled. "What are people going to think? You know, what is my family going to think? What are my friends going to think? What's the community going to think? Who am I letting down? What does this all mean?"

"But you have to always be honest to yourself," he said. "You have to stand in your own truth. When you're standing in your truth and you embrace what's in your heart, then you are free to do what you need to do."

Bachand is now living in Toronto where he runs a consulting firm called evolution evolution, aimed at helping others move forward in their own lives and careers.

Written and produced by Rosie Fernandez.