We have previously highlighted the issue of Clericalism here but there are more and more voices calling for the culture of clericalism to be broken down and cast out of our church. However, many still find it difficult to identify ‘clericalism’ in a succinct way. Perhaps this will help –
Clericalism (Aleteia) is
a disordered attitude towards clergy
and excessive deference
and an assumption of their moral superiority.
Bishop Thomas Zinkula (Davenport, Iowa) in The Catholic Messenger
says ‘Clericalism is an exaggeration of the role of the clergy to the detriment of the laity. In a culture of clericalism, clerics are put on a pedestal and the laity are overly deferential and submissive to them.’
Bishop Vincent Long (Parramatta, NSW)in an online interview with America Magazine
says ‘it is not a question of individual manifestations of clericalism. It is a question of clericalism inherent in the very culture of the church, which we must look at very honestly.” He continues “we really need to, once and for all, jettison that clericalist model of church. It has served us well beyond its use by date.’
Natalia Imperatori-Lee (Crux
) says ‘Clericalism is isolating and insular - it cuts off the ‘oxygen’ of genuine solidarity and sharing-of-life with laypeople by creating a separate class, even a separate caste, within the Church.’
Pope Francis also, in his Aug 20 Letter to the People of God
, states ‘Clericalism, whether fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons, leads to an excision in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today.’
These writers and others call to mind that we cannot be blind to the fact that clericalism is not just a problem of the clergy – it is inherent in us, as the laity, as well.
As Pope Francis wrote
, clericalism can be “fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons”—laypeople can fall into clericalism, too! Lay people can fall into thinking that their contributions to the life of the Church are only second-rate, or that in all things, surely “Father knows best,” or that priestly virtue exhausts Christian virtue.
Russell Shaw (OSV Newsweekly
) says ‘clericalist attitudes and assumptions remain embedded in the minds of many Catholics and, though probably unrecognized, go on doing great harm.
The harm is of several kinds. By far the worst occurs on the spiritual level, where relatively little is either asked or expected of lay people beyond a legalistic mediocrity — spiritual excellence is equated with keeping rules (go to church, say some prayers once in a while, avoid the grosser kinds of sin). The idea that, as Vatican Council II taught, the laity are called to be saints quite as much as the clergy and religious simply doesn’t enter this clericalist picture. It’s a miracle of grace that so many achieve holiness just the same.
Clericalist thinking also contributes to the passivity and non-involvement of many lay people.
As we move more deeply into the initial Plenary process of Dialogue and Listening, we need to look honestly and closely at this curse of clericalism that is so deeply ingrained in our catholic culture.
We need to ask ourselves, do we see evidence of clericalism
– in our parish –in our diocese – in our Australian church – and in our global church?
We need to ask ourselves, do we experience clericalism personall
y – and how do we experience it?
We need to ask ourselves, do we/I act at times within the culture of clericalism
, putting priests up on pedestals, above the ordinary person in the pews?
If you have not yet read the Robert Micken article in La Croix International
, read it now, for he says that ‘clericalism could not flourish, as it has for many centuries, without the compliance and complicity of the laity.’
Many of the issues that are arising in the small group reports
of the Dialogue and Listening sessions in our parish are intimately connected to clericalism and we may have to let the Holy Spirit do her work before we have answers to them. In France though, the Archbishop of Paris is already moving towards a different way of training priests
– definitely worth reading!