Tuesday, October 15, 2013

'Clericalism'



I was told of a priest, who happens to write for one of those Catholic papers which no-one reads. He re-ordered his church according to his own whim. In the process he destroyed an altar and various statues and objects that were given by past parishioners, of course there were complaints. The priests reaction was to get a friend, a solicitor, to send those who objected letters suggesting that if they continued to make their concerns public they risked being sued for defamation. With one particular family, not content with one letter, for several years afterwards, just before Christmas, his solicitor friend would send a reminder.

Pope Francis talks a lot about 'clericalism', this story is about clericalism of the worst sort but it is typical of much that went on after Vatican II, a clerical elite -both priest and lay- forcing something on a people who didn't want it or didn't understand it. That whole ghastly 'Spirit of Vatican II' is nothing other than spirit of 'clericalism', where an elite impose something unsanctioned on the rest of the Church. It involves a negation of the Law, of the plainly written text, of teaching that has been passed on.

The culture that covered up the sin and crime of sexual abuse certainly has its root in 'clericalism'. 'Clericalism' is certainly a 'leprosy', 'a virus', it is marked by a lack of transparency, a failure to be a servant and to consider that the rest of the Church. It sees the clergy as a caste apart the laity is there to serve rather than to be served. It is akin to Pharisaism in the Gospels.
It strikes me that 'clericalism' springs not from a strong priestly identity but from a weak one, and a weak sense of the nature of the Church. Teaching the Catholic faith isn't clericalism, celebrating its Mysteries decently and reverently according to the Law isn't clericalism, but imposing one's personal interpretation of the faith is clericalism of the most dangerous type, as is substituting rites of one's devising for those given by the Church.


The priest or bishop whose personal beliefs are out of 'synch' with the Church is really dangerous because ultimately he is not seeking to deepen the union of his people with God within the Church but with himself. It is a form of idolatry, in which the priest usurps a place the place of God.

Pope Francis recently speaking of the devil said:
There are some priests who, when they read this Gospel passage, this and others, say: ‘But, Jesus healed a person with a mental illness’. They do not read this, no? It is true that at that time, they could confuse epilepsy with demonic possession; but it is also true that there was the devil! And we do not have the right to simplify the matter, as if to say: ‘All of these (people) were not possessed; they were mentally ill’. No! The presence of the devil is on the first page of the Bible, and the Bible ends as well with the presence of the devil, with the victory of God over the devil.”
Pope Francis warns that such an approach seeks to relativize the truth about Jesus and leads to half-measures in our battle with the Devil ....
But what in fact is happening is that such priests are negating revealed Truth with a message of their own, they are given a role within the Church that they abuse. Here the Pope speaks of the devil and demons but he could equally well have substituted conscience or contraception, sin and confession, heaven and hell, death and judgement, or any foreshortening of the Faith.

17 comments:

Joshua said...

Oh yes, there are plenty of such priests everywhere - how many souls have they driven away from Christ, and how many souls have they endangered by perverting their faith?

Physiocrat said...

What you described happened in both parishes which I attended in the 1980s and 1990s, and something similar is happening even now in a parish not a million miles from Brighton. It seems to be Standard Operating Procedure. Maintenance and restoration of Catholic tradition is exceptional and resisted if suggested. Jesuits are particularly arrogant in this regard.

At least the Orthodox churches do not have this nonsense of liturgical reform and vandalisation of churches inflicted on them, nor is it part of Jewish practice.

Archimandrite Gregory said...

Very well stated position. Some clergy act as if the eucharist transforms bread and wine into themselves. Pray for the conversion of the erring heart.

wintersturme62 said...

Whilst not wishing to take away from what you have written, Father, unfortunately, it often seems that one group of Elites is most disdainful of the opposing group of Elites.

Caught in the middle can be Christ's Faithful, on whose behalf everyone claims the right to speak.

Deacon Augustine said...

"It strikes me that 'clericalism' springs not from a strong priestly identity but from a weak one, and a weak sense of the nature of the Church."

I very much agree, Fr. Ray, but I think it goes deeper than that as well because this narcissistic, egocentric behaviour is by no means confined to the clergy or the Church. Underlying it is a very weak Christian identity - no doubt engendered by lack of supernatural faith - poor self-image and low self-worth.

If such men really knew how much God loves them, they would not feel the need to seek that love from elsewhere - they wouldn't need to try to make themselves the objects of other people's love and adoration. It is only when people feel really secure in God's love that they can selflessly love other people in the same way. Their egos are crying out for love, but they are crying in the wrong direction.

gemoftheocean said...

A good friend of mine described that the church hierarchy should really be thought of an an inverted pyramid, rather than the typical corporate top down pyramid. Hercules, if you will holding everything up.

God holds up the pope, the pope supports the bishops, the bishops the priests and the priests the laity. The one who does the ultimate service is at the bottom. Some of the clergy in the church get into trouble when they think of themselves as a part of a normal corporation hierarchy. And this is where hubris comes into play.

servusmariaen said...

around 1970 or 1971 in my small rural parish Church the then priest took a sledge hammer to the reredos, altar and statues brought by families of the parish from their previous home a thousand miles away. He replaced the high altar with a cheap particle board table butcher block and covered the walls with cheap wallpaper and put a risen christ where the crucifix once was... He hauled most of it to the city dump. Many of the family members managed to gather statues from the dump. I know of many older ones who vowed never again to set foot in a Catholic Church. He literally ruined the beauty of the structure.

Mark Nel said...

Well said Father. Right on the money.

Colin & Cyndy said...

Thank you, Father Ray. Spot on!

St Wilfrid's, Coalville said...

Thank you, Fr Ray. Spot on.

parepidemos said...

Father Blake, Whilst I heartily agree with what you say about clericalism, I am sure you would concur that it existed long before Vatican II.

viterbo said...

physiocrat said: 'Maintenance and restoration of Catholic tradition is exceptional and resisted if suggested.'

Well put. Catholic authenticity is being narrowed to the presence of a priest regardless of whether he prefers the Church of Christ and His Saints or something quite different - the Church seems to be rebuilding its house on sand - are we not dust? The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church which was still the Pillar and Bulwark of Truth a generation ago turned away from the Kingship of Christ and towards the constitution of the United States with its 'inviolable' indifferentism - it this indifferentism with its inevitable innovations which is now all too often an idol creeping around the sanctuary of Christ.

ORA PRO NOBIS said...

I find this shocking.

I find it astounding that the priest had not read the piece of scripture stating that Christian's should not engage in legal engagement with each other. It's unbelievable.

Matthew said...

Clifford Longley had some very wise words on this subject in The Tablet of 28 Sept. He said that the best way to cure the Church of clericalism would be by involving women in its government -- but with the one proviso that they should remain members of the laity. 'Ordaining women would perpetuate clericalism by entrenching it ever more deeply'. This he is too well-mannered actually to state (though he hints at it) is what has happened in the CofE, and will happen even more acutely when her sister Church in Wales starts having women bishops.

Jeremiah Methuselah said...

Thank you, Fr Ray. Spot on.

Jacobi said...

The “Spirit of Vatican II” which you refer to is also the public face of the Heresy of Modernism which has distorted and crippled the Church in the past fifty years. It used its distorted interpretation of Vatican II for its own ends.

Critically, it shows signs of re-emerging.

Sandy Grounder said...

"Teaching the Catholic faith isn't clericalism, celebrating its Mysteries decently and reverently according to the Law isn't clericalism, but imposing one's personal interpretation of the faith is clericalism of the most dangerous type, as is substituting rites of one's devising for those given by the Church.


The priest or bishop whose personal beliefs are out of 'synch' with the Church is really dangerous because ultimately he is not seeking to deepen the union of his people with God within the Church but with himself. It is a form of idolatry, in which the priest usurps a place the place of God."



Beautifully put Father. Thanks for posting this. A priest who teaches and upholds what the Church teaches protects and empowers the ordinary lay person who at the very least can know what is expected of them if the teaching and its practical implications are explained clearly.

Sadly we do not have enough of this kind of teaching.