15 October 2013

On clericalism and power

Clericalism is a mindset, an attitude, a perspective. It patronizes and denigrates those who disagree and uses ad hominem attacks to belittle. When a priest speaks disrespectfully to an elderly woman and embarrasses her publicly at Mass merely because she exercises her legitimate option (as defined by Rome) to kneel or genuflect at Communion time rather than just stand, that is clericalism. When the faithful are denied their legitimate option to receive Holy Communion on the tongue or confession behind a screen, that is clericalism. When women are ridiculed and scoffed at by priests for wearing chapel veils, which is their option, that is clericalism. When some of the faithful ask the pastor if the Extraordinary Form could be celebrated in their parish and the priest goes ballistic and insults them and calls them fanatical, schismatic rad-trads, that is clericalism. When priests who wear roman vestments and lace albs instead of burlap potato sacks and moo-moo albs are laughed at and slandered by gossip among their brother diocesan clergy, that is clericalism.

Clericalism is also nepotism. Not the kind where relatives are promoted but where ideologues and those who are philosophically and theologically ‘brothers’ take care of one another. When sycophants are rewarded with papal knighthood and are made monsignors for being blindly loyal to their Ordinary, that is clericalism. It is a cheap shot to attack a priest for his personal taste in vestments. What really counts is whether or nor Father preaches and teaches orthodox Catholic doctrine; does he celebrate a reverent Mass; is he living a chaste, honest, and virtuous life on the altar and off? 
Some of the most destructive clericalism I've ever witnessed was the product of "Spirit of Vatican Two" elitism, especially in all matters liturgical. 
Oddly enough, the most egregious clericalism I've ever encountered came from religious sisters. They were unstinting and unapologetic their use of institutional power to suppress dissent and shape the formation of clergy to their agenda.

And it is impossible to overestimate the prevalence and harm caused by Mean Girl Cliques among clergy and religious. Right now, these cliques tend to be dominated by Baby Boomer clergy/religious with modernist agendas. However, it won't be long before younger clergy/religious form their own cliques in order to defend themselves from their elders.

What lessons are our younger clergy/religious learning from the power plays of their elders? Easy: only power matters. Forget right/wrong, canonical/non-canonical, good/bad, tradition/innovation. When the rubber hits the ecclesial road, all that matters is: who has the power? 

I can tell you from my personal experience: this lesson is not lost on our younger guys and gals nor will it be ignored when they have the power.

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  1. The sad part is that by making it all about POWER, clericalists miss the whole point of the Church which is about the salvation of souls and the facilitation of Grace. By making it about power, they turn the focus away from God and onto Man as the ultimate end thus totally undermining the mission of the Church in order to fulfill some terrestrial fantasy.

  2. Thank you Father. Your point about the exercise of power is so true. I shared this on my Facebook page, along with several comments. One of which is this: "And the problem, as pointed out in the quote above really gets to the heart of it: the Mystical Body of Christ is not to be governed by power plays. Christ's most powerful hour was the one where he was the weakest, and completely submissive to both His captors, and the will of the Father. Humility. Obedience. In imitation of Christ." I hope us younger clergy can learn that lesson well, and not simply exercise power the way we've seen it exercised, in a way that is detrimental to the unity of the Mystical Body.

  3. Interesting posting, pray to God to change anything that you don't like, God's Blessings!

  4. Anonymous9:00 AM

    I am happy to see clericalism is being discussed on many blogs and posts. Pope Francis actually said the fundamental illness is: ecclesiastical narcissism which is bigger than clericalism. I have seen a lot discussed about clericalism in certain areas as related to priests attitudes, the way they choose to dress ect. This is not fair to the clergy and it shorts the problem. .This is only a part of the problem. But what I have not seen discussed is the problem of an inward looking Church that is not acting on the missionary mandate to evangelize. Pope Francis actually said the fundamental illness is: ecclesiastical narcissism.Pope Francis also said, When the Church does not come out of itself to evangelize,” he said, “it becomes self-referential and then gets sick.”
    That inward-looking Church, which doesn’t look sufficiently to Christ and doesn’t reflect him, his light and his love for those walking in darkness, quickly succumbs to what he called the worst evil of all, a “spiritual worldliness … living in itself, of itself, for itself.”
    That, for him, is the fundamental corruption of the Church that needs to be reformed.
    Good Adult Fauth formation is what is needed in every parish.