Monday, October 14, 2013

What Exactly is Meant by "Clericalism"?

In recent months, we have seen Pope Francis denounce "clericalism".

When I heard that word, I wondered, what does he mean by that?

It would be easy to attribute to that word the connotations that are described in this op-ed in America magazine by Fr. Daniel Horan, a young Franciscan:

Next month I turn 30. While that might seem like an old age to me as I approach the milestone, most people are quick to remind me of how young a friar and priest I still am. That statement of fact is often, but not always, accompanied by some well-meaning remark by a parishioner after Mass or an audience member after a talk suggesting that I’m not like other “young priests” they know.

What generally follows that sort of comment is an expression of concern about the perceived unapproachable or pretentious character of so many of the newly ordained. They appear to be more concerned about titles, clerical attire, fancy vestments, distance between themselves and their parishioners, and they focus more on what makes them distinctive than on their vocation to wash the feet of others (Jn 13:14–17), to lead with humility and to show the compassionate face of God to all.

Fr. John Trigilio, whom I remember from when I used to read the EWTN Q & A forums, was not amused.

While it is true that there are pretentious conservative priests, it is not the reserve of right-wing Catholics:

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? Wearing lace is NON-SEQUITUR. BEHAVING properly is what matters.

And this is my personal clericalist pet peeve:

The faithful want clergy to treat them as adults, not as ignorant children. Yet, often I get emails about pastors who deny infallible doctrines in their homilies but when asked by a parishioner act as if the layperson were in kindergarten. It is clericalism to disguise heterodoxy and irreverence as valid options while simultaneously insulting and disparaging a layperson's fondness for devotions or forcing parishioners to get GPS in order to find the Tabernacle since they removed them from sanctuaries and now hide them out of view lest any spontaneous latria might occur.

One of the reasons why homilies tend to be bad is that the priest treats his audience like they know nothing about the faith.

Now it may be true that many don't know.

But that's just it, you have to talk about serious theological matters for them to learn.

I know a deacon I really like because every time I listen to one of his homilies I learn something.

I'm a fairly educated layperson. I don't think it's a brag to say that I know the faith better than 90% of the Catholics out there.

So when a Deacon can teach me something on the faith, that's awesome!

I want to listen to him again!

Anecdotes are all well and good, psychology is all well and good, but the faithful need hardier spiritual and doctrinal meat.

But I feel like the priests don't want to "scare off" the people, as if spirituality isn't why they are there!

Another clericalist pet peeve I have is the use of Canon Law to suppress orthodoxy.

I have no problem with applying Canon Law as it is written.

And I accept that the Bishop is the person in charge of applying it.

But if you're going to apply Canon Law, apply it the whole.

We all know that Catholics lament the fact that pro-abortion politicians continue to receive Communion and are not publicly for their opposition to fetal rights.

Many bishops refuse to publicly sanction politicians for whatever reason.

Okay, fine.

But then clergy who are supportive of that approach will use Canon Law to tell faithful Catholics that they cannot refer to their enterprises as "Catholic".

To me, this is clericalism to the extreme.

The most prominent case of that, to me, is Michael Voris and his ChurchMilitantTV.

It used to be known as RealCatholicTV. Until a bishop decided that this was in violation of Canon Law and told him not to do it.

Well we have to protect the Catholic brand, is the thinking. We can't just have anyone calling themselves Catholic if they're not Catholic
So the name "Catholic" is essentially reserved to clerical approval. (This is not clericalism?)

Okay fine.

But which is the greater evil? A well-intentioned person trying to help the Church through his media ministry (flawed as it may be at times!) or somebody voting for the right of a doctor to kill a child?

I remember one time, I had a French Catholic message board called, unpresumptiously, le forum catholique (and there's another one of that name, by the way that is well-known in French).

There wasn't a lot of traffic on this board-- maybe a handful of visitors. But some professional Catholics had decided that my strident form of Catholicism was not to their liking, and they reminded me that according to Canon Law, the use of the word "Catholic" was only for ministries approved by the bishop.  In fact, one of them reported my forum to the bishop. (This is was in the time of Mgr. Maurice Couture of Quebec City-- no danger of hearing from him!)

So here these dissidents were, using Canon Law against my board, because they thought that the average person was too stupid to know that a small board visited by a handful of visitors was not an official organ of the Catholic Church.

I think this is what Pope Francis had in mind when he talked about "small-minded rules".

Canon Law, Church doctrine, and other official pronouncements of the Church are used to suppress faithful Catholics who are trying to spread the faith, but doctrine and canon law don't apply to them when it comes to legalized child-killing.

But hey, us orthodox people, we're the Pharisees!