February 04, 2008

Is Clericalism a Bad Word?

From the former dissident standpoint, dissident Catholics don’t like the root word: "cleric" period. There are groups that want to completely do away with the priesthood so they will use clericalism as a term to be feared. You've probably read a lot of verbiage around how the sex abuse problems are all because of clericalism. Women can’t be priests because of clericalism. They use various degrees of badness with the term clerical like: excessive, extreme….They shouldn’t bother. They don’t like clerical period.

The clericalphobes are helped along by some priests. You can easily identify some of these priests. They tend to be the ones who have not worn clerical garb in decades. They probably couldn’t find their roman collar in their residence if they tried. If their Bishop called, they may or may not be afraid to tell him that they threw it out 20-30 years ago. The collar is a sign of slavery to "the man". They think: why keep that bad symbol around? Why wear it?

To the clericalphobic crowd not only is it bad to actually look like a priest, you shouldn’t act like one either. You want to look as much like a layperson as possible. This group thinks the laypeople should have all the authority. Priests should not be telling the flock what to do. The priests can make suggestions but actually clearly delineating between right and wrong is verboten.

Really, isn't this movement a reverse-clericalism trying to take root? If you want to phrase the entire argument around apparel and power, if you are successful in changing the clothes and successful in giving laity full and complete authority, at the end of the day isn't someone, or a group of someones, still going to have to be in charge?

The only difference I see is that one is called ordained and other isn’t. Yet, even in the dissident movements, the “womenpriests” are handling their own “ordinations”. Go figure. Yet, this is a group that is always yelling about clericalism.

Clericalphobes are a bunch of people griping that they don’t feel that they are in charge. They don’t feel like they have total control. Gosh, how many of us enjoy feeling 100% control over everything on any given day? If you just give ME all the power to decide how the Church shall be run then I’ll be happy, right? It’s going to solve all the Church’s problems if we just do away with the clerics, right? It seems that what they seek is anarchy and chaos. There is no structure and no one outside of the face in the mirror is in charge. There are vague claims that they will follow Jesus Christ but they forget that Jesus instituted the structure and the authority that they hate to begin with.

If we follow the "down-up" model all will be well, right? If everyone gets to vote on Church doctrine, we will never have any disagreements again, right? "We'll have joy, we'll have fun, we'll have seasons in the sun!" Anyone spoken to the Anglican or Baptist communions lately? Things are going just fantastically well in those models of faith democracy in action, aren't they?

At the end of the day all the dissident teeth-gnashing about clericalism is a lament that they can’t fully impose their personal relativism on Holy Church . It’s not that “We are Church” they want “I am Church”

Clericalphobes really have no problem with authority, or priests, or with having leadership, as long as its the leadership THEY want. Listen to them complain about Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz being too clerical (read: too authoritative and inflexible-bottom line translation: he actually tries to enforce Church teaching). On the other hand, listen to them complain when Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, one of their heroes (read: flexible, and potential for manipulation-bottom line translation: not known for always enforcing Church teaching) is removed.


Blogger Terry Nelson said...

Clericalism - or rather anti-clericalism came to be in the years preceeding and during the French revolution. So, no matter what the cloak of ideology, even Marxist/communist, anti-clericalism is rooted in evil. The revolution never ended.

February 04, 2008 8:55 PM  
Blogger Terry Nelson said...

Forgot to add - they are trying to get rid of Archbishop Burke as well - big troubles in that Archdiocese by anti-clericalist forces- seriously!

February 04, 2008 8:57 PM  
Blogger Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Cathy,

Interesting post in that you never actually define “clericalism”!

I’ve written about this issue here, and share historian Paul Collin’s understanding of “clericalism.”

Clericalism, writes Collins, is a system “which has developed a kind of moral immunity over the centuries. While it existed before the time of Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085), it was he who imposed celibacy universally on the clergy of the Western Catholic Church, and the development of a distinct clerical caste can be roughly dated back to then. Over the centuries, clerics have gradually gained a kind of extraterritoriality by which some of them see themselves as exempt from the usual constraints that govern human behavior.”

“What happens”, says Collins, himself a former priest, “is that everyone who works in the system, no matter how generous, saintly, and virtuous they are, has to struggle to avoid being inexorably caught up in a clericalism that misuses power and that is essentially deceitful and corrupt.”

Collins is quick to point out that he doesn’t believe that priests themselves are necessarily corrupt. Many, he notes, are “men of considerable integrity”. Nevertheless, “they work in a diseased system and it is very difficult for them to avoid the consequences of clericalism.”

Understood this way, I would have thought you'd find clericalism objectionable. How do you understand clericalism and what are the sources that inform your understanding?



February 04, 2008 11:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post..

February 05, 2008 6:10 AM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Michael: I defined it in this post (I may have done a poor job) as how I defined it when I was a dissenting Catholic and how dissenters typically define it. Mr. Collins would be among that number. I'm trying to point out the "system" as Mr. Collins puts it is not diseased. Sure, you can have individual sinners and I would never deny that but I don't accept that the "sytem" by which I mean: "structure" in and of itself is flawed.

Sorry, this is rushed but I need to get ready for work! Have a blessed day, Cathy

February 05, 2008 6:10 AM  
Blogger Terry Nelson said...

Well, Michael shoots down my theory. :)

February 05, 2008 11:03 AM  

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