Friday, 9 November 2012

Clericalism and its Culture

The Cardinal's Portrait 
Toby E. Rosenthal 
The Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests from Vatican II clarified the duties of priests and their relationship with bishops and lay people, It implied that priests should foster greater involvement of laypeople in the life of the Church.  This document stood in direct opposition to the historic problem of CLERICALISM.    

The dictionary defines Clericalism as a policy of maintaining or increasing the power of a religious hierarchy.  When some clerics believe they are the untouchable representatives of the People of God endowed with the power to control and determine which person is a ‘Real Roman Catholic’, they will have failed their true calling.

The role of the Church is not to determine who is in, who is out, who is worthy and holy, or whose theology and Tradition is right or wrong.


Jesus meets us where we are, not where others would have us be.  When clerics feel the need to compare themselves with  those who fall short of being a ‘real catholic’ it suggests a definite lack of humility,compassion as well of an understanding where theologically informed adults are.  Even so, these clerics are themselves victims of the hierarchical system that drew them in with its appeal to their romantic pre-adolescent idealism.

This kind of outdated clericalism thrived in pre-Vatican II era and restores the high times of the hierarchical Church.  Eugene Cullen Kennedy emeritus professor of psychology warned  Clerical redux energizes this spreading movement to reinstate that Neverland age of Catholicism when priests controlled the church, lay people knew their place, the Mass was in Latin, God was in His heaven and all was right with the world.”


It has been fifty years since Vatican II but there are still some obvious vestiges of clericalism that need to be addressed.


The quote from Eugene Cullen Kennedy noted above was taken from a two-part article which he wrote in 2011 under the general heading of ‘Set-decorator Catholicism’.  Part 1 ‘The Common traits of set-decorators’, and Part 2 ‘Clericalism thrives in a new phase of the sex abuse crisis’.

Both can be viewed in detail, courtesy The National Catholic Reporter as follows:



Both articles describe how the Roman Catholic Church came to and continues to struggle with the sex-abuse scandal and how CLERICALISM fostered the ongoing crisis.  Professor Kennedy colourfully illustrates how traditionalist clergy are like ‘set-decorators who treat their people as if they were children to be set right rather than as theologically informed adults to be nourished in their understanding of faith.’  He supports this observation with the need to respect the voices of Vatican II which promotes clergy and laity as equals.  When seen and treated as complimentary equals the Church will finally be able to honestly address the myriad of issues and challenges it faces today for a better and healthier tomorrow.  
Suggested reading: 'Clerical Culture - Contradiction and Transformation' (2004), Michael L, Papesh, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN.    

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