Are priests too consumed with their own power, prestige and importance?
Deacon Kandra gathers the differing views on clericalism that are generating discussion on his blog here. The talk got started with an article by a Franciscan friar called Fr Horan Lead Us Not Into Clericalism which made some snippy remarks about the breed of younger priests who seem overly concerned with fancy vestments and all the trappings of traditionalist religion. Fr John Trigilio gives a robust reply–re published at Deacon Kandra’s blog–stating that there are plenty of liberal clergy who have also fallen into the temptation of clericalism.
He makes the point that narcissism and megalomania are no respecters of churchmanship.
I’d like to weigh in and make another point. Instead of blaming the clergy completely let’s lay some of the blame for clericalism at the feet of the laity. Why is there no criticism of the often infantile relationship between the laity and their priests? Too often the laity fall into two extremes in their relationship with the clergy–both of them immature.
On the one hand is the fawning, “Ohhh Fawther!” type of groveling before the priest. The lay person puts the priest on a false pedestal and honors him too much–never criticizing and never questioning. They collude with the clericalist priest and together they create a false god out of the priest. The fact that we call our priests “Father” doesn’t help. While I value the tradition, I also see that it subconsciously tends to put the laity into a subjugated set of people with immature relationships. Rather than an adult to adult relationship with the priest we get a child-adult relationship. It’s not healthy and it contributes to the tendency towards clericalism in the clergy.
The other reaction among the laity is another form of immaturity which reminds me of seventh grade girls. When the clergy come around the laity are all smiles and courtesy, then when his back is turned they start up the gossip, the griping and the complaining. They never have the guts or maturity to actually come and talk with the priest. They don’t have the guts to speak to him adult to adult and express their views and criticisms. Instead, like little middle school girls nattering about how nasty their parents and teachers are, they get together in a little gossipy huddle and snip and grumble and complain. This second response also contributes to clericalism because the laity perpetrate the idea that the priest is the great Father figure–the authority figure who is there mostly to rebel against in the most petty and immature way.
It leads to clericalism because it isolates the priest, re-inforces his absolute authority (because the laity don’t have the guts to interact with that authority in a mature and co operative way) and leads to division and strife in the church.
This is why I am in favor of active and involved parish committees–where the clergy and laity can get together to listen to one another and work together as a team and as the body of Christ for the furtherance of the gospel. This leads to a further grumble about the laity. Too many of them don’t WANT to be involved in helping to run the parish. They want to sit back and let Father do everything. Join the finance committee? No thanks. Join the parish council? Too busy. Join the choir? Not me. Volunteer and get involved? Not my cup of tea. Consequently Father does end up doing everything and takes charge and thus the lukewarmness and complacency of the people contributes to the problem of clericalism.
More on this topic here in an article entitled Father Knows Best.