Pope_Pius_VIII_in_St._Peter's_on_the_Sedia_GestatoriaPope Francis’ latest scold is against clericalism.

You can read about it here.

He makes good points and it is clear that he is addressing the situation in Latin America.

However, there is another side to the coin. It is certainly easy to criticize priests who dominate the church and get all high and mighty. We can all think of Father Fuhrer and Pastor Impossible, but I wonder how often they have assumed these roles because they felt forced into it.

In my opinion the laity carry a fair bit of the blame for clericalism. Here’s why:

Firstly, the laity too often assume an un necessarily adoring attitude to the priest. Yes, it is a wonderful thing to respect Father and his vocation, but when I see lay people groveling before the priest it is unhealthy. If they treat him as a divine oracle it will not be long before he believes himself to be a divine oracle.

If the lay people put him on a pedestal it takes a strong personality to resist the temptation to get rather used to the pedestal.

Secondly, the lay people too often do this from a subconscious motivation to keep Father at a safe distance. They don’t want to have a real, human relationship with the priest. They would rather have a relationship with their idea of the priest. They can then have a relationship with the image of the priest and furthermore, for their part of the relationship they can present to him the perfect Catholic outward image. This dynamic is very unhealthy and contributes to clericalism from both sides.

Thirdly, the priest might be the personality type who actually NEEDS his exterior priestly image. Maybe he  is insecure as a person. Maybe he has some secret sins of which he is ashamed and with which he is struggling. Maybe he is an introvert and needs the priestly image as a tool to relate to people. The more he relies on that false persona–the man in the collar and cassock–the more he will contribute to clericalism. When his people reinforce that image thing they themselves contribute to  clericalism.

Fourthly, the laity contribute to clericalism because, to be perfectly frank, they want Father to do everything. They don’t want to get involved and they don’t want to contribute their time, their talent and especially their treasure. They support clericalism because if Father does everything they don’t have to. Furthermore, when things go wrong they can blame him. Involvement of the laity? Many of them don’t want that at all. Sounds like hard work.

Fifthly, the laity often want the priest to be their surrogate parent. They relapse into a kind of infantilism when it comes to their faith. In every other aspect of life they are responsible, mature adults, but when it comes to their Catholic faith they avoid responsibility and behave like little children always turning to the priest for everything they want. Their own immaturity in the faith contributes therefore to clericalism.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some priests who assume their clerical high horse, but most of the ones I work with aren’t like that. Likewise, most of the laypeople I work with aren’t falling in to the traps I outline here, but there are enough on both sides of the fence to observe that the issue of clericalism is, perhaps, not quite so cut and dried as some might imagine.

The solution, as Pope Francis points out, is for priests to remember that they are the servants of the servants of God and for the servants of God to remember that they are errmmm….. the servants of God…


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