I’m a Catholic priest and Holy Week makes me squirm.

As a priest I’m part of the religious establishment. I’m in there with the theologians, the monks, the abbots, the bishops, the archbishops, the cardinals and that whole gang. The monsignors in the Vatican are part of the gang. The Vatican diplomatic corps, the chancery bureaucrats, the theology professors and Biblical scholars…we’re all in that religious establishment cadre.

That’s what worries me because it was the religious leaders who plotted to kill Jesus. The Sanhedrin was made up of the scribes who were the theologians and Scripture scholars and canon lawyers, the Saducees– who were the elite establishment leaders–the leaders of the aristocratic Jewish families–the ones who were well off, well educated, well mannered, well connected and well bred. Then there were the Pharisees. They were the strict conservatives. They knew the rules, enforced and obeyed them (except of course in those instances where they made exceptions for themselves) Finally there were the priests–the hereditary caste who controlled and defined the liturgy, maintained the temple and supervised the proper worship.

Is it so different today?  The Catholic clergy cadre are our Sanhedrin and I’m one of them. We talk about “clericalism”. This is clericalism: the control of the religion by a ruling, privileged caste of professional religious men: theologians, canon lawyers, Scripture scholars, liturgiologists, bishops, priests, deacons, archbishops and cardinals and curial officials.

We’re the Sanhedrin.

It doesn’t really matter to me if they are “liberal” or “conservative.” Sanhedrin clericalism exists in both sides of the church, and in their clericalism both sides find a curious and disturbing friendship that reminds me of the newfound love between Pilate and Herod in the story. You get the drift: any enemy of my enemy is a friend of mine.

I feel similarly squeamish when I read that passage where Jesus says, “Beware of the Scribes and Pharisees who love to wear long robes and love to be greeted in the market place and sit in the best seats in the synagogue and be honored at banquets.” That makes for uncomfortable reading right after I’ve put on my alb, stole, cincture and ornately embroidered cope, process at the end of the line and sit down in a special fancy chair or when the faithful bow and kiss my hand and say in hushed tones, “Good morning Faaahther.” The makes me squirm when I’ve been given a glowing introduction at a speaking engagement and the crowd applauds.

Yikes! I’m one of them. Lord have mercy!

The Sanhedrin plotted to kill Jesus for several reasons. They were genuinely frightened of the impending persecution by the secular power. They wanted to protect their fellow Jews and their precious religion from destruction. However, they also wanted to protect their privileged positions. They enjoyed the power and prestige of being the religious leaders. They had their palaces on the slopes of Jerusalem. They had their positions of privilege and profit. No doubt they had their own network of financial corruption and sexual immorality just like our Catholic Sanhedrin. We’re the men who accused the woman taken in adultery actually her clients? I wonder.

What is the answer to the Sanhedrin-clericalism in our Catholic Church?

Jesus outlines it at the Last Supper which is part of the reading of the passion from St Luke’s Gospel yesterday.

Then an argument broke out among them
about which of them should be regarded as the greatest.
He said to them,”The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them
and those in authority over them are addressed as ‘Benefactors’;
but among you it shall not be so.
Rather, let the greatest among you be as the youngest,
and the leader as the servant.
For who is greater:
the one seated at table or the one who serves?
Is it not the one seated at table?
I am among you as the one who serves.

The pope has many grand titles, but the only one he should remind us of is “the servant of the servants of God.” That should ripple down to all of us, and this Holy Week may I, and my fellow priests as we renew our vows at the Chrism Mass take it to heart and pray earnestly that we may be numbered among his disciples and not as members of the Sanhedrin, and may we take his model as our own as we wash and kiss the feet of those whom we should serve.