The Corner


Pope Francis and ‘Clericalism’

Pope Francis was meeting with fellow Jesuits in Mozambique earlier this month, where he discussed “clericalism,” one of his great hobby horses, in much detail.

As used here and elsewhere, “clericalism” is an undue deference toward clergymen and their authority in the Church. It’s often considered — wrongly — to be the pathology primarily responsible for the sex-abuse crisis in the Church. That theory, as the Catholic League puts it, relies on a “Marxist vision of society, one which interprets social interaction purely on the basis of power.” The responsibility for the scandal lies with the abusive priests and their enablers — particularly their enablers within seminaries — not with clericalism. Indeed, as a bona fide ecclesial phenomenon, clericalism is almost nonexistent in the institutional church of 2019, a church in which lay lectors and lay Eucharistic ministers, without so much as a second thought, routinely usurp liturgical roles once (rightly) reserved for priests and ascend the altar as if it were their birthright. Those Catholics who still go to Mass — and their numbers are waning — are far more likely to unduly disrespect the clergy than pay it unearned reverence.

But to hear certain prelates tell it, the 1400s are back en vogue. (Would that they were!)

Take the remarks of the current pontiff:

Clericalism has a direct consequence in rigidity. Have you never seen young priests all stiff in black cassocks and hats in the shape of the planet Saturn on their heads? Behind all the rigid clericalism there are serious problems.

Another anti-traditionalist tic from Francis.

Mass apostasy in the Church? Overwhelming approval of contraception and abortion by the Catholic “faithful”? Dismal levels of weekly liturgical participation? Barely a word; indeed, he promises to “lead with mercy.”

But young priests in traditional garb holding fast to church teaching? Pure venom and disdain.

I also fail to see what’s wrong with a certain kind of “rigidity.” It depends entirely, of course, on what one is being “rigid” about. But if a priest is “rigid” in his fealty to church dogma, that’s rather his job, no matter that papal innuendo suggests otherwise.


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