23 May 2011

The Dangers of "Clericalism"-- or, More of the Same from the Cafeteria

Some weeks back I posted about the trend of some persons to criticize Catholic priests who look and act like Catholic priests because they look and act like Catholic priests.  They incorrectly call this "clericalism", and in that sense I posted an essay titled "A Call for Clericalism?". 

Well, it seems that The Tablet, which states that it is a Catholic publication, is warning that the ancient Mass is being allowed out of an implicit desire to reinstitute clericalism, and of course that leads straight to dissent (!) and pedophilia.  Fr. Z posted on this with his comments, and I think he nails it pretty well.  But I wanted to highlight a few paragraphs of the editorial in light of my previous post. 

The editorial begins by mis-defining clericalism as the "excessive emphasis on the role of the clergy in the Church's internal affairs."  Let that one sink in.  I suppose it depends on the meaning of "excessive."  But I get the feeling that the editorial writer thinks the unique calling of the ordained priesthood, giving those men the power to forgive sins and to confect the Eucharist, would form a part of that excessive emphasis.  After all, the Church needs priests for at least 5 of the 7 sacraments.  And we are a sacramental Church with a sacrificial priesthood.  But why quibble?  Says the editorial:

Clericalism was dealt a heavy blow by the emphasis in the teaching of Vatican II on the priesthood of all believers and on common baptism. But there is evidence of a clericalist backlash among some of those undergoing training for the priesthood or recently ordained. In dress and attitude, some of them appear to hanker – almost narcissistically – after a restoration of the priest’s elevated status that characterised parish life in the 1950s. A softer form of clericalism is still apparent in diocesan structures and in the Vatican itself, where few lay people are to be found, and usually in relatively junior positions. And clericalism automatically marginalises or excludes women.

It is also sometimes implicit in the motivation of those who are pushing for the return of the Tridentine Rite to general use. While the post-Vatican II new-rite Mass emphasises the Eucharist as an activity shared by the whole community, the Mass named after the Council of Trent puts more weight on the separation of roles, with the priest active and the congregation passively watching.

The Vatican is continuing to put ammunition in the hands the pro-Tridentine lobby in the Church, as in the latest instruction, Universae Ecclesiae, issued by the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. Does it not realise how much this will encourage divisive tensions in the Church and a spirit of reactionary rebellion against local episcopal authority, not to mention the revival of a misogynistic and elitist clericalism?

I love it when liberals warn against clericalism. But don't look for any signs of self-awareness there.  They hate the cassock, but that is just a symptom-- they hate the priesthood.  At least, they hate that we need one.

The same people who have done much to try to destroy the Church, who have fomented dissent and disobedience to lawful authority, who have emasculated the teachings of the Church, now worry that the ancient Mass will weaken episcopal authority.  Rich, yes, but also unwittingly insightful.  They have taken over so many sees, so many diocesan bureaucracies, so many seminaries, so many orders, that of course they would now like to quash any "dissent" (i.e., a movement toward restoration of the faith).  This editorial, unfortunately, could be mistaken as a word-for-word editorial from many official Catholic publications in this country. 

I cannot begin to tell you how many times, over the years, so many angry "liberals" who post comments and send emails are absolutely fixated on the attire of priests.  They can't stand when a priest dresses like a priest, during the Mass or outside the Mass.  Anti-cassock comments, anti-lace comments, anti-finery comments.  It is a fixation with some.

The description of the two forms of Mass is typical, but again, revealing.  The Ordinary Form is an "activity" "shared by the whole community", while in the Extraordinary Form the priest acts while the "congregation" (not community here) passively watches.  Yep, that is about as deep an understanding of two thousand years of organic development and tradition handed down as you can expect to read in The Tablet.  I have news for them, though.  In both forms, the priest is the one who acts in consecrating the Eucharist.  Not you or me.  Using The Tablet's own caricature of the Mass, let me say it this way:  in the newer form, there is more busy work to distract the "community" so they are spared the discomfort of "passively watching."  After all, moments of silence could lead one to wonder whether the typical Mass at the typical parish could possibly have been intended by the Church.

And soooooo misogynistic-- women can't be priests, and that just isn't fair!  So, if you are feeling disempowered by this reality, you have two ways to attack it.  The priesthood has to be demeaned, or else the laity have to be made into little priests.  In neither of these approaches do the dissenters really respect the priesthood of the laity, because if they did respect it, they would not discount the dignity of that priesthood by wanting laymen to be little priests.  If the ordained priesthood isn't such a big deal, why do all these disaffected laymen want to be ordained priests, or at least to do everything the priest does?

But remember, standing for the truth, for Catholic doctrine, for respect for the Bishops and priests at the service of the bride-- that is divisive.  Not caving in to every outrageous novelty is divisive.  Actually being Catholic-- very divisive.

So, by all means, let us avoid this type of clericalism.  Things are so much better when we water down the faith and banalize the Church.  The evidence is all around us.


Anonymous said...

If women get to be priests, does that mean men get to have monthly cycles and have babies? There is a natural order to things. Men can't be women and women can't be men no matter how hard they try. As a woman, I cannot perform the sacraments of reconciliations or the mass and some of the other ones I would rather not do ( like baptize in emergency situations). Men cannot have a child grow inside them, give birth to them, or nourish them with milk from their bodies. I know very few men who desire to do this and I have yet to meet a man who is fighting against all authority and the natural order to have babies, lactate, and menstruate.

Anonymous said...

The folks who decry "clericalism" amongst the clergy are ideologically descended from those forward-thinking souls who in the Spanish Civil War attempted to "upgrade" the Church by slaughtering priests in order to crush "clericalism" and "fascism." Not surprisingly, the enlightened practioners of this "upgrade" made liberal use of women to carry it out. Would the anti-clericalists of today resort to this kind of violence, given a similar arrangement of circumstances? I wouldn't put it past them, but do hope, however, that the Holy Spirit will give them guidance and wisdom.

Lucy said...


I generally agree with your take on this issue but one might get the impression that you don't think that there is a true sense of "clericalism" and that it is a real problem.

The liberals use the charge as a cover for quasi-heretical ideas about the Mass, the Church, and dogma.

But could the scandals that inflict the Church have come about without a heavy dose of clericalism? How about the attitude of many towards the 1962 Missal and all things pre-Vatican II?

My guess is that those within the Church who make the charge of "clericalism" against the younger generation, precisely because of their love of the cassock and interest in the EF, are truly guilty of clericalism. They see their grip upon the current state of things slipping away and cannot deal with this loss of power.

There is an attachment to the current (dis)order of things that is being called into question by the younger generation. This threatens those in charge. And they cannot adjust because they seem to care more about maintaining their power than about truth.

Perhaps a post on the true meaning of clericalism is in order?

women are women said...


There are men who would love to and try their hardest to be "women". These are the men who have decided to follow the "gay and proud". These gay men try to be "mothers" to babies by hiring a surrogate or adoption and lobbying for legal marriage.