At The Catholic Thing there is a post today by Fr. Mark Pilon about clericalism.
I am for clericalism. That is to say, I am for good, beneficial clericalism. I am against bad clericalism. Both Pilon and I make distinctions. Here is the beginning of his piece. I’ll add my own views below.
My emphases and comments:
Fr. Mark Pilon: To suggest that a Catholic is not bound by the Church’s teaching because he can’t understand it insults the believer’s dignity.
The pejorative notion of clericalism has a number of different meanings. For many Protestants and secularists, this term simply means that the clergy have, and exercise, too much authority in the Catholic Church. Just how that’s their business is a mystery, unless they assume that the Church is somehow subject to their ideas and should conform to them. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?]
For Catholics, clericalism usually refers to a kind of dominance of laity by clergy outside of their rightful spiritual authority. Pope Francis often speaks of this form of clericalism, in the way that clergy behave either in their regular daily pastoral work or in the political sphere.
St. Jose Maria Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei, identified another kind of clericalism in those who try to turn the laity into pseudo-clerics – and identify the truly “committed” layperson as someone who directly serves the Church, rather than someone who is immersed as a Christian in social and political life.
But there is yet another form of clericalism that seems just as widespread today. [NB] This is the clericalism that assumes that many of the laity are simply incapable of really understanding the Church’s teachings or are incapable living up to them when the demands are high. This is the kind of subtle but deadly clericalism Pope Paul VI hinted at in Humanae vitae. [This may also be at the core of Chapter 8 of Amoris laetitia. In AL ch. 8 there seems to be a presumption that people cannot live up to the moral standards which the sacrament of matrimony implies. Matrimony is, as Christ Himself teaches and as the Church has always held, indissoluble. If someone civilly divorces and then takes up with someone else, cannot separate from that person for some good reason, but still want to return to the sacraments, then the only path forward is to live in continence with that partner as “brother and sister”. However, Amoris and many who interpret Amoris in a liberal way assume that the moral requirements matrimony are too hard for people to live. Therefore, they look for ways around the commitment to continence and still give access to the sacraments.]
To fulfill a difficult moral law always involves a struggle – for some people, a very great struggle. But the believing Christian will not lightly absolve himself from responsibility for personal failure at the expense of denying the power of God’s grace. And the assumption by some clergy and theologians that most laity are simply incapable of either understanding the truth of certain moral laws or of fulfilling them is not exactly a way of recognizing or promoting the dignity of laypeople. [Exactly.]
This is a good distinction. Some clerics assume that lay people are not able to live according to the demands of Christian morality. They set lower and lower bars in the name of “compassion” or “mercy”. This is, in effect, terribly condescending.
I’ll add another kind of clericalism, related to something that Pilon mentioned, pandemic among the liberal Left. Especially in liturgical contexts – which have a knock on effect in every other aspect of the Church’s activity – libs blur the distinction between lay and cleric and say, “I’ll let you do something I am supposed to do.” The subtle message: “You are not good enough with your baptismal dignity: I have to raise you up.” This condescending liberal arrogance is a terrible form of clericalism. Want to see true clericalism? Scratch a liberal and see what happens.
On the other hand, there is a sound, healthy “clericalism” which consists in a clear sense of priestly identity that sets the priest apart from the people on account of his ministry at the altar. There should be a clerical culture in the Church, among clerics, who need to support each other. This doesn’t mean that clerics must exclude lay people from every facet of their lives. It does mean, however, that priests must withdraw from lay people on occasion, into their own company (even with steak dinners, good wine and cigars). Clericalism, in a healthy sense, is concerned with the identity and holiness of the priest.