Proper “clericalism” defined and defended

The Right Stuff

It is time to fight back.

Over at The Liturgy Guy there is a good post about clericalism.

First, let me say that there is a good clericalism and a bad.

The worst clericalism that we see is of pandemic proportions among the liberal Left.  They 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 the worst form of clericalism we see in the Church.  Want to see true clericalism?  Scratch one of them and see what happens.

On the other hand, there is a more 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.  Furthermore, this can and should lead to a clerical culture in the Church, among clerics, who need to support each other.  This doesn’t mean excluding lay people from every facet of their lives.  It does mean, however, priests withdrawing from lay people on occasion, into their own company (and even with steak dinners, good wine and cigars).  Clericalism, in the good sense, is concerned with offering the holy sacrifice of the Mass and the identity and holiness of the priest.  The way Father says Mass and hears confessions and the way he perceives himself will have a beneficial knock-on effect among the people for whom he is priest.

The outward “trappings” of the priest’s office are part and parcel of his beneficial ministry to people.   They are not for the individual priest’s glorification. They are about the priest’s proper role.

God’s People tended and pampered the spotless lamb, their sacrificial victim, setting it apart and making much of it… right up to the point when they slashed its neck apart and bleed it out with a scream.  Similarly, we put fine vestments on our priests and show him respect during the sacred liturgy because, at the altar of sacrifice, he is not just the priest, he too is the victim, not in the bloody sense, but the sacramental sense: he is alter Christus at the altar of sacrifice and in the confessional.

The fine elements of reverent liturgy are not about the priest, they are about the perfect spotless only Holy One, Christ the High Priest/Victim at the altar.

Yes, there is a good clericalism which, for the sake of the laity, we should foster.  We must reject attacks on priestly identity and all those helpful ways in which our priests can be men and mediators.

There is more to be said, but let’s get on with the piece I referred to above.

Young Priests and the False Charge of Clericalism

There is a smear campaign currently underway against many young priests in the Catholic Church. However, this attack is not coming from the secular media or from dissenting advocacy groups. Instead, it is an attack from within the Church itself, even from fellow priests. What is the false charge being leveled against many of our younger priests? Clericalism.

That legitimate instances of clericalism should be of concern is evident from recent statements by Pope Francis, including his recent Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. Indeed, from the earliest days of his pontificate, the Holy Father has spoken out against careerism and ambition among some of the clergy, particularly within the Curia.

Playing the Clericalism Card

However, what is equally troubling is the opportunistic way in which the Catholic left has recently played the “clericalism card” against a new generation of priests, many of whom were ordained during Pope Benedict’s papacy. Far from being an issue of young priests lording their authority over the faithful, this is nothing more than an anti-traditionalist strategy by those opposing the ongoing “reform of the reform”.

A recent example of this mindset was presented in the Jesuit magazine America, by columnist Daniel P. Horan O.F.M. In his piece entitled, “Lead Us Not Into Clericalism” Fr. Horan makes the following observation:


Reverence is Not Clericalism

As I have written about before, many of our new priests are rediscovering the beauty and depth of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. As was anticipated, some of the tradition and disciplines of the Vetus Ordo have been introduced by many priests into the Novus Ordo. This then is the hermeneutic of continuity being actualized. This is the recovery of the sacred within the liturgy of the Roman rite.

Indeed, what we find with these young priests today is exactly what Pope Benedict XVI called for in his June 2009 Letter Proclaiming a Year for Priests. In referencing Saint John Mary Vianney, Pope Benedict observed:

“This way of educating the faithful to the Eucharistic presence and to communion proved most effective when they saw him celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass…He was convinced that the fervour of a priest’s life depended entirely upon the Mass: “The reason why a priest is lax is that he does not pay attention to the Mass! My God, how we ought to pity a priest who celebrates as if he were engaged in something routine!”.

It is absolutely essential that we support these young priests as they are thrown to the wolves. Those who have invested decades into diminishing the priesthood and “ordaining” the laity will not go without a fight.

For most of the laity, who suffer not from an anticlerical agenda, but rather from poor formation, it will simply take time. In the meantime, let us hope that people who should know better, like fellow priests, seek to catechize the faithful instead of scandalizing them with false charges of clericalism.

Fr. Z stands in support of these young priests.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Be The Maquis, Hard-Identity Catholicism, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Mail from priests, Our Catholic Identity, Priests and Priesthood, Self-absorbed Promethean Neopelagians, The Drill, Wherein Fr. Z Rants and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Cordelio says:

    It’s a good article – and I think the poor formation point at the end is a good one. If you are used to thinking of the priests as your chums, then encountering even a very friendly priest who declines to be chummy might be off-putting (there is a difference between being a jerk and refusing to be over-familiar).

    In the traditional milieu in which I live, I have always wanted my priest to be a man apart – a sentiment that I think is widely shared. If I can avoid it, I don’t want to familiar with whatever personal weaknesses he has. I want everyone in the room to be a little uncomfortable and feel they need to watch their behavior a little more closely when Father walks in. From a purely selfish standpoint, this helps me control my own behavior and makes me more comfortable approaching the priest in his role as my Confessor. Who wants to confess to his best friend?

    Of course, unless your priest is a stylite saint, he still needs some familiar social interaction – and if he can’t properly get that from layfolks, who is he going to get it from? Other priests, of course. My priest needs his priestly social time with other priests; for his good and mine.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  2. CatholicMD says:

    Pray for the faithful young priests, particularly those who will be serving under newly appointed “ideologically moderate pragmatist” bishops (cf John Allen

  3. A couple of thoughts…

    A lot of the talk of “clericalism” is just a ruse for bashing priests for being priestly in a way folks don’t like. There’s nothing inherently “clericalist” or elitist or supercilious about a priest wearing clerical attire, offering Mass in a “too traditional” way or whatever the claim will be, being called “Father”–let alone, asking to be called that.

    Also, there’s a really shallow understanding of the term in all this. As with our genial host, I can offer other examples…

    How about this scenario: two priests and some laypeople are conversing. The laypeople are courteously calling the priests “father.” One–or both–the priests make a point of calling each other “firstname.” A biggie? No. But it’s actually more polite, I think, in those circumstances not to highlight your “access.” Same thing with calling the (arch)bishop by his first name. It sure sounds a lot like, “You call him Archbishop and tremble in fear; but I call him ‘Dan.'”

    Or this: is it clerical when priests gather around them a coterie of like-minded, fawning staff and “helpers,” who get access and get to call the shots, and this “in crowd” makes no bones about keeping out “those” folks “who just don’t get it.” Only they also happen to be baptized Catholics, and members of the parish, and you keep claiming the parish is run in an “inclusive” and “collaborative” way, respecting the “sense of the faithful.” Well, the right faithful at least.

    I developed a principle that I applied in my first outing as a pastor. If people ask for a legitimate option, and I can grant it, why shouldn’t I? Guess what happened when some of those legitimate options included asking for Mass in Latin? Whoops!

    Imagine if parish priests routinely applied this principle?

    Then there’s this really glaring case of “clericalism”: a priest treating the liturgy as his kingdom, where his law reigns. Many a time I would refuse a request to violate liturgical norms by saying, “I’m sorry, but I’m a man under authority. I lack the authority to do what you ask.”

  4. John Woolley says:

    One brief comment. In the Orthodox Church, it’s common for the faithful to kiss the hand of a priest (often while asking a blessing) or even of a deacon. I used to take this simply as a good thing, a sign of reverence being paid to Christ in his clerics. But then I was ordained a deacon, and people began kissing my hand. Now, in addition to rejoicing at the reverence paid to Christ through me, the gesture almost always strikes me as a condemnation and rebuke for my sins of ingratitude, sloth, impurity, pride — all the things that make me such a painfully *poor* icon of Christ. I don’t think any cleric who actually loves God will ever become “clerical” in that bad sense; we just have too much opportunity to compare ourselves as we are to ourselves as God would have us.

    — Deacon John Saturus

  5. Long-Skirts says:


    Reveres womanhood
    In all that’s Marian

    Despises sin’s
    Stench of carrion

    Jesu Christe
    Truth all clarion


    Tradition’s son
    Quite Sectarian

    Grave new world’s

  6. Long-Skirts says:

    “There is a smear campaign currently underway against many young priests in the Catholic Church”

    Ya think?


    I’ve been big sister
    All my life
    Seen trials and tears
    Much love and strife.

    I took some hits
    The biggest and tall
    For the love of them
    My siblings small.

    But once again
    I’m called to fight
    For little brothers
    With all my might.

    My little brothers,
    Fathers they be,
    Need sisters older
    Judiths like me

    To walk behind,
    While men do scorn
    And praise these priests
    And sound the horn

    To give support
    As they help others
    And back them up
    My cassocked brothers,

    But how you hate
    You say to me,
    These other Christs
    That live for He.

    With that my hair
    Stands up on end
    For born a Catholic
    I will defend.

    You better run,
    You better hide,
    To bully His Blood
    I won’t abide.

    With sacrifice
    And daily Mass,
    Big sister I
    Will kick your…

    …as I was saying,
    To all them others –
    Don’t mess with Judith’s
    Little brothers!!

    (or the FFI Nuns!)

  7. jacobi says:

    Clerics, by which I mean the Ordained Priesthood, are different in essence from laity. The can act “in persona Christi” for instance, in saying Mass or in hearing Confession.

    They also have, as parish priests, a responsibility for ensuring, according to their ability and circumstances, the eternal wellbeing of the souls of their parishioners.

    There are bad clerics i.e. those who deny that responsibility, or share or falsify it. But perhaps worse than that are those orthodox clerics who simply do not have the courage to assert their God given role in teaching and liturgy, but rather are browbeaten into silence and acquiescence by assertively heterodox parishioners.

  8. dotKomo says:

    We have befriended of a number of young priests, and seminarians about to be ordained, and I am impressed by the quality of these men and their solid formation.

    One of the newly ordained relayed a story about his first assignment and how a parishioner asked him a question because she thought he said the Mass too reverently. Basically the conversation went something like, “You’re not one of THEM are you?”

    Pray for our priests. PRAY, PRAY, PRAY!!!

  9. aviva meriam says:

    I’ll admit something that may sound weird: I’ve always been fascinated (somewhat in awe) of those who have a religious vocation. I cannot imagine the honor and yet the trepidation one must feel to hear and respond to a call from God to his service in this manner.

    Its easier (for me) to explain to people a small aspect of the majesty of a religious vocation by comparing it to someone called to be a doctor (and yes, there is a vast difference between someone whose entire focus: intellectual and emotional is devoted to the care and preservation of life and those who merely see medicine as a career). While I’ve never experienced either vocation, I have observed many in my family heed that call to service in Medicine and respond throughout their lives. In my limited reference , religious vocation is so-much more than that.

    Attacking those who have embraced that call from God to his service is really an attack on faith as it belittles God’s call and it minimizes the YES (or Adsum) of those who God has called. conversely, demonstrating respect for the Clergy is a demonstration of respect for God (as he Called these men to HIS service).

    Am I wrong?

  10. ChrisRawlings says:


    I don’t know if it is clericalism, but using the National Catholic Reporter as a lodestar for how you understand the Catholic Church is not a good idea. In fact, the current obsessing over relatively insignificant ecclesial appointments is probably a definitional instance of clericalism. The fact that the Catholic left needs the affirmation of the misinterpreted non-magesterial papal interviews is a sad thing indeed. But so is the traditionalist hand-wringing over those same matters. Two sides of the clericalist coin, but it is a scourge no matter how you flip it. Jesus Christ is the center of our faith and everything else–the liturgy, the social teaching, the hierarchy, etc.–revolves around Christ, not the other way around. Clericalism treats the priesthood as a sort of ecclesial high society or class, and removes priests from the orbit of service to which they are called. The best thing about being a priest should not be being a priest.

  11. HighMass says:

    Of Course the is a campaign against any Priest who uses beautiful vestments or wears a cassock…..dressing reverently is an excuse for Liberal Priests/faithful to attack our new Priests.

    In our Parish the Pastor when as far as “hiding” the Chasubles that were used in the 1950’s/60’s….so the associates don’t use them……

    All this is a threat to the Post VII liberals, when a Priest uses a Chasuble that doesn’t look like……whatever they want to call the new Chasuble’s these days ….they think we are turning the clocks back……
    I have seen young Priests use the Gothic Chasubles when saying Mass in the O.F…….they are beautiful……

    No the liberals have done so much damage the past 50 yrs or so… seems like they just keep turning up all over the place…..

    these smear campaigns are not anything new…..they are just becoming more and more obvious……again Thank Pope Benedict for S.P. 2007…..we pray that stays in place….as the liberals are doing all they can to destroy it again…..

  12. Midwest St. Michael says:

    “I’m sorry, but I’m a man under authority. I lack the authority to do what you ask.”

    Yes, yes, yes!

    Thank you Fr. Martin, for making this fairly *obvious* point.

    How often, how *very often*, parish priests who merely want to be obedient to Holy Mother Church (on issues of faith, morals, liturgy and disciplines) are labeled with the dreaded (and misapplied – as Fr. Z has so adeptly shown us) charge of *clericalism*?!

    Dear Lord in heaven how hard can it be? Yet the pressure for young priests dealing with the “Sr. Groovies” or “Fr. What’s-Happenin’-Now” or “Mrs. Smith” (the aging, hippy generation, parish Matriarch) has got to be worth 1,000 “days” less in Purgatory.

    Often, though, the young priest will hear, “Rome is a long way from here. What’s the problem?”

    Good grief. What are these young fellows to do? It is a fine line – or tight-rope – to navigate.

    Praying for our holy, obedient priests… young *and* old!


  13. MikeD says:

    Cardinal Ratzinger, as always, has interesting things to say in this regard.

  14. iPadre says:

    As they say, “There is no turning the clocks back!” And there is no turning them back to the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s either. The 70’s are gone and tradition is here to stay!

    Tradition is where the vocations are. No one wants an empty bank account and that just what liberal/ progressive Catholicism is.

  15. ray from mn says:

    There is another, really bad, form of clericalism. That is when a cleric or a lay official of a diocese becomes aware that another cleric (or employee) of that diocese has sexually abused a minor child and keeps that information to himself and/or moves to protect the perpetrator rather than the children with whom the perpetrator might come in contact.

    Existing agreements for US clerics and lay officials require that the appropriate diocesan official must be informed of the suspected event and the diocesan official must immediately inform the appropriate civil authorities. Not doing that, treating the suspected perpetrator as a protected member of the clerical family, is placing abuser clerics above the law. That is the worst kind of clericalism.

  16. Gratias says:

    My defense of our dedicated priests is very simple. I do not take communion from the hands of priestly assistants such as lay women and men of our Novus Ordo pantomime of a Mass. It is easy enough to wait till the end of the line and wait for the priest. If I were to have communion dealt out only by church ladies I would pass. Fortunately we still have a priest in every mass, and I have them well aware that I expect Communion in the mouth. Just go up there, say Amen and stick out your tongue. Perhaps they fear me or count my checks in the envelopes, but I always receive in the mouth with no problems. And my wife and I are the only ones. The next challenge will be to receive while kneeling, but I like my NO parish and they are not ready for such a shock. Yet.

  17. Eugene says:

    With regards to being too familiar with priests I woul like to share 2 experiences:
    Many years ago my family became very close with a priest Poland who was posted to one of parishes in our city. He has no family here and our mother regularly invites him for dinners and festive occasions like Christmas and Easter. I believe this is an act of charity to a young priest far away from home. We have become so close to him that we refer to each other as “brother” but we have always addressed as father and have respected his need for privacy and his time with his circle of priestly contacts. He has always worn his collar when visiting and truly behaves as a proper cleric and is likewise treated with proper dignity by us his “adopted” family.
    For almost 20 years I have belonged to a parish run by religious orders. First it was the Spiritans and for the last 15 years the Jesuits. I noticed first with the Spiritans the habit of those close to the priests to call them by their first name, a practice that continued with the Jesuits until a change in pators who goes by Father (last name) only. A real shift and one which I am thankful for. Along with this he also dresses accordingly and not in the non-clerical style of most Jesuits and Spiritans. In a certain sense I guess clothes really do “make the man” along proper behaviour.
    Let us all pray for our priests that they trult act as alter Christus and know their dignity.

  18. lana says:

    @Gratias, I think you mean to show your respect for the Lord by saying ‘a Novus Ordo pantomime of a Mass’, but that seems to me like a sacrilegious thing to say. It also offends those of us who have come to know and love Our Lord by praying and attending as often as possible the NO Mass,.

    I personally have been changed completely since my conversion, and I know it is because of daily Eucharist (at an NO Mass). It sincerely hurts me to hear you call it a pantomime.

    And I have come to know and love the EF in the last year also. I attend that weekly.

    As an aside, in 20 years In many NO psrishes, I have never been refused communion in the tongue or even a cross glance over it.

    God bless

  19. lana says:

    For the record, my feelings were also hurt by Cardinal Ratzinger’s ‘banal’ remarks, and by his even more extensive criticism of the EF as well. I did not read them in context, so I assume it must have been some type of liturgical review in both instances.

  20. rcg says:

    As a former military commander I identify strongly with this question. You are the commander 24/7. People will see you and react to what they see in some way. Even if they don’t like you they will understand what you expect. You want to win them over with consistency.

    A person who is a prison guard told me a story: a new guard was doing his best to go by the book and enforcing the many, many rules of prison life that range from no chewing gum to cigarettes to weapon searches, monitoring chores, etc. A prisoner was very polite to the new guard and after a while asked to have one piece of gum to chew. He chewed it in the yard and disposed of it properly. This was repeated a few times. Then one day the same prisoner asked to be allowed to meet with several other prisoners while unsupervised. The guard said no. The prisoner reminded the guard that he had already broken a rule with the gum and that the prisoner would rat him out to the warden. The punishment for the guard would e much worse than for the man who was already a prisoner. The guard then gave in and was eventually ignoring the prisoners’ criminal operations within the prison.

    Granting special access can be mistake if it is not closely managed.

  21. Indulgentiam says:

    The Right Stuff Indeed! :) the cavalry is coming!
    Clericalism? Bah! If that’s the best they can throw? Well all I can say is they throw like girls. Just another word invented by liberals to try to weaken the Priesthood.
    @Gratias:”The next challenge will be to receive while kneeling, but I like my NO parish and they are not ready for such a shock. Yet.”
    Doesn’t matter who at your parish is ready for it. Your supposed to kneel because you are in the presence of the KING and HE deserves it. It’s simple, if you believe in the True Presence then you kneel.

  22. gretta says:

    Interesting comments about priests being separate and basically depending on other clerics for their social interaction. Two thoughts about that.

    First, I think the problem with that is that it was just that limited interaction that helped to create the initial reactions the Church had to the abuse scandal. If you only have real friendships and social interaction with other priests and keep laypeople at a social distance, doesn’t that create the conditions for an “echo chamber” clerical culture where such issues as child abuse or other such issues are more easily glossed over or dismissed? I think that is the most dangerous and unhealthy form of clericalism. I think there should be a healthy balance of relationships there to help our priests maintain perspective – though it makes sense that if a priest maintains non-clerical friendships, that they are with laypeople who are not his parishioners.

    My other thought on this is just wondering, given that we are now encountering married Catholic priests both in the Eastern Catholic churches as well as with the former Anglicans, what is the thought on social distance and interaction there? Does the fact that Father is married and possibly has children change the equation?

  23. Gretta:

    About clergy socializing with non-clergy…

    There are some aspects to this that I suspect many laity never consider. First: when folks in the parish invite the priest for dinner or a party, while that’s kind and often welcome, it strikes me–and I bet many other priests–funny when folks say, “so you can relax!” [Indeed! Relaxing, it often is not.] We love you, but odds are slim it will be relaxing. I’ll have to be on my best behavior; if I have a drink I have to wonder what everyone else considers “too much,” as in, “did father drink ‘too much’?” And I’ll likely spend the evening talking about parish business and answering the toughest questions. And, all the time, I’m being careful not to step into long-running disputes or parish-political quagmires.

    A second reason we have to be careful. This is a little hard to say, but I’ll say it: more often than you may think, a LOT of people come at priests–all smiles–with agendas. That’s fine, except it’s not usually the case that someone calls me up, asks for a meeting, and then says, “here’s my agenda.”

    And in parishes, if one isn’t careful, one gets drawn into the agenda of this person or faction, which becomes a problem for parish politics, mentioned above. A lot of this seems fairly trivial, such as–believe it or not–how the church is decorated for Christmas! And so you laugh, right? Except that you can have some long-lasting bad feelings, and even people quitting projects or the parish, over such things.

    A third problem: the appearance of favoritism. It’s always striking to me to hear parishioners who describe how, either in the present parish or another one, they experienced a priest who had his favorites, his inside crowd, etc. And while you can’t stop people from saying things, this isn’t a helpful perception.

    A fourth problem. Well meaning folks don’t always appreciate reasonable boundaries for a priest; not only as a priest, but just as a person. I could tell you many stories about rectories where people come and go, and expect to. To be fair, much of this is encouraged by priests, or was, once upon a time. I know a situation where a group of parishioners would have breakfast with the parish priest, in his kitchen, twice a week. It was an expectation. All manner of problems with that, one of which was that occasionally someone under 18 would be present.

    Final reason–and this is the most painful to talk about: child protection and reputation protection. Most folks have no idea of what the full implications are, for clergy, of the recent (needed) emphasis on child protection. In addition to the hard-and-fast rules which most people know about, are the implied, but not express, rules, boundaries and considerations that a cleric would be foolish not to observe. Some of which complicate offering and accepting hospitality.

    Not that all this makes it impossible for clergy and laity to socialize; just that for some priests, it’s just a heck of lot easier to hang out with priest buddies.

    [What he said.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  24. yatzer says:

    I am sorry priests have so much to be careful of now. As a high school girl, I was having lunch at Woolworth’s or some such, and a priest I knew came in for the same and we ate together at the lunch counter. When I told him I needed to leave to catch the bus, he offered to drive me home, and I accepted. It was a simple act of kindness and no one thought anything about it. I can only imagine the bells and buzzers that would be set off currently. The era I grew up in (1950’s-early ’60’s) was supposed to be “up tight”, but when I look back we had much more freedom then in many ways. Well, as long as you were white and lived in the North, but that’s a whole other story.

  25. apman says:


    Actually, Pope Benedict’s comments make a lot of sense in the light of history of the Liturgy. If you think the Liturgy, as it now is, is at it’s apex, I would consider you to study the liturgy and see that some sort of a reform is still needed (hence we often say that a “reform of the reform” is occurring). Now, if that means a restoration to the Traditional Latin Mass or a major revision of the Ordinary Form, I will leave that up to the Holy Spirit.

  26. gretta says:

    Believe me Fr. Fox, I see exactly what you are saying – particularly in having to deal with all of the child protection issues that make those non-clergy relationships extremely dicey to navigate. And certainly, dinner with your parishioners who likely have “a little something” they want to discuss over dinner would not make for a relaxing evening!

    That having been been said, I would think many of those landmines are avoided when a priest’s friends are not his parishioners. Maybe clergy of another denomination, older couples whose children are no longer home, Catholic deacons and their families (who would understand appropriate clergy boundries), even non-Catholic adults who share outside interests all make for people where appropriate friendships can be established that avoid parish/parishioner entanglements and complications (and keep everyone out of the rectory!).

    I think Father having non-clergy friends as, for example, fishing (or hunting) buddies, or other men he plays racquetball or rides cycles with, are all appropriate ways of developing outside friendships and support. As hard as it may be, having some outside the Church and outside the clergy insight and perspective (and maybe help Father get some needed time off for rest or exercise) helps mitigate the insularity that can happen when the only people you socialize with are all in the same field (and this is with any group, not just clergy). But given that the celibate priesthood can be even more isolating than other vocations (particuarly for priests who are assigned to parishes where there may not be another Catholic priest for 50 miles in any direction) I think having layperson friendships is also a hedge against loneliness, isolation, and the problems that can arise from being so alone.

  27. Cathy says:

    I don’t understand, I live alone, why living alone and celibate is equated with loneliness.

  28. Joseph-Mary says:

    We had our pastor over for a supper this week. We invite him or take him out every few months. Mostly he wears his clerics. He is often my confessor and we know where the boundaries are. And when I bring an idea of a spiritual endeavor to him and he likes it, then I go through the staff which maybe will like it or maybe not; they do not always fly that is for sure. Many people are afraid to invite their priest for breakfast or a meal. But they are human and appreciate friendships. My husband I started to invite priests over even in the first years of our marriage and have ever since. But I am a little ashamed to confess that when we were in a bad parish and I did not ‘like’ the priest, I did not invite him over. That was most likely not the right thing to do but when Mass was an endurance event, I did not want to spend more time with him. But I do pray for all the priests in my life whether or not I ‘like’ them or not. Luckily I now live in a faithful diocese and have wonderful priests, some of whom regularly wear their cassocks and essentially wear clerics almost all the time.

    Thanks, Long Skirts, for the poem mentioning the FSI Sisters who have a right to defend themselves. May they be able to keep their charism!

  29. Another gold star! How I covet them!

    I seldom got any stars, let alone gold, while in school.

  30. Let me offer something else about “clericalism,” good and bad.

    There certainly is a “clericalism” in which clerics abuse their power, and in which they are too narrow in their experience, and in their appreciation of what others experience; there are clergy who have a sense of entitlement and privilege, and a lack of humility, a lack of true self-gift.

    And there are antidotes to these things. Priests can do a lot to deflate each other, and what they don’t do, their families will; and so will life experiences.

    But now let’s look at another side of this.

    There is a need for priests to have a strong sense of their own priesthood. They need it; and you need it. To put it bluntly, if you went to a priest, and asked his help, what happens if he doesn’t know he’s a priest? No, I don’t mean that literally; but if a priest doesn’t really know what his priesthood means, and all that being a priest is?

    As outlandish as that sounds, I think that is a real problem. It’s getting better as seminaries do a far better job teaching what holy orders are. But consider this: many, many priests, while validly ordained, were taught to think much more in terms of function than identity. There is a true sense in which many priests don’t know what they are–so how can they fully be the priest you need them to be?

    It occurs to me that many of the holy father’s comments, about priests being self-giving for the people they serve, may be directed at least partly at this.

  31. St. Epaphras says:

    If being clerical means knowing who you are as a priest, then bring it on! We need a whole lot more of that. The sad thing is when you feel like you have a higher view of his priesthood than Father does. Of course they are fathers and so need to show genuine care for their flocks and be friendly to all, especially visitors. But they are different from us and that’s a fact. The priesthood is one of the reasons I came “back” to the Church after 40 years away. It is a very great mystery.

  32. St. Epaphras says:

    I had not read Fr. Martin Fox’s last comment but agree totally and thank him for posting it.

  33. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: living alone, I don’t mind it myself. But I’m not an extroverted “people person,” and many priests are (and it’s logical that God should call many extroverts to be shepherds of people-flocks).

    For a true extrovert, it’s hard to think without somebody or somebodies to bounce ideas off, and it’s hard to live without having somebody or somebodies to interact with and get energy from. They are most themselves when they are spending time with others, and even their prayers and interactions with God tend to go along this route. It’s very hard for an extrovert to live without a team or a family or brothers or friends all around.

  34. lana says:

    Father Martin Fox, you would like a book called “A Prophet for the Priesthood”, by Fr. John Hardon. It starts out by saying that priests need to recognize their dignity, their call, etc. What you are saying.

    also, “One of the greatest trials of the priesthood…is loneliness. And one of the main reasons…is the lack of selfless friendship among priests…..”. He writes of the charity that priests need to use with each other, bearing silently (even heroically) with each other’s faults.

    As for myself, after my husband asked me to leave the house some years ago, I have not felt lonely at all, because of the Blessed Sacrament. A visit to the church, and all is well. Thanks be to God for the priesthood, who daily brings us this Gift. And thanks to the men who have given their lives to bring it to us.

  35. Dave N. says:

    If clericalism and reverence have anything to do with each other, they are probably inversely proportional. Clericalism is really just another word for sanctimonious pride exercised by the clergy, and actually, I find it has a lot to do with the strength and quality of a priest’s formation (which should be ongoing, by the way). If a priest is kind of faking it in some sense, he’s more apt to “pull rank” when feeling threatened around lay people who probably have a much better handle on things than he does. A priest who is confident and solid in his formation will be both reverent and exercise appropriate humility.

    That goes for lay people as well.

  36. Cincinnati Priest says:

    Dittos to what Fr. Martin Fox said about socializing and familiarity with the lay faithful.

    In addition to the nuances he elaborated there, there is a very simple reality that it is most relaxing to spend time with those who share what you are going through on a deeper level.

    There is a very rough analogy between singles and marrieds-with-childrens. For most married people with children, they find it most helpful to socialize with others of the same, simply because it is easiest for a parent to understand what another parent is going through. In the typical course of things, friendships of marrieds with children with single people tend to weaken over time. This is not because the marrieds look down upon their single friends, or believe them inferior. Rather, they simply need to spend time with people who have the same vocation to bounce ideas off of, share frustrations and concerns, etc.

    It is much the same with priests. No matter how good a friend he is with a layperson (and whether or not he is a parishioner) there are many things about the priesthood a layperson will never be able to understand.

    Having said all that, I treasure my friendships with faith-filled and supportive laypeople.

    Gretta: I think that it is a bit insulting to imply that priests who prefer to socialize with other priests are at the root of causing a culture of abuse. That is a common canard (especially of those who don’t respect the priesthood from within or without the Church), but there is simply no evidence to support it. It is, frankly, tiresome when people try to bring out the “blunt club” of tying things they might not like to clerical abuse, without establishing or proving a connection. Please be very, very careful with the “this is how we created the sexual abuse culture” line if you don’t have any hard data to prove it.

  37. SpesUnica says:

    I’m a religious priest and live in a rectory with two brother priests. I joined a religious order (because I discerned that it was God’s will for me and) because I was more attracted to community life than the often more solitary life of a diocesan priest, at least in the diocese where I grew up. I think it is absolutely crucial for a priest to have good, intimate priest friends and mentors, both peers you can bond and vent a little bit with, but also holy elders and devoted “big brothers” who you can look up to, learn from, be corrected by and imitate in their work ethic, pastoral skill and liturgical finesse.

    I think it is ALSO, and just barely less important, for a priest to have close, intimate friendships with lay people (especially family members and siblings-in-law), both men and women. Priests have to be able to work comfortably and easily around women. Women make up more than half of the Church-going world, and much more than half of parish staff, school staff and parish volunteers. Sometimes I feel that what comes off as “clericalism” in young, well-meaning priests (and I am one, so I say this without claiming that I never struggle with this myself), is really just social awkwardness with a collar on. This man would probably have been a bit awkward or brusque anyway, and if he had dated or been married, his significant other would have helped socialize him more. Women help, oftentimes, socialize and soften the men they love, and seminary can’t always do as good or as efficient a job at this as a good and holy woman. I say this as a celibate, vowed religious priest. So, the seminary needs to give seminarians and young priests the opportunities to interact with men and women in professional and pastoral settings so that they can learn the small nuances of the different ways men and women communicate. My seminary program was “half and half” seminary and lay, so we had lay men and women, age-peers through older/experienced lay parish workers, single and married, all in the same program and in classes together. The lay folks don’t take ALL of the same courses as the sems (they don’t need to learn to say Mass, obviously), but almost all of them. And they were in “Reconciliation Ministry” with us, to serve as practice penitents and to critique/give feedback to the sem as he practiced hearing confessions and aiding the “mock” penitent. VERY helpful, to have one or two experienced confessors and a handful of holy lay people give you tips “from both sides of the screen” as it were.

    It is important for priests to have close women friends, BUT, I think it is usually unwise to have a close and intimate friendship with a single woman. That might be a tiny bit too strong. It is much harder to prudently carry on such a friendship, but maybe not impossible. I would recommend, and have had recommend to me, to be friends with a married couple. That way you are not isolated from women’s points of view, and yet are not alone with an “available” woman, which can look bad even if it is in all honesty innocent. Perception is important, Fathers, we are public people. This from a “baby priest,” so almost entirely regurgitation from those elders and big brother priests I have, thanks be to God, in my life both in my order and in my local diocese.

  38. SpesUnica says:

    On a lighter note, if an older brother in community give me a hard time for wearing the habit, I tell him, “Father, they DO make them in larger sizes.” Just kidding. Mostly.

  39. Gratias says:

    Dear Lana I would like to apologize for my intempestive comment. I do appreciate having my Novus Ordo parish and have been in attendance for 28 years, despite they making it harder and harder.

  40. lana says:

    Gratias, thank you. No hard feelings and please don’t take it personally. There are many other comments like it in this blog and others, so yours was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. I know that it upsets you to see God disrespected and it seems as if your experience has been different than mine. But in my area I have known only good, dedicated, conservative priests, dozens of them, and I feel as if they are being attacked for offering the NO in the standard manner. Even if that wasn’t your intention, others browsing casually through may read it that way, so I had to say something. Peace and a blessed Christmas season.

  41. Long-Skirts says:


    Weary, weary,
    On this earth
    Shielding souls
    Beyond their worth.

    Few are grateful
    Some regress
    Others proud
    They won’t confess

    When the waves
    Break on the shore
    Warning them
    What is before.

    You stand on this rock
    ‘Gainst the gales
    Fore those who mock

    Facing squalls
    They cannot see
    But all behold
    Your bended knee.

    Few will follow
    Some deny
    They won’t comply.

    Then a blue moon
    Saffron sun
    Come together
    Almost one.

    Fingers blessed
    With Holy Oil
    You lift the Light…
    Sun moon recoil.

    Blinding many
    Opening eyes
    Most despise.

    But on this rock
    You stand your ground
    Opposing strife.

    Between the storms
    And sheep you block
    The tempest winds
    That hurt the flock.

    With outstretched arms
    The daily crux
    You nail the Truth
    So not in flux

    Never will lie
    Only can free
    Upon this rock


  42. jhayes says:

    Francis speaks on “prophecy” vs “clericalism”

    (Vatican Radio) A church without prophets falls into the trap of clericalism. These were the words of Pope Francis during his homily at Mass on Monday morning in the Vatican’s Casa Santa Marta.
    Commenting on the day’s readings, Pope Francis said a prophet is someone who listens to the words of God, who reads the spirit of the times, and who knows how to move forward towards the future. True prophets, the Pope said, hold within themselves three different moments: past, present, and future. They keep the promise of God alive, they see the suffering of their people, and they bring us the strength to look ahead.
    God looks after his people, the Pope continued, by giving them prophets in the hardest times, in the midst of their worst suffering. But when there is no spirit of prophecy amongst the people of God, we fall into the trap of clericalism.
    In the Gospel, for example, the priests ask Jesus: “With what authority do you do these things? We are the masters of the Temple!” They didn’t understand the prophecy, Pope Francis said, they had forgotten the promise. They didn’t know how to read the spirit of the times, they didn’t listen to the words of God, they had only their authority.
    When there is no prophecy amongst the people of God, the emptiness that is created gets filled by clericalism. All memory of the past and hope for the future are reduced only to the present: no past promise, no future hope. But when clericalism reigns supreme, Pope Francis said, the words of God are sorely missed, and true believers weep because they cannot find the Lord.
    As we prepare for the birth of the Lord, Pope Francis concluded, let us pray: “Lord, let us not lack prophets amongst your people!” All those who are baptised are prophets: let us not forget God’s promise, let us not tire of moving forward.

  43. Rich says:

    Let’s call the bluff of the libs accusing these new priests of clericalism, but instead of calling it calling their bluff, let’s call it DIALOGUE, i.e., have them explain their thoughts a few steps further. What will likely happen when a young priest charitably asks, “Oh, please explain a bit further how _________ amounts to clericalism,” is that the one who is throwing around the “clericalism” label will have very little to go from, but will most likely come back with some generalized one-liners, like such-and-such alienates the laity or so forth. Pursuing the DIALOGUE a bit further, a young priest could note, for example, how a bunch of laypeople have in actuality commented on how much they like his wearing of the cassock. Such DIALOGUE does not necessarily have to aim at winning an argument, but bringing to light how empty such thinking as identifying solid priestly identity as “clericalism” really is. Like the “MODERN=GOOD, TRADITIONAL=BAD” thinking which has dominated the Church for decades, when such thinking is brought to task for explaining itself, it does not get too far.

  44. Pat says:

    Father Z: be aware of the imminent announcement of Card. Canizares departure to become Madrid’s cardinal. Please, tell all to keep in their prayers the new appointment of the prefect for Divine Worship.

  45. Pingback: Latin Is Fun, Cool at Nebraska Catholic High School -

  46. Pingback: SATURDAY EXTRA | iwannabeasaint

Comments are closed.