A good article that explores what REAL clericalism is. UPDATED

UPDATE 10 May 2019:

Fr. Longenecker has a post about different layers of clericalism.  It is well written and has a good insight that builds on what I wrote, below.   Go over there to get the full line of his argument, but here is a sample.   And he nailed something important.


[I’d] like to add to Fr Z’s rant by pointing out another form of clericalism which is strangling the church today.

Remember “clericalism” comes from the word “cleric” or “clerk”. A priest was once called “a clerk in Holy Orders”. This is because when only the priests and monks were literate they held most of the office jobs.

So the form of clericalism strangling the church today is the clericalism of bureaucracy. Rather than serving the people of God the diocesan officials are the clerks (but not in Holy Orders) who quash spiritual initiatives with paperwork, forms, codes of conduct, assessment plans, annual reports, financial compliance reports, regulations, regulations, regulations.

Try starting up a local faith initiative that needs diocesan approval. You will have the clericalism of the diocese all over you pointing out a hundred and one reasons why this won’t work, your vision will fail and you will not get approval. You will have to go through insurance company procedures, financial projections, feasibility studies and more.

They will say, “This is to protect our children” or “this is to protect you.”

Huh uh.


_____ Originally Published on: May 8, 2019

I’m catching up on some reading.  I found one thing at American Conservative to pass along which, as I have said of other pieces in the past, you ought to read every word.

As I read it, it resonated with my ideas are about what real clericalism is. These days there is a kind of “clericalism” cobbled up into a strawman by libs and homosexualists as a smokescreen for their agendas.

There is a terrible clericalism in the Church, but its main exponents are NOT traditionalists or conservatives. Libs are the worst of all. For an example of the worst sort of clericalism, take the dreadful propensity of lib priests who condescendingly bring all sorts of lay people up into the sanctuary (to “clericalize” them) so that they can do things that the priest is supposed to do. Thats a way of saying, “Your dignity as a baptized Catholic isn’t enough. But I shall confer more upon you by my fiat.”

In the piece at AC, we find another kind of clericalism, that flows through and from the Second Vatican Council.

Evelyn Waugh Predicted the Collapse of Catholic England
He saw Vatican II as an attempt by elites to foist changes on a laity that didn’t want them.

Read the whole thing, there.


One of Waugh’s most persistent criticisms of the liturgical changes is that progressive, elitist-driven experimentation hurts ordinary people the most, undermining their confidence in important institutions. Vatican II represented, in Waugh’s mind, a rejection of the needs and opinions of local people. “A vociferous minority has imposed itself on the hierarchy and made them believe that a popular demand existed where there was in fact not even a preference,” he warned.

Nor were parish priests, the local leaders who best understand the common man, sufficiently consulted. Waugh wrote: “I know of none whose judgment I would prefer to that of the simplest parish priest. Sharp minds may explore the subtlest verbal problems, but in the long routine of the seminary and the life spent with the Offices of the Church the truth is most likely to emerge.”

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Mariana2 says:

    Thanks, Father! I hadn’t been aware of A Bitter Trial, but it is just the ammunition I need for my thesis.

  2. samwise says:

    Didn’t Tolkien have a similar reaction as Waugh?

  3. Semper Gumby says:

    Good Evelyn Waugh article comparing the “cultural distemper of the 2016 elections” to the Church and the 1960s.

    The article’s first paragraph brings to mind certain clergy, laity, and newspapers who would demolish the apostolic Church and build the Church of Hands Clapping and Dancing Together Around the Fire Bowl.

    That also applies to unhinged Libs from Nancy Pelosi to John Brennan who as True Believers would rebuild the country as Glorious Party of Death Paradise.

    samwise: I think you’re right. It might have been in a letter by Tolkien to his son Christopher.

  4. Mr. Chalk was a student of mine when I was teaching at the University of Virginia in the Religious Studies and History Departments. His is a thoughtful piece, but readers should be sure to read this in the closing paragraph:

    “Americans, both traditionalists and progressivists, should take note. The more one seeks to radically (and dictatorially) transform a people and their ways of life, the more one works to destroy that people, taking from them the beliefs and practices that give their lives stability and purpose.”

    I lived through the 1960s and it was the rapid and authoritarian way the liturgical changes were imposed that drove people out—and they had been trained in a “culture of obedience”! The act of imposing a novel form of worship on them undercut the people’s faith, and so remotely lies behind the later long-term loss of practice and faith.

    A similar imposition of mandated changes today would be met with an even greater exodus, especially if the changes were in the traditional direction. (It would be hard to think of further “liberalizing” changes as causing any great disruption, save for the small group of traditionalists who have already fled to traditional or traditionalist parishes / chaplaincies.) The idea that a top-down imposition of Pre-Vatican-II forms of worship will bring people back to the Church is disproved by this very article.

    Mary Douglas, the great Catholic anthropologist, brilliantly analyzed the religiously destructive nature of massive changes in religious ritual and culture imposed by elitist authorities in her book Natural Symbols—which should be required reading for all involved with liturgy.

  5. Elizzabeth says:

    I get confused by comments regarding Waugh and Vatican 2. Surely he died before it even started, and he never experienced the Novus Ordo? His complaint in “A bitter trial” was against the liturgical changes brought about in the 1950s, or is my history incorrect? Perhaps his words regarding those changes can be applied to what happened after his death, but was there a massive falling away after the imposition of the first set of liturgical changes, or did that only happen after those of the 60’s and 70’s?

  6. Bellarmino Vianney says:

    Great post, Fr. Z.

    There is much that could be said about “clericalism” of the laity. It is a contradiction in terms, but at the present time it is prevalent within the Church.

    I could give many examples of clericalism of the laity which is quite clearly profanity and causes great harm to God’s Church.

    But, the “angels of Satan [that] harass me” (2 Corinthians 12:7) would then do more of those lay clericalist actions in order to attempt to provoke this commentator to as much anger as they possibly can.

    So, I cannot mention those lay clericalist actions here. (For those who have not been following…yes, this commentator is harassed by numerous human angels of Satan; most of them are lay clericalists of the Vatican II type, but some appear to be false conservatives, and some are even “conservative” priests that profane the sacraments and profane God’s House. Others appear to be otherwise good people that are being lied to about me in order to spread false suspicion and discredit me should I eventually file a lawsuit against certain government entities that are abusing their authority.)

    Basically, if you want examples of profane clericalism of the laity, take a look at how “protestant” entities operate their “parishes” or whatever they call them. That is clericalism of the laity.

    And, for the record, this commentator is a layman, not a priest criticizing the laity. Many problems within God’s Church at the present time are due to laity, not priests.

  7. MB says:

    A priest, a priest!, emailed me this article put out by the ARCC, written by one Thomas P. Doyle. Here are a few snippets from that article:

    First, it is essential to acknowledge the most glaring aspects of causality [of the sexual abuse crisis]. The clerical culture, or clericalism, is the most commonly identified contributor. … It is sustained by the toxic belief that the ordained are not only set apart from lay people but superior to them. … far too many lay people continue to believe that this deference is part of their Catholic belief system. … The clerical culture is protected by mandatory celibacy and the myth that it is universally practiced. This, of course, is dependent on the church’s traditional teaching on human sexuality. This teaching is dysfunctional, confusing and contradictory, and it must be seriously re-examined. …This traditional thinking, supported by John Paul II’s emphasis on the unproven theory that a man is ontologically changed at the moment of ordination, must be banished from the contemporary theology of the priesthood.

    I apologize that the snippets are a tad disjointed, but you get the idea. After reading this, I realized exactly what “clericalism” is. It’s a way for the perpetrators to turn to their victims and say, “Well, it’s your fault. The sexual abuse crisis is YOUR fault because you believe the ridiculous notion of the sacramental character of the Catholic priesthood. It is victim blaming at its very finest.

  8. Mariana2 says:


    Evelyn Waugh died in 1966.

  9. jaykay says:

    Elizzabeth: “I get confused by comments regarding Waugh and Vatican 2. Surely he died before it even started, and he never experienced the Novus Ordo?”

    No, he died in 1966 (actually on Easter Sunday, 10th April) and so while he certainly never saw the NO he did see the first steps in the “transitional” era i.e. the changes following Inter Oecumenici which were introduced from March 1965.


    While that resulted in the introduction of a lot of English, in a hurry, and in a lot of versus populum Altars (in our parish they put in one for the Holy Week Triduum that same year) he certainly never saw such things as the entire Mass in English, which came after his death – although it was still recognisably the “old” Mass until… well, yeah.

  10. Elizzabeth says:

    Ah, thanks Mariana2 and jaykay…I thought he’d died a few years before!

  11. Elizzabeth says:

    Ah, thanks Mariana2 and jaykay…I thought he’d died a few years before!

  12. samwise says:

    Bishop Morlino (interviewed by Raymond Arroyo): “If clericalism means ‘priests being put up on a pedestal’, that hasn’t been my experience”

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