Clericalism

My attention has been drawn to an article about clericalism. Bringing priests into balance by Leila Marie Lawler.

The subject seems to have come up because the Pope seems to put all the blame in this respect on the traditionalists. In reality, clericalism is not the preserve of clerics as tonsured seminarians, deacons and priests are clerics. People who work in offices and administration are called clerks. In the Church, clerics are defined as those having received the Tonsure, Minor Orders and Major Orders. The term we often find in the Anglican tradition is clerk in holy orders. Cleric and clerk are interchangeable as words. In the civil world, the legal profession and administration, clerks are defined by their professional function and having taken over from ordained “scribes” who once fulfilled their functions. We also have the notion of functionary (fonctionnaire in French), the civil servant. In the Middle Ages, reading and writing were almost exclusively the domain of the priestly class. You have to be literate in order to push papers in an office, however boring the job might be.

Roman Catholic canon law (207 in the 1983 Code) says that “by divine institution, there are among the Christian faithful in the Church sacred ministers who in law are also called clerics; the other members of the Christian faithful are called lay persons“. It is almost a caste system like in Hinduism, but the distinction is by ordination, being “put in order”, not by birth. That said, there were times when high offices in the Church were reserved to the Aristocracy. The Latin word is clericus, from the Greek κληρικός. We use the words clerk and cleric, and collectively, we belong to the clergy. Anglican clerics are often known as clergymen.

Usually, the priesthood (except in those who are laicised or “unfrocked”) is indissociable from the clerical state as a class apart from the laity. It involves a measure of authority like that of a judge in a court of law. The de-Christianisation of civil life has largely made this class distinction irrelevant. The priesthood has had to be re-thought in the light of the end of Christendom, the French Revolution, Anti-Clericalism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the two world wars.

Clericalism, the cause of anti-clericalism involves some kind of oppression by one class of human beings over another. At the French Revolution, during Robespierre’s Terror of 1793, many of the nobles and clergy found their situation of those whose head on some pretext condemned to be mown off. Even without the frivolous quote from The Mikado, those from the old first and second Estates (nobility and clergy) were hated by the people who had to pay for them by their hard work and received little gratitude. Their were exceptions, and those nobles who had been exceptionally kind to the ordinary people were spared. I have heard many stories of the curé jupitérien who suffered as much from the temptations to power, money and sexual dominance as anyone else.

Unfortunately, for Pope Francis, the temptation to clericalism is not caused by the Latin liturgy or the cassock. In this post-conciliar era, the clericalism has changed appearance but is aggravated. Priests and bishops believe themselves to be owed absolute obedience and the right to gaslight the faithful into the ground.

The article insists on the penitential or apologetic character of the old liturgy, which is valid to a point. What is sure is that the priest as a human person is effaced by the position at the altar, wearing vestments and doing what the liturgy tells him to do rather than his own fancies. We could conclude that the new Roman Catholic and Anglican liturgies of the 1960’s and 70’s are more clerical than what they replaced, namely the traditional Roman rite and the Prayer Book. A frequent accusation against Mass facing the people is that is encourages narcissism in the priest. This is probably the case in many places and men who are priests. As a schoolboy, I intensely disliked this innovation in my school chapel and parish churches in the early 1970’s.

Clericalism is not only an expression of narcissism in some individual priests but an inappropriate way of identifying the priest with Christ. Christ himself is inappropriately identified with the notion of a king and the First Estate, so that he and the priests and bishops identifying with him can assume temporal power. Christ came to serve, and so must the priest. The beginning of all spiritual life is compunction, which corrects our relationship with God. Priesthood has to be built on humility, which often involves a much more discreet approach to the world.

I have personal experience of the traditionalist attempt to recreate the seminary of the nineteenth century or the 1930’s or 1950’s. It is a paradox to imagine cassocks and Latin as causes of clericalism, at a time when clericalism is worse than priests dressing and behaving as business executives and politicians. I have always been critical of the seminary as a method for training priests. How else should it be done? In my own Church, the Anglican Catholic Church, we don’t have seminaries because we don’t have the resources for them. Perhaps the best remaining way to train priests is to have them do university studies in theology – with exceptions for some – and then have them apprenticed to a talented priest who is recognised for his qualities. That is more easily said than done.

The ACC Diocese of the UK has developed guidelines for clerical training. This has been published on Facebook:

During the past two years the Board of Ministry has expanded its remit, at the Bishop’s request, to include the academic training and examining of candidates for Holy Orders, and for the Office of Reader.

Our partnerships with the Theology department of the Victoria College of Music and Drama, London, and with the Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi Christian University, Miami, have enabled us to provide in-house training and studies within the framework of excellence regulated by these institutions. Further educational training where required after ordination or licensing will also be a part of the Board’s responsibilities, and there are opportunities for candidates and clergy to undertake degree courses with the University.

Our Board Secretary, Fr Munn, has also been industrious in his production of catechetical material both in written form with a number of new published works, and through on-line video presentations. The Bishop has therefore decided that to reflect this change of function the Board will now be renamed the Board of Ministry and Education.

In seminary, we live a semi-monastic life and learn to apply ourselves to a serious routine and a relationship of subordination to our superiors. Former military men often make excellent priests and monks because they have that gravitas and discipline of life. Those aspects are not the kind of clericalism that is reprehensible. My own “post-matrimonial” life is a mess that needs to be retrained, something I am working on in my intimate life. As I slept under my boat tent last Monday night, I had a frightening and vivid dream in which I was losing all sense of value and spiritually dying. It is necessary in order again to find the fervour in my vocation I had when I first went to seminary after university. I have to rebuild my self-reliance and manliness, not by being a macho stereotype, but by being truly myself. However, tout est grâce. We have to rely on Christ and his love for the man who is in need, who doesn’t suffice unto himself.

In traditional theology and spirituality, one is not ordained a priest for oneself, but typically for a parish ministry. One is both a cleric in terms of having authority (often in competition with the local Mayor) and a priest in terms of sacramental intercession for the faithful who participate through the common priesthood from their Baptism. There is thus an official dimension and a sacramental dimension. However, in the practice of the Church, choir monks in a monastery are ordained. Some monasteries have parish ministries and others are strictly contemplative. A priestly ministry can also involve teaching in a school or university, or simply being an academic. Yet another model of ministry is the Worker Priest. Priests living like working class men was a noble aspiration, but it was open to abuse, political activism in particular. It is understandable.

Some of us in the more “marginal” institutional Churches have wandered into “niche ministry”, the idea of living among people identifying with a given idea, activity, characteristic, etc. Parish ministry here in France is really the property of Roman Catholicism and a new form of clericalism – collectivist and bureaucratic. The Worker Priest movement was an attempt to relate to working people by sharing their condition that involved hard work and mediocre pay. Man does not only work, but also has other interests shared with others. The rural parish worked when there was an extremely homogenous population and the majority of people went to church. Today in France, the level of regular religious practice is about 1%. Some of the 99% are of other religions like Islam or are atheists. I believe that most are open to some kind of spiritual world view, but do not relate to institutional religion.

Some priests and active laity have thought of the idea of relating to “lifestyles” or other “identities”. Some are political, others involve different kinds of human relationships, and others involve shared hobbies like sports, culture, music, anything. Ethnic groups living in a country other than the one of their origins find a common identity which might coincide with Christian faith and a desire to worship together. If a priest is involved, it might not be a good idea to push people towards religious activities like services, Bible reading, etc. Ministry can only be built on trust, and that has been broken too many times in history.

I have got back from some hard days’ sailing with some members of the Dinghy Cruising Association. There were some English people now living in France and a couple of Frenchmen who are former Army officers, one of whom was nearly killed in a military operation and more or less recovered. We didn’t talk about religion very much but I didn’t hide it completely. One of the Frenchmen compared me with Fr Guy Gilbert, le Prêtre des Loubards, with my most unclerical presentation and long hair. I have a great amount of esteem for this priest who has a genuine spiritual and human foundation, which is rare among priests whether they are in cassocks or in civil dress for the sake of this discretion and self-effacement. There was a certain fad in France at one time to have priests working in factories and supporting Socialist politics. Fr Gilbert went to the motorcycling boys and those tempted by drugs. He set up centres where those people could be helped, and his leather-man image seemed to help. I don’t see my life with sailing people as a ministry but simply as sharing their life and being ready to share spiritual concerns as they come up. With most people, I see how inadequate standard clerical religion is and how it has gaslit and twisted our idea of reality and relationship with the Absolute. Perhaps the Underground Church will bring back that sacred leaven into those solitary souls in their boats silently sailing over the waves. Priests do need to have a truly human experience and grow spiritually. That, perhaps, is the cure for clericalism.

Essentially, the words are humility, humanity and simplicity. These are qualities that come from within. Humility is often thought to be a matter of beating ourselves up and sinking into depression and worthlessness. That is wrong. Humility is really being true to ourselves, appreciating everything that is positive and relating with others on those terms.

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