March 25, 2017
By CHRISTOPHER MANION
Pope Francis has condemned clericalism repeatedly, insisting that it goes hand in hand with corruption. Russell Shaw, an expert on the subject, writes that the “illness” of clericalism has been with us for so long “that most of us take it for granted. In fact, we’re clericalists ourselves.”
Just what is this thing called “clericalism,” anyway? In one sense, it’s reminiscent of Justice Potter Stewart’s observation about hard-core pornography: “Perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly [defining it],” he wrote, “but I know it when I see it” (Jacobellis v. Ohio, 1964).
In that spirit, Pope Francis has seen “clericalism” in the corruption endemic to his native Latin America, as well as in the “rigorism” of his critics who are (to say the least) uncomfortable with his theological ambivalence.
Well, for Pope Francis, the term might just refer to people he doesn’t like; but historically, “clericalism” refers to misperceptions regarding the clerical state, and, as a result, confusion regarding both the clerical and the lay calling.
Clericalism is a “caricature,” Shaw continues. “It fosters an ecclesiastical caste system in which clerics comprise the dominant elite, with lay people serving as a passive, inert mass of spear-carriers tasked with receiving clerical tutelage and doing what they’re told.”
Shaw’s perceptive insight goes a long way to explain the situation in the American Church today, because clericalism spawns two popular myths: first, that the only way to have a truly religious calling is to work in an official capacity in the institutional Church; and second, that the opinions of clerics are superior to those of the laity, not only on matters of faith and morals, but on prudential questions regarding social and political issues as well.
According to Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, such questions belong in the realm of the laity. However, instead of encouraging the laity in our efforts to meet that challenge, today’s bishops are eagerly encouraging us to fill positions in the institutional Church.
Kevin Cardinal Farrell, who heads the Vatican’s new Dicastery for Family, Laity and Life, tells bishops visiting Rome “that they need to get lay people into the Church . . . holding jobs in the Church. For instance, I mean running the educational system, or the financial system . . . the only thing that’s off the table at this moment is ordaining women to the priesthood! Everything else is open.”
And he assures his interviewer that “Pope Francis told me expressly he would like to see more lay people over here.”
As bishop of Dallas, Farrell derided the “cowboy mentality” of his flock, and hinted that many of them weren’t very smart, either. Now, as the Vatican’s point man on the laity, he wants them to work for the Vatican — ironically, where they will always be under the supervision of a cleric!
So we have two “caricatures” of clericalism, both of which command the “inert mass” of the laity to lay down “passively” and let the clericalists speak for all Catholics, even on the wide range of issues which the Church’s own law accords to the laity (Lumen Gentium, nn. 30 ff; Code of Canon Law, n. 212).
The post-Vatican II era was supposed to be “the Age of the Laity,” but when it comes to America’s bishops, Shaw’s words have fallen on deaf ears. At best, we can surmise that episcopal sentiment has triumphed over common sense.
Consider Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who in 2008 hailed Obama’s victory as “a great step forward for humanity and a sign that in the United States the problem of racial discrimination has been overcome.” This optimism provided a springboard for the bishops’ support of Obama’s welfare-state agenda for the next eight years, even while millions of real Catholics were being persecuted by his radical regime.
Obama repeatedly betrayed the bishops’ trust, yet they soldiered on: USCCB President Timothy Cardinal Dolan pleaded on national television in 2013 (Meet the Press, December 1, 2013) that they wanted to be Obama’s cheerleaders on comprehensive health care reform, but couldn’t be if that included morally objectionable components. This was even as Obama was launching attack after attack on the Church, on the family, on life, education, health care, and virtually every aspect of American society.
Cardinal Dolan’s candor was refreshing. He admitted that the bishops had lost credibility due to their cover-ups of clerical homosexual abuse that spanned several decades. He also frankly admitted that this weakness contributed to the years of silence on the part of the bishops regarding the unpopular moral teachings of the Church, especially Humanae Vitae (Wall Street Journal, March 31, 2012).
Into this vacuum of authority strolled Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS, who became popular with the mainstream media with her “Nuns on the Bus” road show in 2012. Since they were not involved in the scandals, America’s women religious have escaped, for the most part, the sustained criticism aimed at the bishops. However, instead of using the opportunity to teach the truths of the faith with renewed clarity, today’s dissident activists among women religious have instead drawn down the reservoir of goodwill that the nation once felt for the devoted sisters of an age long gone, using it instead to advance their radical political agenda.
As a result, Sr. Simone squandered a golden opportunity, and embraced Obama’s agenda even more brazenly than the bishops did.
Here we see clericalism’s core contradiction: Sr, Simone’s is just another leftist wrapped in the slippery Marxist dialectic.
Consider: It is Simone’s fellow feminist dissenters in religious garb who have criticized, so long and so hard, those “Old Men In Rome” whose “patriarchy” is so pathetic, so anachronistic, so unjust — you get the picture. In that, they were supposedly condemning clericalism.
And yet — now she’s just one of those “Old Women On The Bus.”
Yes, the busybody nun is easily seduced by the temptation to indulge in the same tired clericalism of those heirarchs whom her sisterhood reviles: hypocrisy enthroned, she wraps herself in the hijacked trappings of Catholic authority, throwing Catholic moral teaching under the bus as she spouts pro-LGBT, pro-women’s “ordination” blather and wows the gaggle of vulgar viragos marching on Washington, blasphemously conferring upon their salacity a bawdy blessing, assuring them with a wink that their hateful poison has infected Catholic institutions too.
No wonder they cheered.
In a recent interview with the Jesuit America magazine, Sr. Simone doesn’t even bother to mention Jesus. Her mission is all about neighborhood organizing, supporting the Obama agenda, and branding it with a purloined “Catholic” label.
In her latest political foray, she insists that Congress preserve Obamacare’s destructive agenda, labeling her opinions as “Commandments,” just in case the public has forgotten that, after all, she is zealously “religious.”
Meanwhile, the bishops are silent. A word from them and they’d be slapped down with the usual epithets. “Our credibility is shredded,” said the bishops’ leader on Child Protection (USA Today, September 5, 2012).
And here Mr. Shaw is relevant once more: “Finally, unpleasant though it is, it’s necessary to face up to the link between clericalism and the scandal of clergy sex abuse. Clericalism plainly doesn’t cause sex abuse, any more than sex abuse causes clericalism. But the two things fit together hand in glove. Secrecy explains why.”
And one of the best-kept secrets of the entire foul abuse scandals is this: While a relatively small percentage of priests were criminally abusers, a majority of America’s bishops were guilty of covering up for them, in some cases even actively enabling them, all the while keeping their jobs, costing the faithful billions and inflicting a profound moral wound on the Church that will take decades, if not centuries, to heal.
For now, the prospects for that healing are not promising: leading bishops recently announced that their highest foreign policy priority is Global Warming. Domestically, they continue to insist on amnesty for illegal aliens, preserving the worst features of Obamacare, and continuing the influx into the country of unaccompanied minors and Muslim “refugees” — all programs for which the bishops’ welfare agencies have received hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars every year under Obama.
Wherein lies another well-kept secret: In addition to their taxpayer support, the USCCB taxes each diocese — and ultimately the people in the pews of every American parish — through the “diocesan assessment” and the “Cathedraticum,” respectively — without ever consulting the laity on the political and social advocacy that they are paying for. Moreover, federal law forbids the use of taxpayer funding for lobbyists, public relations firms, fundraising experts, and legislative staff. The bill for those expenses is sent to the people in the pews.
As Shaw says, we’re clericalists ourselves — and we are its victims.
What is to be done? It’s up to the laity. The thousands of bureaucrats at the USCCB, Catholic Relief Services, and Catholic Charities, USA, are constantly asking Congress — in the name of the laity — for more federal funding. After all, as their budgets reveal, these entities are little more than federal government subsidiaries with nice Catholic labels. In the pews or in our taxes, the meek, passive laity must pay for it all, period.
Until we don’t.