Sunday 17 April 2011

Clericalism - the Vaughan School and other outrages

Over at The Noise of the Crusade there is an account of the latest twist in the sad saga of the Vaughan School. However, The Last Knight goes on to make some interesting points on clericalism. This is a topic that gets me hot under the collar (full Roman, of course!) as it is so often a negative attribute imputed to priests who dress like priests or who speak about the Catholic Faith in its glorious fullness. My own experience from the seminary onwards has been that some of the most flagrant unedifying clerical attitudes of assumed superiority and lack of compassion have come from those priests who wear a shirt and tie and when they are addressed as "Father" turn their nose up and roll their eyes as if inhaling an unpleasant odour.

Let's not beat about the bush. Clericalism, as in looking down your nose at other people, lack of compassion and sheer rudeness, is rife in the Church and it is to be found just as much, if not more in my experience, among those who style themselves modern or liberal. It wears a different face but it is the same unedifying trait.

The new clericalism that is in fact rife in the Church has little to do with orthodox Catholic practices and teaching or even traditionalism but much to do with those who spout alleged liberal values but want to impose those values like an iron blanket, smothering and crushing anything they don't agree with (including directives that issue from the Holy See). These are wolves in sheep's clothing (or rather, clericalists in lay clothes - or more likely, a tab collar just poking out of an open necked clerical shirt, which proclaims, "Hey, I'm really relaxed - but don't forget I'm the priest"). Lay people as well as other priests suffer at the hands of this bullying "new clericalism".

The Vaughan School parents have been experiencing this new clericalism, as expressed here by The Noise of the Crusade:

There cannot be many who read Catholic blogs who have not witnessed, and been moved by, the quiet dignity of the Vaughan parents’ strong but peaceful protests outside the school during governors’ meetings. Of course, the only sentiment it has provoked among the school vandals is fury. This account of a priest allegedly assaulting the acting headmaster is quite shocking, but, in truth, not a bit surprising. That sort of disproportionate, arrogant reaction to aggrieved laypeople making known their views in the only way left to them is typical of the neo-clericalism of the English hierarchy.

By neo-clericalism, we mean this: the laity is robbed of its true rights and duties by a caste of professional Catholics (including both priests and laymen); the quid pro quo is that laity who toe the line are rewarded with pseudo-clerical functions. So is the Church turned upside down: lay people distribute communion at Westminster Cathedral, they purport to tell the clergy what rite they may use, they pad out the provincial curia. All of these are matters in which the laity have no legitimate interest and in which they demean their calling and dignity by meddling. In contrast, the education of children is first and foremost a lay concern: parents “are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognized as the primary and principal educators” (Gravissimum educationis 3).

There is a discernible trend to impute "clericalism" to those of the John Paul and Pope Benedict generation, to priests who have been convinced that orthodoxy is the only way for the Church to live up to the mission given it by Christ. There is a particularly nasty strain of this whereby priests who are considered "too" orthodox are accused of clericalism and a (completely spurious) link is made to the child abuse scandals and cover-ups.

Referring back, Fr Ray Blake wrote something about this last December when Bishop Burns of Menevia imputed this and I picked up on it as well - see here.

Another example of using the term clericalism as a way of attacking those of orthodox Catholic beliefs is glaringly obvious in an article in this week's "Catholic Herald" in the reporting of a self-serving speech given by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin to a conference on the child abuse scandal being held in Milwaukee.

In looking to the future, the Archbishop urged greater attention to seminary formation and warned bishops against accepting candidates for the priesthood who "may be looking not to serve but for some form of personal security or status which priesthood may seem to offer them".

He said he planned to require all future priests to "carry out some part of their formation together with lay people so that they can establish mature relationships with men and women and do not develop any sense of their priesthood giving them a special social position".

"There are signs of renewed clericalism, which may even at times be ably veiled behind appeals for deeper spirituality or for more theological positions", he said.

I don't quite know where to begin with so many aunt sallys, straw men, non sequiturs and unsupported assertions. I can't believe that any bishop in the past took on a seminarian because he said he didn't want to serve people. The Bishop does not make clear what he means by 'training with lay people' but you would think that prospective priests didn't have any families or friends who might keep their feet on the ground - if we should need such in a secular society where priests are held in such low esteem. What is particularly concerning is his implied assertion (with no evidence whatsoever)

1. that abuse and cover-up = clericalism.

2. Clericalism = unpleasant characters hiding behind deeper spirituality and theological orthodoxy

3. Therefore those exhibiting deeper spirituality and orthodoxy must be abusers and cover-up merchants.

Based on this, bishops should be looking for seminarians who are not orthodox and not deeply spiritual because that is suspect! You might think this is crazy but I hate to tell you that this is just what happens in many cases. Candidates who exhibit a devotional life that is considered "too" traditional or opinions that are "too" orthodox never get to the seminary. What this means is that the Bishop is attacking not just outward practices but actually orthodoxy and spirituality itself, for if their appearance is always suspect, who in the seminary will be cultivating orthodoxy and deeper spirituality? All that's left is the social gospel and anything that secular society considers socially useful. So all the monastic and contemplative orders might as well give up straight away - for they are a personal fulfillment that in secular eyes contribute nothing to the greater good.

My own experience is that those accused of clericalism in this way are often the most caring and compassionate priests I ever come across; sure, they don't let you off the hook but neither do they terrorise and bully you - and there's plenty of that goes on from people who wouldn't be seen dead in a cassock. I might add that this particular "clerical", old-fashioned, devotion-loving, and attempting-to-be-orthodox, priest had plenty of lay contact in his training - including a couple of summers working in an NHS psycho-geriatric ward as an auxiliary nurse (and for anyone who doesn't know what that means - it's basic care of the human body at its most messy, which doesn't tend to give you much of a "special social position").

Child abuse is hateful but it has nothing to do with wanting to be an orthodox Catholic and it is deeply offensive for a bishop to impute the character of priests who want to re-introduce Benediction or call people to live the fullness of the Catholic Faith.

Regarding the neo-clericalism so well described by the Last Knight, I seem to remember the Holy Father saying this:

"It is sad that there are what you might call professional Catholics who make a living on their Catholicism, but in whom the spring of faith flows only faintly, in a few scattered drops. We must really make an effort to change this."


Anonymous said...

The most theologically liberal priest I ever knew was certainly a clericalist bully (he bullied me for two years), and is now doing time for sexually abusing children. One example doesn't prove anything, I know, but your observations certainly ring truer with me than those of +Tom & ++Diarmuid.

shane said...

Archbishop Martin has himself stated on TV --- on both Prime TV and Newsnight --- that the serious malhandling of sex abuse allegations in Dublin started in the 1960s.

According to the Pope: “The Archbishop of Dublin told me something very interesting about that. He said that ecclesiastical penal law functioned until the late 1950s; admittedly, it was not perfect – there is much to criticise about it – but nevertheless it was applied. After the mid-sixties, however, it was simply not applied any more.

“The prevailing mentality was that the Church must not be a Church of laws but, rather a Church of love: she must not punish . . . This led to an odd darkening of the mind, even in very good people.”

shane said...

The Murphy Report also made note of the slackening standards in the 60s:

“There is a two thousand year history of Biblical, Papal and Holy See statements showing awareness of clerical child sex abuse. Over the centuries, strong denunciation of clerical child sexual abuse came from Popes, Church councils and other Church sources. A list covering the period 153 AD to 2001 is included in an article by the Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. These denunciations are particularly strong on „offences against nature? and offences committed with or against juveniles. The 1917 code of canon law decreed deprivation of office and/or benefice, or expulsion from the clerical state for such offences. In the 20th century two separate documents on dealing with child sexual abuse were promulgated by Vatican authorities (see Chapter 4) but little observed in Dublin.

[...]The Commission is satisfied that Church law demanded serious penalties for clerics who abused children. In Dublin from the 1970s onwards this was ignored; the highest priority was the protection of the reputation of the institution and the reputation of priests. The moving around of offending clerics with little or no disclosure of their past is illustrative of this.”


“As is shown in Chapter 4, canon law appears to have fallen into disuse and disrespect during the mid 20th century. In particular, there was little or no experience of operating the penal (that is, the criminal) provisions of that law. The collapse of respect for the canon law in Archdiocesan circles is covered in some detail in Chapter 4.”

Richard Collins said...

How demonic that the word "clericalism" has taken on such a sinister meaning.
Our orthiodox priests need our prayers now more than at any time since the Reformation.

John Kearney said...

Thank you Father for your post. One of the things I found when I was battling in the eighties and nineties that it was `clericalism` that helped the liberals to forward their agenda. I got little sympathy from fellow catholics for daring to criticise the priest. He was on a pedestal and knew it, and made it count in his favour.

georgem said...

Actually, there's a better word: bullying

An Orthodox Sheep said...

Quote: "There is a particularly nasty strain of this whereby priests who are considered "too" orthodox are accused of clericalism."

How right you are Father. I wrote to my bishop asking for a diocesan priest to celebrate the 'old' Mass in my area and if one was not available perhaps he could invite a priest from one of the priestly fraternities to respond to the spiritual needs of his flock.

In his response he said (among other dismissive comments): "Since the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, Catholics are no longer prepared to be treated as children - ruled by bishops and talked down to by priests. I cannot imagine many of our people taking kindly to priests formed in the traditional seminaries to which you refer."

What a disgraceful slur on these fine young priests, some of whom are British and want nothing more than to return to these islands and serve the people here. He is guilty of the very accusation has made against others - treating mature people as children and talking down to them. I would say with more or less 100% certainty that he has never met or spoken to any priest formed in a traditional seminary.

It is probably best if I do not mention which diocese this is.

RJ said...

I'm afraid that attacking the supposed attachment to social status among candidates for the priesthood is used as a pretext to deny what really does make priests different: the permanent character imparted to the soul by the sacrament of orders.