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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Clericalism: A Lament

I have to admit that this lament from a Roman Catholic priest deeply touched my soul. It's entitled "How much corruption can we tolerate in the church before we leave?"

It is a response to a fairly lengthy lament by a former Roman Catholic Priest, James Carroll, which appeared in The Atlantic entitled: "Abolish the Priesthood."

I found myself weeping not so much out of sadness but because I recognized his pain.

There is a great deal of good about the Roman Catholic Church - at least, as I remember the one of my youth. That's why it was so hard to leave it. I knew its intent. I knew its potential. I had seen the good it could accomplish - indeed, had benefited myself from it - all in the name of Jesus.

I also knew there was something corrupt that was eating away and destroying the good. Something that was not only bad but had the potential for evil. Real evil. I saw it on the faces of my male classmates when they were called out of class to go to Father's office.

"Father's Boys" we girls called them, out of a sense of envy at their status which allowed them to serve father at the altar while we were forbidden.

Looking back, I see how sadly ironic was our envy! Knowing what I now know, I wouldn't have traded places with them for all the Pagan Babies we had sponsored in Africa and Cambodia.

I didn't have a name for what I couldn't even imagine was going on behind the dread and the sadness on their faces. But, now I do. It's called "pedophilia" - an aptly Latin sounding diagnosis for Roman Catholic priests who had been carefully fed a diseased and deadly theology: clericalism.

We do have our own pernicious forms of clericalism in The Episcopal Church. We've seen it make sickening appearances in private Episcopal schools in New Hampshire and Connecticut. We've heard the cries of women who have been sexually assaulted by priests.

Except, we don't call it that. Heavens, no! That would be almost as vulgar as "seduction" or "abuse of power" or (gasp!) rape.

The sanitized term is "boundary violation". It is, in and of itself, evidence of clericalism.

No, things are not as bad in The Episcopal Church as in The Roman Catholic Church. I am convinced that extending the sacramental rites of Marriage and Ordination to everyone with a vocation to family and/or ordained life has provided the grace to help prevent clergy going off the guardrails of human decency.

The question for The Episcopal Church is not the same as the one being asked by these two Roman Catholic priests. The issue, however, is the same.


We are infected with it, too. I cringe every time I'm in a room filled with clergy who are years younger than I (not so difficult an accomplishment, these days), they in their black suits - male and female - tripping over themselves as they delight to call each other "Father" or "Mother".

They have no idea that what lies behind the delight in the status of their titles is the disease of clericalism. They are oblivious to the danger.

No, it will not lead, ipso facto, to pedophilia or other "boundary violations". Of course not. But, the attitude behind those titles, the disease lurking at the fringes of the fabric of those black suits, is real.

We are all called by our baptism to servant ministry. The grace of the sacramental right of ordination is meant to amplify that vocation. Clericalism diminishes it.

When the salary packages of clergy become the largest line item in the budget, even more than what monies we commit to helping God's children and all of God's creatures and creation, we are dancing on the razor's edge of clericalism.

When we believe that a very public display of Liturgical Lament for the sin of "boundary violation" and extending the "statute of limitation" on filing complaints against those abuses addresses the problem, we are peering into the abyss of clericalism.

When we think that a Title IV process which seeks reconciliation first instead of justice is the remedy for the pain experienced by those who have been violated, we are being distracted by the descant of clericalism.

Only a thorough examination of consciences - as the nuns of my youth used to teach - of the sin of clericalism and a desire to repent and sin no more will stop its effects.

Only then will we understand that titles and collars and robes with cinctures and ornate vestments do not give us either identity or elevated status; rather these things are to remind us of the ancient vocation of having been set a part for (not set apart from) the privilege of servant ministry.

The tragic situation in the Roman Catholic Church presents us with a cautionary story as well as the opportunity to clean our own house.

Clericalism. We need to say it. Examine it. Own it. Change it.

How much clericalism will we tolerate before we make the changes necessary to be a servant church which honors and serves the priesthood of all believers so that we might serve and change the world?

That is as much a lament as it is a question.


Mathe said...

When one puts on a uniform of authority, which is what clerical vestments are viewed as by most people, one takes on a responsibility many clergy I've known simply ignore, preferring to complain that being held up as the moral police is a wrong understanding of the priesthood so it's "our" (the laities'} fault if expectations are not met, if priests turn out to be merely human. Well, yes, the clergy are all merely human, but the uniform, whether simple or elaborate, makes a statement of privilege (and it is not the humble servanthood you mention and mean to carry out) that can easily be abused, as we all have seen. What would really change things? A good and fair question. I think it begins with an examination of what role patriarchy plays in organized religion, substituting worship of "the father" and submission to some father/mother clergy figure for worship of God.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oh, I think patriarchy plays a HUGE role in clericalism. Even more disturbing is the role of white supremacy as the other frame upon which Christianity was built. At the bottom of it all is deep-seated insecurity. It's sad, really. Use the "uniform" to amplify what is internal - not as a costume to portray what you hope others will believe about you.