Trahison des Clercs

What does Francis mean by ‘clericalism’? And why does he see in it a solution to the abuse crisis?

In the Final Document of the recent Synod on Youth, the Holy Father comes close to a definition. ‘Clericalism, in particular, arises from an elitist and excluding vision of vocation, which interprets the ministry received as a power to be exercised rather than as a free and generous service to offer; and this leads us to believe that we belong to a group that has all the answers and no longer needs to listen and learn anything’.

At the heart of the malaise, it seems, is a reluctance on the part of some – a refusal even – to ‘listen’. This is an unsurprising analysis. ‘Listening’ has become totemic of modern revisionism. The way to critique the perennial doctrine is to interrogate contemporary experience. And underlying that is the presupposition that ‘now’ is always to be preferred to ‘then’.

Even if this were not contrary to the Church’s traditional manner of proceeding, it is not at all easy to see how it is directly relevant to the abuse crisis. True, clergy have been behaving as predators rather than pastors. And that is reprehensible. But there may (and probably are) other more specific reasons why that might be the case. A developed homosexual culture among groups of clergy, for example, might significantly diminish levels of mutual admonition and restraint. The tolerance of an homosexualist sub-culture in seminaries and by bishops almost certainly would.

Nowhere does Francis directly address the frequent allegations that this is the case. He seems always to prefer the general to the particular, the big picture to the nitty gritty.  

One suspects that this approach is part and parcel of deeper prejudices, which have a distinctly 70s flavour. ‘Clericalism’ – as we can deduce from other places – is tied up with cultural and liturgical preferences which run very deep.

‘Clericalism’ means lace from the tits down rather than chasubles in knitted industrial waste; Latin rather than the vernacular; translation rather than paraphrase; and instruction rather than ‘accompaniment’. In short it is an entire ecclesiastical style for which the Holy Father has a profound distaste. It began to regain ground in the last pontificate. It will be finally be overthrown only if the Church’s greatest crisis in living memory can now be laid to its charge.

There are, in consequence, no prizes for guessing what will emerge from next month’s meeting of the Chairmen of Episcopal Conferences as the root case of abuse.

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