Writing on current difficulties in the Catholic Church in The Catholic Messenger, Bishop Thomas Zinkula of Davenport, Iowa addresses clericalism. Bishop Zinkula was appointed by Pope Francis in April, 2017.
So, what is clericalism? Clericalism is an exaggeration of the role of the clergy to the detriment of the laity. In a culture of clericalism, clerics are put on a pedestal and the laity are overly deferential and submissive to them. Pope Francis notes that clericalism is not only fostered by priests, but also reinforced by lay people.
Please allow me to define who I am talking about. Technically, a “cleric” is someone who is ordained: a bishop, priest or deacon. But, sad to say, “clericalism” may also affect those preparing for ordained ministry as well as those serving as lay ministers.
Perhaps a few examples of clericalism would be of assistance:
- Coddling seminarians and telling them how special they are.
- Insisting that priests or deacons go to the front of the line at meals and wakes because they are more important and busier than everyone else.
- People telling me, when I am pondering an issue, “Whatever you want, Bishop.”
The issue here is privilege. Which can lead to a sense of entitlement, superiority and exclusion. Which can lead to a mindset that the rules don’t apply to me. This, in turn, can lead to an abuse of privilege and power, which tragically includes the sexual abuse of minors. …
In order to overcome clericalism, we need to reclaim the common priesthood of the faithful. As St. Paul tells us (1 Cor 12:12-31), together we make up the body of Christ — each with our particular vocation, each necessary for the healthy working of the body. We should not equate distinct roles with differences in worth, dignity or holiness.
As Pope Francis advocates, let’s work together to create a new culture and renew the Church. … Together, as clergy and laity, we are preparing to exercise our common baptismal mission to share the joy of the Gospel with others as disciples of Christ.