Colluding with Clericalism (Part 1)

August 18, 2018 | Reflections from Sr Antonia

I witnessed something last week, and my feeling reactions alerted me to the fact that clericalism is one of THE major issues today for me, and hopefully for all of us. Of itself, it was not a bad thing that I had witnessed… quite the contrary; it could have been, and was, interpreted as a truly loving thing to do. It was for me though like a red light calling to me, asking me to recognise how deeply imbued we are, how totally immersed in the culture of clericalism. And for the most part we are almost oblivious

Clerics do it!
The young do it!
The old do it!
Men and women do it!
Even atheists sometimes do it!
And nuns do it!
Yes we all do it – we collude with the culture of clericalism.

But there is no blame attached to these words, because, until now we have been blind. Culture is a powerful force and the culture of clericalism has been strengthened by centuries of collusion to the point where we believed what it has perpetrated… we believed that bishops and priests are “above” the lay people; that they are “the Church”. They are not! Pope Francis is unequivocal here, and so is the Royal Commission into sexual abuse: the culture of clericalism has to go.
Pope Francis when speaking to a group of young people expressed his own opinion:

“Do not feel different from your peers, or that you are better than other people, he said. If tomorrow you will be priests who live in the midst of the holy people of God, begin today to be young people who know how to be with everyone, who can learn something from every person you meet, with humility and intelligence.”

How are we going to do this I wondered? How are we going to dissolve something so deeply embedded in our very soul? Isn’t it just impossible? Won’t the culture of clericalism “hold out” against any attempt to change it?
This is the very natural and understandable human response. We are all afraid of the insecurity that comes from having our world turned upside down, particularly if it is a world where we hold a great deal of power, or where it serves us to comply with the “powers that be”… for whatever reason. Who wants to upset the applecart? Or more potently… who wants to topple off a pedestal? Let’s leave things the way they are.

Like Pope Francis I too must be unequivocal here though and insist. I am NOT apportioning blame to priests and bishops, as if the whole problem is theirs. They too are victims of this mentality as much as the rest of us are. And yet even as I write I see that there is a problem, a problem with my use of the phrase “the rest of us”. It immediately divides into “us” and “them” bishops and priests and the rest of us. And it simply cannot be us and them any more. It must be all of us together, each with her and his own role to play.
How do we stitch up the wounds of elitism, clericalism, and exclusion? We can no longer say:
We don’t know!
It’s not my business!
I am walking away!
It’s too hard!
We can no longer ignore the question for to do so is to spell death to our church.

I was heartened to read the following words of Archbishop Mark Coleridge to two newly ordained priests in Brisbane recently:

“You too will have to become small in the priesthood. The truth is that only if you learn to be small will you ever be great; and we need great priests. The learning of smallness…call it humility if you will – is a slow process, and a painful process and it takes a lifetime”. It involves a bloody liberation from pride and narcissism and self-promotion, from all those things which weave the dark web of clericalism”.
Catholic Leader July 8

It takes great courage to face a “bloody liberation from pride, narcissism and self-promotion.” Yet… we must stop ourselves from colluding with clericalism. We need to ask of ourselves the question: “What would a de-clericalised priesthood look like?” And… pray to that woman of our Church in Australia in the 19th century who so courageously did just this. Surely if one woman can do it with dignity and courageous integrity, the rest of us can. St Mary MacKillop pray for us, inpsire us, help us to build a new priesthood, a new Church.

Am I humble
enough to stitch up through sacrifice
the open wounds of communion?

Pope Francis