Pope Francis greets Slovenia's Prime Minister Alenka Bratusek during a private audience at the Vatican June 13. (CNS photo/Maria Grazia Picciarella, pool)
Pope Francis our first anticlerical pope? Technically speaking, he isn't--his
two predecessors also were more or less critical of clericalism--but he is well
on his way to being the most outspoken one.
a widely circulated quote from a 2011 interview he gave while he was still
Cardinal Bergoglio of Buenos Aires. In case you haven't seen it or have
forgotten it, the key passage goes like this:
I have said before, there is a problem: the temptation to clericalism. We
priests tend to clericalize the laity. We do not realize it, but it is as if we
infect them with our own thing. And the laity--not all but many--ask us on
their knees to clericalize them, because it is more comfortable to be an altar
boy than the protagonist of a lay path….
layman is a layman and has to live as a layman with the strength of his
baptism, which enables him to be a leaven of the love of God in society…not
from his pulpit but from his everyday life. And the priest--let the priest
carry the cross of the priest, since God gave him a broad enough shoulder for
are strong, bracing words. But besides the words, Francis's manner and
lifestyle--unpretentious, simple, direct--constitute a kind of living
repudiation of certain clericalist conventions. (Lest there be any doubt--many
other good priests also speak and live this way.)
essence of clericalism in the sense in which Pope Francis (and I) use the word
is a way of thinking that takes for granted that the clerical vocation and
state in life are both superior to and normative for all other Christian
vocations and states. From this point of view it follows that clerics are the
active agents in the Church--the ones who make the decisions, give the orders,
exercise command. The laity's role is to listen and do as they're told.
lay people appear still to think this way at least as much as, and probably
more than, their priests do. That's true even (or perhaps especially) of those
who rebel against it and drop out of the Church. Deeply rooted and pervasive,
it's an abuse that replaces the idea of a Church whose fundamentally equal
members have diverse offices and roles with a caricature: clerics are bosses,
lay people get bossed.
isn't the only place it exists. In a talk recently in New York, Archbishop
Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said "strong remnants of inherited
clericalism" continue to plague the Church in Ireland. "The days of
the dominant or at times domineering role of clergy within what people call the
'institutional Church' have changed, but part of the culture still
remains," he said.
how to proceed from here? Pope Benedict XVI more than once suggested an
important dimension of what needs to be done in floating the idea of "co-responsibility."
a message to a meeting last August, he explained: "Co-responsibility
demands a change in mindset especially concerning the role of lay people in the
Church. They should not be regarded as 'collaborators' of the clergy but,
rather, as people who are really 'co-responsible' for the Church's being and
a thought. Reforming the central administrative machinery of the Church stands
high on Pope Francis's agenda. Mightn't finding ways for lay people to have a
stronger presence and voice in what happens in Rome be part of it? That could
be an idea whose time has come.