pope is the successor of Peter. The bishops are the successors of the
college of the apostles. The priests share in that to a limited degree.
And that's my summary of ecclesiology."
That's funny--as it happens, it's my summary of clericalism.
words just quoted don't come out of the Dark Ages--I heard them spoken
just a short time back. I won't name the speaker--he was talking more or
less spontaneously and, with more time to prepare, might have given a
better account of himself. Besides, the view expressed is probably
widely shared among both clerics and lay people even today. The roots of
clericalism do indeed go very deep.
Even as a thumbnail account
of the Church, though, the remark is atrocious. In leaving out most
members of the Church, it reminds me of Cardinal Newman's response to a
bishop who spoke slightingly of the laity: "The Church would look
foolish without them." Something like a football team with only coaches
and no players, I suppose.
Clericalism has been in decline for
years. Pope Francis and his predecessors have repeatedly rejected it,
and that's a good sign. But clericalist attitudes and assumptions remain
embedded in the minds of many Catholics and, though probably
unrecognized, go on doing great harm.
The harm is of several
kinds. By far the worst occurs on the spiritual level, where relatively
little is either asked or expected of lay people beyond a legalistic
mediocrity--spiritual excellence is equated with keeping rules (go to
church, say some prayers once in a while, avoid the grosser kinds of
sin). The idea that, as Vatican Council II taught, the laity are called
to be saints quite as much as the clergy and religious simply doesn't
enter this clericalist picture. It's a miracle of grace that so many
achieve holiness just the same.
Clericalist thinking also
contributes to the passivity and non-involvement of many lay people.
Ultimately, it's a major contributing factor in the disastrous split
between faith and life that Vatican II so forcefully condemned.
membership in the Church in itself carries with it the right and the
duty to participate in the redemptive work of the Church--including the
work of evangelization--fails to penetrate the clericalist mentality. If
it's all up to the clerics, a clericalized lay person reasons, then
leave the heavy lifting to them. (Meanwhile, another sort of
clericalized layman likes to play at being a priest himself.)
the deepest level, the damage done by clericalism is the injury
inflicted upon the self- understanding of the Church. Perhaps it didn't
matter so much in earlier times, when an institutional-hierarchical
model of the Church suited the institutional-hierarchical structuring of
society. But times have changed. Like it or not, some version of
egalitarianism is today generally accepted as the norm. Whether it is
realized in practice is another question, but virtually universal lip
service is paid to the ideal of universal equality. If the Church
doesn't to measure up, it's in for trouble.
Church has within it the resources required to respond to this
challenge. For not only is hierarchical structure part of its essential
constitution, so is its nature as a "communio"--a community of faith.
The project of working out a balance between the two things that suits
contemporary attitudes and needs has been ongoing for years. Once it
happens (and faith moves me to believe that some day it will), that will
be the death knell of clericalism. Good riddance.