Why clericalism matters

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In the Catholic Church clericalism is now the whipping boy of choice. But what it embraces is less clear.

Priest in dog collarIt is a pejorative word, used by people of others but never of themselves, and is normally defined ostensively by reference to examples of it. We know who is a clericalist even if we are not sure what he is. So it is worth pausing to reflect on clericalism and its significance for church and society.

Although clericalism is rarely defined, it is possible to reconstruct a perfect case of clericalism by enumerating the various attitudes and practices that critics find fault with.

The perfect clericalist always dresses formally in a style that identifies him clearly as a Catholic priest. He is also formal in address, addressing and speaking of other priests as father and bishops as my lord. He insists, too, that others address him as father or my lord. His pastoral relationships with laypeople are formal and asymmetrical.

This asymmetry is based on a strongly hierarchical understanding of the Catholic Church in which authority and power are centralised in bishops and local power in the priest. Boundaries both within the Church and between the Church and the surrounding world are clearly marked out by clear and binding rules governing Catholic allegiance. It is the job of the priest to insist on and police them.

The interest of the perfect clericalist is narrowly focused on the internal relationships, practices and customs of the Church, and particularly on the conduct of worship of which he sees himself as custodian. He shows little interest in the outside world except when he sees it intruding on the rights and freedom of the Church. His conversational style is didactic. He does not easily engage in dialogue, and is more comfortable issuing authoritative judgments and final decisions.

Common to these traits is the urge to control — to have self control, control in relationships, control over the beliefs and practices of his congregation, over the language of faith, and over boundaries.

 

"We need good leaders at every level who will leave aside claims based on special knowledge, dignity of rank, difference from the people they serve. They will focus on consultation, on the claims of a common humanity and on the recognition of shared uncertainty."

 

Such is the perfect clericalist — the sum of the qualities attributed to the accused by their critics. Some critics have tried to explain clericalism by psychological analysis of these traits. To my mind the attempt is misguided and unfair. The perfect case by definition does not represent the living people identified with it. In reality people will display some of these traits and not others, and their life and behaviour will be as complex as the rest of us.

Furthermore, the perfect clericalist is a construction of his critics. To try to psychoanalyse him is to do what many Catholics of an earlier generation did to Communists. By using such a method you would expect to identify both as psychopaths. But the psychopathy might just be your own.

A more helpful form of reflection is to set the attitudes and behaviour of the perfect clericalist within a broader historical and cultural context. If you read popular English novels of early last century you will find the same formality of dress and address, the same deference to authority, the same assumption that people of a particular class and education have a right to judge and rule, the same didactic style of many people in positions of authority and the same insistence on boundaries.

At a time when the Catholic Church was growing quickly, was relatively homogeneous in migrant origins, and marked by tight social boundaries with other churches and more privileged groups of society, economic groups, and by an educational gap between the clergy and the vast majority of their congregations, priests with some of the qualities and attitudes attributed to the perfect clericalist could be reasonably viable provided they were also pastorally inclined. They had much in common with leaders of such other social groups such as judges, police, military, churches and schools.

They could fit in a world of stable relationships and strong sense of community. But that world has gone, replaced by a more fragmented world of rapid technological and social change and an emphasis on flexibility based on individual choice and of egalitarian instincts in dealing with it.

Today, however, the boundaries between the Catholic Church and society are porous, its ability to win its young is largely lost and it has lost much of its moral authority through clerical sexual abuse and its cover up.

In such a world the attitudes and qualities identified with clericalism are both odd and counterproductive. An inflexible formalism in dress and address, a strong emphasis on the boundaries between church and society, a non-consultative exercise of authority, a fussy preoccupation with rules and customs and a claim to wisdom founded in office are seen by Catholics and others as evidence of alienation and of unwarranted presumption. We might wonder, too, if they are consistent with Jesus' instructions to his disciples.

But it is better to light candles than to curse the darkness. It is common to complain of the lack of strong leadership both in public life and in the Catholic Church. That comes in part because of the difficulty of reading the world we are entering and identifying good ways through. In such circumstances we need good leaders at every level who will leave aside claims based on special knowledge, dignity of rank, difference from the people they serve. They will focus on consultation, on the claims of a common humanity and on the recognition of shared uncertainty, in order to identify the ground on which they stand and ways forward.

And in their own demeanour they will shape symbols of a humble and shared endeavour. We should encourage them when we see them and demand them when we don't.

 

 

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, clericalism, Royal Commission, clergy sexual abuse

 

 

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Maybe the word is an adjective not a noun , Father Andrew, and as a noun its use might create confusion !!!
john frawley | 28 February 2018


Living in a fantasy world as I do, some of the time, the priest I like best is Father Brown, the priest-detective. He dresses formally, has a slight lisp and two female helpers - a housekeeper with an old-fashioned dress sense and a nice turn of phrase and a younger lady who dresses very smartly and is the subject of derision by the housekeeper. However, all three get along swimmingly. That's not real life (of course). A recognition by clergy and laity that we are all in the same boat. A good starting point in this day and age.
Pam | 28 February 2018


Thanks Andrew! You rightly say, "Today, however, the boundaries between the Catholic Church and society are porous, its ability to win its young is largely lost and it has lost much of its moral authority through clerical sexual abuse and its cover up." Perhaps the biggest hope for the Catholic Church in Australia is the coming 2020 Plenary Council. If the Australian Catholic Bishops consult widely with the laity in this Council, and adopt most of their suggestions, our Church might be able to recover some of its lost moral authority. If not, we will continue to diminish in number, in moral authority and will end up with mostly elderly priests sitting in almost empty churches with a remnant of aged right wing Catholics, the progressives having long departed to find Christ elsewhere.
Grant Allen | 28 February 2018


(1) An observation: The photo, (insinuating it represents clericalism) and comment about dress seems to me a little ungracious. If there is any reverence in dress, it is black in color. The reverence for the agony Our Lord endured on the Cross. Black = the 'flesh' crucified ( Galatians 2:20). The Cross. The place from whence a priest 'embodies' (John 12: 24) his ministry: Self-denial, humility, selfless service, charity, poverty etc. (2) For a priest to avoid clericalism: All he needs to do is live The Life. The Way, Christ did. Speak The Truth, the words Christ spoke. Reflect His Light: long suffering, forgiveness, mercy, love, hope and 'show The Faith' to All and in particular to those in darkness. If he never stops welcoming All to His table whence: The One and the same Jesus Christ, (and His mother the Virgin Mary, whose flesh He was given), He who walked the earth over 2000 years ago, as He was then, real body, blood, soul and divinity, 'IS' 'now' and 'forever' real body, blood, soul and divinity, truly present in the Most Holy Eucharist, our real food and drink while we are 'here': Christ will do the rest.
AO | 28 February 2018


I think clericalism is best described as a culture shaped by particular theology, viz. that the Church is a priest-centred religion, that after God the priest is everything (J Vianney), and that ordination makes a man special and a priest for ever. It is this approach, this understanding, which contributes to attitudinal problems amongst priests and has determined the nature of the relationship between priests and lay Catholics. But there are two sides: the inculturated deference was demanded by the former but given by the latter. So clericalism is not simply a problem in priests but also in laypeople, and this is why clericalism is a root cause and facilitator of the institutional cover-up because it is ultimately a theological problem. Abuse, like murder, will possibly never be eradicated, but until this particular theology is rooted out from the training of priests and all forms of catechesis, I think the temptation and ability to conceal – on a whole range of issues - will persist.
Stephen | 01 March 2018


Let's get to the core of it. Live justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God.
Fiona Dodds | 01 March 2018


I like your insightful and timely approach, Andrew, especially as Clericalism 101 still seems mandatory in a number of our seminaries. I hold our hope for the antidote: communities of 'humble and shared endeavour', but bringing about that reality it is a far from easy road. The Royal Commission has drawn attention to the negativity of clericalism. Your article will be a fine focus for ongoing dialogue on this critical matter.
vivien | 01 March 2018


Thanks Andy for this insightful reflection. Underlying all this is the theology of priesthood which uses the language of ontological change, rather than the language of ministry, vocation and service to a community. This understanding of ordination is then reinforced by canon law which creates a feudal structure of church order. The end result is a model of ordained ministry which doesn't play by the same professional rules as any other profession or indeed even lay ministry. So we need a new theology and canon law to reflect it. Otherwise we rely on the goodwill of the ordained to act as servant leaders, not feudal barons.
Matteo | 01 March 2018


Maybe some women with a bit of power in the job could ameliorate the situation , especially for those who have been ground down by clericalism over a long period of time.
Celia | 01 March 2018


Priest - commonality of term in Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. Minister, for example, in the Uniting Church in Australia. Is something being overlooked?
Helen Martin | 01 March 2018


Thank you, Andy, for your wise words. I will be lighting candles rather than cursing the darkness.
Ann Rennie | 01 March 2018


Surely the real issue is that a 'Clerical' church cannot be Christian. The founder of the church preached humility, inclusiveness and a unconditional love without any power structures. The Church I see practices exclusiveness, power and a theology of fear...
Steve | 01 March 2018


Another excellent article Andrew. My understanding of the Catholic tradition leads me to believe that Vatican Councils are the most important ways the church continues to interpret life, dogma etc. Vatican II tried to bring the church including clergy into a more modern frame. As there hasn't been a Vatican III (to the best of my knowledge) the mode of clericalism currently taught in many seminaries should be based on Vatican II. If it is not then Catholics have the right to reject these clerical products as, dare I say it, not in keeping with Catholic Church teachings. Calling them heretics might be going a little too far??
Tom Kingston | 01 March 2018


“It is the job of the priest to insist on and police them.” It is. Insist: “Why do you call me Lord when you don’t do as I say?” Police: “Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” It’s not impossible to be pastoral when insisting upon or policing. Don’t priests in mufti wear a collar cross to tell the world they are clerics? All that clergy and religious have to do is pass the Spiderman test of ‘with great privilege comes great responsibility’. But, lest anyone over-query whether the examples of Bishop W, Priest X, Mother Y or Sister Z show that they have passed the test, the only proof in the paperwork that Jesus passed the Spiderman test is consenting to crucifixion, proved only on the last day of his job. ‘Anti-clericalism’ is a Salem-like chasing after witches, based on a notion that God hasn’t bestowed on clergy and religious greater favour than on anyone else. He has: they should live up to it; the laity should help them to live up to it.
Roy Chen Yee | 01 March 2018


Pam, The Father Brown you describe is not Chesterton's but some out of date TV steriotype of an Anglican priest. I have a problem with an Australian priest who is always dressed formally: the collar and black coat even in forty degree heat, but that may only be the surface. Priests are people like us and the Lord is not diminished if they show us their humanity. But the majority of priests deserve a respect of their priesthood as others deserve respect because of the their calling in life.
Margaret McDonald | 01 March 2018


I agree with vivien, Clericalism 101 deserves to be subject of study in Catholic seminaries. But I think it should be studied as part of what I would call The Mutations of Western Christianity beginning say from the reign of the Emperor Constantine up to Vatican 2. Since Augustine's time at a theoretical level and later at the hands of Charlemagne at a practical level Western Christendom seemed convinced of the possibility of promoting the kingdom of God on earth by direct means. The Divine Right of Kings was shared (in diverse degrees) with the Papacy. Both Kings and Popes had administrations (clerical and military) that sometimes shared power amicably, sometimes reluctantly, and sometimes bellicosely. Come the 18th century the French Revolution quashed the clericalists and the Industrial Revolution found the Church slow to appreciate hoe to deal with the social turmoil it generated. Enter Leo XIII. The role that the laity can play in the Class Struggle, independent of their spiritual pastors became the challenge of the 20th & 21st centuries. Till this day the old division between Conservatives and Progressives even after the deliberations of Vatican 2. Princes of the Church do not easily give up their Principalities. And of course they have their acolytes.
Uncle Pat | 01 March 2018


I think this is one of the least satisfactory of Andrew Hamilton’s pieces. He tackles a huge subject but wastes space setting up the straw man of “perfect clericalism”, then goes nowhere, offering no fully-fleshed alternative, which is what I had hoped for.
Alistair P D Bain | 01 March 2018


I think Andrew's characterisation of clericalism is accurate insofar as it relates to individuals but that he misses its systemic dimension. The 'moral paralysis' (Archbishop Hart's words to Royal Commission) that prevented the church from taking action when clerical child sexual abuse was reported to its hierarchy was rooted in a passivity before higher clerical authority. At best, responsibility of receivers of reports was perceived to be to pass them on to their immediate superiors, all the way up the line to Rome. Clericalism is the ethos that forbids and prevents authority at all levels within the church from being held to account to the church at large. The mix of clericalist and non-clericalist attitudes to be found in individual priests/bishops is much less important in explaining the causes of clerical child sexual abuse than the institutionalisation of those attitudes in the teachings and discipline of the church.
Michael Leahy | 01 March 2018


Yesterday evening I was privileged, along with a large group from a number of parishes, to participate in a Lenten reflection led by an experienced Jesuit educator, author and spiritual director. A priest of many years in active school, publishing and parish ministries, he was far removed from the clericalist mold identified in Andrew's stereotype. Afterwards, I found myself wondering why it is that so many young Catholics who are responsive to the kind of spirituality presented, and to action on behalf of the needy, draw a line between these expressions of Catholic faith and regular participation in the sacramental life of the Church, especially Sunday Eucharist. No doubt clerical abuse is a contributing factor, but I don't think it's the only one: another other significant factor, it seems to me, could be the widespread practice of simultaneously receiving first Holy Communion and Confirmation, both experienced now in pre-teen years. The practice of earlier Confirmation leaves adolescents (and their families) without a sacramental marking and celebration of what is today a significant rite of passage - an explicitly communal one, at that - so relevant in a youth culture that values peer reinforcement.
John | 01 March 2018


Margaret McDonald, thanks for your comment. I doubt that Chesterton was too precious about his own work going by these words in his 1936 Autobiography: "My real judgement of my own work is that I have spoilt a number of jolly good ideas in my time." Be that as it may, I take your point.
Pam | 01 March 2018


Andrew, thank you for the topic, which does need serious consideration in the Church and in light of the Royal Commission etc. I agree with much of what you say, but respectfully disagree with some points. To define those clerics who choose to dress as clerics, and I expect that you might mean Roman collar and suit for example in public, or soutane or habit around a parish etc., is not necessarily a sign of clericalism. That said, I know that in recent years in our Roman Catholic tradition in Australia and elsewhere, this has certainly been the mark of a more ‘traditionalist’ type of cleric, the traits of whom you have listed. However, I think it is important to note that, one does not have to be wearing this attire to be clericalist. I personally have encountered in my years working in the Church, some clerics who dress very casually, sometimes to the point of downright ‘dagginess’ and possessing a seeming laissez-faire attitude to the Church, and all matters ecclesiastical including liturgy, standards of preaching and so on, and seemingly everybody’s friend. However, just below the surface lurks the same clericalist you describe. It has often been the case that these types must be in total control, regardless of the expertise and experience of those around them. It really is a case of ‘Father knows best’ in all matters. Some are in fact psychopaths. I have also studied with and experienced clerics, male and female, in the Anglican and other mainstream traditions who wear clerical attire as above, and do so without apology, not because they are clericalists – their traditions and structures safeguard against this – but because they take pride in their own presentation, and they are expected to in their traditions. It is their ‘uniform’. And afterall, some of the most progressive and impressive clerics in Australia and elsewhere, dress ecclesiastically, for example the new Anglican Archbishop of Perth, Kay Goldsworthy and Archbishop Desmond Tutu – himself an avowed lover of ecclesiastical tradition and finesse within the Anglo-Catholic tradition. Both on reading, are nothing of the clericalist or guilty of clericalism as you define it. In my opinion, it is the blinkered, authoritarian, fundamentalist, theologically and ecclesiologicaly conservative clerics that can epitomise clericalism, and an all-male diocesan Deaconate, Presbyterate and Episcopate does not help. In my experience, many of our Roman clergy would do well to consider their appearance and presentation outside and inside the parish and liturgy. At times it is quite embarrassing compared with the other Christian denominations. And Afterall, the Pope still dresses ecclesiastically – and he’s a Jesuit.
Thomas Amory | 01 March 2018


Good article. I still come back to what has become one of my life's maxims, though. An ism ANY ism, (including conservatism and liberalism) can and often is something insecure or incomplete people hide behind or within. We are all in that boat to a greater or lesser degree: The psychological distortions occur when we completely identify our individuality with our ism. This is also where ismised people (including clergy who have become clericalist) become somewhat 'dangerous' or their efforts, counterproductive. Every profession has and needs its exerts but when expertise takes on a sense of superiority things can go very wrong. Most often, the abuse of power in some form, soon follows.
Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 01 March 2018


That's a good analysis Andrew and its high time the clergy stopped taking themselves so seriously and relying on their achievements and rank to impose their will on the laity. It was my privilege to know reasonably well that great Pallotine priest Walter Sylvester, the ex U boat Commander of the Kriegsmarine who won the iron cross during WW2. He never stood on ceremony and though he sent many a ship to the bottom of the Atlantic, he refused to follow Doenitz orders to machine gun survivors in their lifeboats. A refusal that earned the personal displeasure of Hitler and a death sentence that was later commuted by undertaking a daring reconnaissance voyage beneficial to the German Navy. Putting aside the findings of the Royal Commission and the huge number of offences by these men of the cloth, which has caused many Catholics to turn their back on their faith, trust can only be rebuilt by a change in attitude. Priests like "Wally"that have looked death in the eye and seen the scourge of war are happy to be called by their first name and happy to listen. Not dictate. Happy to sit down and share a meal and a glass of wine. Happy to get the guitars out and sing a song. My lecturer at Melbourne Uni, Frank Knopfelmacher once said of Wally that he was too great a man to sit at his feet. Yet at Pallotti College, Wally was happy to debate with anyone and also go out with Brother Joseph to feed the pigs.
Francis Armstrong | 01 March 2018


I think Michael Leahy has pinpointed the central problem with clericalism. The moral paralysis (Hart's words) prevented those with local authority (bishops) from acting responsibly because of passivity before a higher clerical authority. The Church has made an idol of itself through the practice of clericalism. The culture which has privilege, power, and celibacy as its yardstick has lost its relevance in this contemporary world which is driven by an evolutionary consciousness and massive changes in technology. Christ's teachings were primarily concerned with human personhood (through relationship) and the ability to love by empowering others who need healing and freedom. It's possible to link Clericalism with narcissism in an all male culture to the detriment of women and children. The Weekend Australian had an article on the cost of constructing an elaborate crypt under St. Mary's for George Pell which says it all: those who practice clericalism take care of themselves as a priority even in death, leaving unhealed those 'little ones' who are betrayed powerless and wounded.
Trish Martin | 01 March 2018


What you describe so well is the culture of clericalism and its manifestations. But underlying these there is a question of ecclesiology. Clericalism is a way of thinking (by both laity and ordained) that identifies the "church" with the ordained and the Religious. People joining the ministry, or religious life, were sometimes said to be "joining the church". The glaring defect in this deeply entrenched custom is what the Council addressed when, in its Constitution on the Church, it emphatically placed the chapter on "the People of God" ahead of the chapter on the hierarchical structure of the church. When, eventually, we spontaneously think of the church as all the baptized, - and the responsibility of all - we shall "do" church in a very different way - many different ways!
Peter Cullinane | 01 March 2018


Thomas Amory. In your last three sentences above you have eloquently described one of the great disasters that has befallen the Catholic Church in the wake of Vatican II !! Shakespeare, through King Lear, expressed the view that clothes do not reflect the inner, private man and through the King's trusted advisor, Polonius, that clothes or public appearance do indeed make the public man. I recall a rollicking social function where an attractive, fetching, fashionably dressed woman while sipping her champagne was approached by an enthusiastic man of the world with a certain suggestion. "How dare you", she complained. "You can't say that to me. I'm a nun"! Oops !
john frawley | 01 March 2018


Retired for 19 years & involved only in regular hospital chaplaincy with up to 70 or more patients on my weekly round (the hospital 2 hours away by bus, train and bus), I don't come across "clericalism" of any kind but no doubt it exists in ecclesiastical circles. But whether relevant or not to these observations. I dearly wish RC clergy would identify themselves preferably by a clerical collar or at least a cross. For years at our hospital, the nuns who visited until at last a chaplain was appointed were not identified as such (what a contrast to the large number of Muslim staff and visitors in a south-west hospital where the vast majority of patients still identify as Christian). We do now have an RC chaplain (unfortunately able to visit only day a week owing to the shortage of priests) who, like the Orthodox clergy and myself (as C.of E.) always wears a clerical collar. This is really so important in a hospital, and essential in Emergency and Intensive Care, and I have found over these many years invaluable on trains and buses (I don't have a car) where priests and many (not all) sisters otherwise are "invisible". If collars represent clericalism of a kind, I think we need much more of it. God bless.
Fr John Bunyan | 01 March 2018


On Christmas Eve in Westminster Cathedral, we heard Cormac Murphy-O'Connor begin his homily with the words, "My dear people, we must go forward together . . ." He held his community in the palm of his hand. A priest who sees the Church as a pilgrim people always on the way and himself as someone who stands among them will always be free of the abuses of clericalism.
Anna Summerfield | 01 March 2018


If we are really interested in the future of the church, we have to look at how our priests relate to our youth, in particular through our schools. If part of the problem is too much 'Clericalism 101' in our seminaries, another part is the lack of sufficient 'Australian culture 101', especially for the large number of overseas born priests. Often recruited from societies where the priesthood is revered, it seems our Bishops too often select conservative young men who are more comfortable in an aloof and remote role. Priests who are prepared to get out and kick the footy or have a bowl at recess are more likely to make a positive impression and encourage interest in their charges. The all black clothing and collar just doesn't make sense in the Australian climate, or the culture. Jesus would not have worn it.
Kieran | 01 March 2018


I’m left wondering after reading this article what the response to the header is? It certainly isn’t contained in the article.
Jennifer Herrick | 01 March 2018


Steve. What do you mean when you speak of seeing : ... a theology of fear?
AO | 01 March 2018


Is lack of leadership the on-going culprit? It is and it isn’t, yes we have a contradiction and the reason for this is that Christian leadership should be manifest by the serving of the Truth, and for many this serving of the Truth in trust is/was given over in obedience to the hierarchy of the Church, as “a divided house cannot stand” but in doing so failed to see that the rock of Truth can only be served individual, as this is the mortar that holds His house together. It is a precious commodity and rare because to possess it takes courage. The Seminaries that molded our priests (Some now Bishops) taught them (As they were taught) that obedience to the church (Establishment) is paramount, but failed to teach them that obedience that does not embrace TRUTH, is an easy option, as it takes away responsibility for ones actions or in actions, and that the price to pay is loss of integrity, in effect one becomes a lackey and the image of Christ in his/their sacrificial life, before mankind would be lost. They would have been unaware that the Church since its earliest beginnings was at war within itself, they would not have known that some who taught them and others who would have authority over them, were waterless clouds (producers of deserts), dry trees (those who renounce good/Truth to serve evil) and dreamers (manipulators). See Epistle of Jude. And this obedience without Truth would enable them to prosper. This docility (lack of vigour) to uphold the Truth has enabled those in authority to perpetuate great acts of evil, one been the cover up of the child abuse scandal, as our Shepherds/Bishops embrace this truth, they must realize that they have been complicit (by neglect) by serving obedience before the Truth. In effect the lack of leadership is due to mutual ongoing collusion within the clerical system. How can fear and anxiety, with a desperate clinging to old ways in the hierarchy be remedied? The priesthood that includes the hierarchy will have to confront the trappings of Clericalism, that spider that has caught so many in its web of deceit and arrogance. Christians need to be seen by mankind, as in been honest with themselves, by us acknowledging openly our warts and all, in doing so, we will be seen to be walking in obedience to the Truth (Way). If we do this His Light/Breath will dwell within us, manifesting itself as humility. A disarming action in the simplicity of been honest, as His Holy Spirit now dwelling within us, will encompass those we encounter along the Way, leading them also to follow His Way of Truth/Love onto the spiritual pathway of enlightenment that can only be found in a humble heart. Who are the leaders? The servers of the Truth within the Church, is there anyone among them with the courage to lead? We may find some that are deeply committed to the Christian Faith, with the courage to embrace this question, which is amplified in the link below. Is an act of humility too much to ask? http://www.catholicethos.net/errors-amoris-laetitia/#comment-167 kevin your brother In Christ
Kevin Walters | 01 March 2018


I agree with Pam's observations about Father Brown - despite his outward clerical appearance - it's his attitude and and way of relating to people that inspires me. A bit of escapism, I admit! (And if you look carefully at the credits at the end of the episode, there's a British (I presume) Jesuit as historical advisor!)
AURELIUS | 02 March 2018


Some years back following a wedding in a WA country town I sat next to a young fellow who had enjoyed a few beers. Amidst the bric- a- brac of conversation he spoke of his 'being Catholic' and Catholic education. He had the usual 'complaints' about the Church but his pet stir was: "When ever you wanted to talk about anything, they had all the bloody answers". I found that young country bloke in your timely comments about balance in one more aspect of us getting on our Catholic feet again on a still dusty and rocky road.
Fr. Paul Goodland | 02 March 2018


Vatican II was wonderful and means that any of us aged under 53 have been taught an extremely different model of Church. That makes this a very difficult time because most of our leaders were formed quite differently, intrinsically holding some contrasting views. Those who practice clericalism are dealing with the challenge of this pivot point of change by racing back to the safety of old models. Rather, we need to let go of the old and embrace the challenge with love, hope and prayer. All clerics remain constantly in my prayers; as I dream they will shed their shackles and together we can build a Church of the future.
JM | 02 March 2018


JM. An admirable vision for the future. The difficult bit will be to hold back from playing the human while ignoring the divine. The big questions are, 'What were those under age of 53 taught? Were they encouraged to find their annoyingly tautological "own, personal, individual spirituality"? Do they understand the meaning of a sacrament, particularly the Eucharist? To observe the behaviour of the few in the age group that attend Mass one wonders!
john frawley | 02 March 2018


I am puzzled as well as troubled by what you have done, Andy, not because your essay is so unhappily below your usual inclusive standard, but because on so important and controversial a topic, you evidently see no need to provide an equivalent alternative view. In an article on clericalism you manage to exclude any mention of the special status accorded to the clergy in respect of the consecrated life, to which, after all, all who follow the Gospels, whether priests or not, are called! And you avoid completely the question of desacramentalisation, seen by many as the key to sacralising the Church after Vatican II and to which 'Gaudium et Spes', unlike 'Lumen Gentium', speaks so movingly. Quite recently, after a visit to Latin America, I submitted an article to ES in the context of which I mentioned a Dominican priest in Cuba, who alluded to the communist revolution in his country as a kind of purification for the Church. So far, no mention of it in ES's daily offerings, nor for that matter to me directly. Not that I have tickets on myself, but perchance an article such as yours should command a counter-argument, taking issue with yours, such as the following one, inspiringly articulated by William M. Shea in the US Catholic e-journal, Commonweal: https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/imagine-theres-no-clergy The editors, true to the scholastic method, have included a counter argument by David Cloutier, for those who join me in criticising your evident and uncharacteristic unilateralism.
Michael Furtado | 02 March 2018


Kevin Walters I like your lengthy response, and your question: "Is there anyone among them with the courage to lead?" All bishops have the authority to lead with integrity, however it seems that upon consecration when they sign their allegiance to the authority of the Pope, bishops lose their connection with Gospel values and choose instead to practice allegiance to an institution that lives with values that resemble the Roman era (duty before integrity). The word courage in Latin is equivalent to 'heart', so I wonder if the loss of connection with integrity is due to neglect of matters of the heart? Christ's life was remarkable by his courage to be vulnerable, which shame researcher Brene Brown says is the birthplace of truth, joy and happiness.
Trish Martin | 03 March 2018


Michael Furtado. Thank you for your comment. Every time I read one of your comments I am reminded of the preciousness of patience: Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.
AO | 03 March 2018


Michael Furtado, could you please clarify what you mean by " . . . the question of desacramentalisation, seen by many as the key to sacralising the the Church after Vatican II . . .? Do you mean "de-priesting"? ("Desacramentalisation" suggests the radical Protestant agenda of the Reformation rather than the Catholic recognition of an ordained priesthood and the priesthood of all the baptised.)
John | 04 March 2018


Apparently 40% of managers are psychopaths so it should be no surprise that in a hierarchical organisation like the Catholic Church, you will find plenty of psychopathic clerics. Also since psychopaths want to be in control, they will aim for the top. It seems that conservatives who enjoy having power and control are also hijacking seminaries and this has an unhappy synergy with that 40% in developing priests who are completely at odds with Jesus’ model of servant leadership. My wife has decided that she will no longer be a communion minister and reader because the last priest who we have only after a huge outcry managed to get rid of introduced all these ridiculous little rules that we have quite happily done without before; and the new priest who superficially seemed to be more pastoral has insisted on similar little things apparently to reinforce his self-importance. We can only attribute this to clericalist teaching at the seminary. I will give this bloke the benefit of the doubt for now, but my wife has had enough and I don’t blame her. If things continue in the same vein, I don’t see any future for us in for this church.
Frank S | 04 March 2018


Sorry to sound precious and bitter, rather than outraged and disapppointed, AO. I had high hopes for Andy, after Morag Fraser introduced him to us in these columns. He was one of a group of Jesuits whose humility and authenticity took Oxford by storm when I studied there. The Prioress of the SHCJ community there, Lydia Gabler, said that her nuns had bypassed famed others, clericalists all, to avail of the inclusive spirituality of those, like Andy, who ministered to them in various aspects of Cornelia Connelly's mission as the Sisters discerned and lived it out. And I have found Andy's focus, especially on social justice, without par in this regard since moving to Australia at about that time. As to John's request, I would be doing William M. Shea an injustice were I to paraphrase his essay in the modest space made available to me, but which John is welcome to read at his leisure, and as cited below. I am happy to take questions therafter. I note in closing that, in this very issue of ES, Robert Fitzgerald addresses one of the most heinous examples of clericalism in my book, viz. the clerical non-reporting of child abuse. https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/imagine-theres-no-clergy
Michael Furtado | 05 March 2018


Michael Furtado, I don't consider William M Shea's rejection of Catholic teaching on the Eucharist, expounded in his 2015 memoir, Judas Was A Bishop, any recommendation for his reliability on sacraments and their connection with the Church's understanding of priesthood.
John | 05 March 2018


Thank you Trish Martin for your comment, I believe that allegiance to clericalism starts initial with the priests allegiance to his bishop and each other, especially in regards to scandal and this obedience without Truth has enabled those in authority to perpetuate great acts of evil, one been the cover up of the child abuse scandal…… “The word courage in Latin is equivalent to 'heart', so I wonder if the loss of connection with integrity is due to neglect of matters of the heart”…….Yes I agree with this statement, because once a man (More so a priest) has compromised the serving of the Truth, within his heart, and retains that compromise his spiritual journey will be stifled, so to say. That is why we can say the leadership of the church has nothing spiritual to offer mankind, as the living Word for many does not live within their hearts, as “they honour me with their lips but their ‘hearts’ are far from me”…….“Christ's life was remarkable by his courage to be vulnerable”……..And that is what my posts within the link below ask our spiritual leaders to do, embrace their own vulnerability, and lead the flock in manifest humility-(Awareness of God). The question: Is an act of humility too much to ask? http://www.catholicethos.net/errors-amoris-laetitia/#comment-167
Kevin Walters | 05 March 2018


Addition to my Post @ Trish Martin, I had never heard of Brene Brown, Trish, so after I had responded to your post, I looked her up on the net. What she is saying relates to Jesus’s teaching …..“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls”…….. We are ‘all’ vulnerable before the yoke of our Fathers inviolate Word (Will) and when embraced honestly, it will induces humility (St Bernard Humility a virtue by which a man knowing himself as he truly is, abases himself) as we direct the open recognition of our state of being before Him, otherwise you run the risk of becoming self-righteous, the blinding of oneself, to the reality of our own heart/soul. If we continue on this path /‘Way’ of bearing witness to the Truth within our own hearts, as in the parable of the mustard seed, growing in the light of the Holy Spirit (Truth), producing leaves of compassion, that give shelter to all from physical and spiritual suffering, eventually we too will do the same. Or for very badly damaged people like myself, progress from a heart of stone, into a more compassionate gentle (vulnerable) one…. “Which shame researcher Brene Brown says is the birthplace of truth, joy and happiness”........ It could be said that the accepted light of Truth, embellishes itself within us, welling up with joy into eternal life (Happiness) kevin your brother in Christ
Kevin Walters | 06 March 2018


I wonder.... One of the central and mst beautiful, compassionate stories in the Gospel is the dismantling of the desire to punish sinners by people who themselves are sinners - let s/he who is without sin cast the first stone. Could this central teaching of Jesus be (an excuse) at the heart of the lack of response to revealed sexual abuse. So, he who is without (sexual) sin do something about those who have sexually sinned 9or in our current time, committed a crime). So, forgiveness trumping judgement, becomes, oh dear, compassion trumping justice. What a mess.
Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 06 March 2018


John undercontextualises, misappropriates and misconstrues William M. Shea's work, 'Judas was a Bishop' to belittle the article that Commonweal published on what a Church with no clergy would look like. Instead, he regrettably engages in condemnation by extraneously introduced association. While Shea plainly makes a case for getting rid of the priesthood on both Scriptural and traditional grounds, he places it within a context that explains that the sacraments, including the Eucharist, are historically constructed and therefore locked in a time warp that requires regular and contextual updating in preference to the fundamentalist mystique surrounding celibacy, which accounts for the many insidious abuses of clericalism that atrophy the Church. 'Judas was a Bishop' is a powerful memoir, in which Shea offers radical proposals for reform, all turning on the notion that the core problem to be confronted is the gulf that separates clergy and laity, the long term result of a flimsy theological rationale which insists that the act of ordination marks an ‘ontological’ change in its recipients, marking priests as special men, fundamentally different from those they would help and teach, and loyal mainly to guidance from above. Plainly there's nothing substantial in Shea's article for John to overturn.
Michael Furtado | 06 March 2018


While I acknowledge William M Shea's zeal to rid the Catholic Church of clericalism and the abuses that attend it, the agenda he articulates in his recent article "Imagine There's No Clergy" seeks to reduce the Catholic Church to a secular ("desacralised") institution. This reductionism is largely due to Shea's failure to recognise the sacred and transcendent origin, continuance and renewal of the Church in the Holy Trinity. Shea regards tradition in the Church merely as human construct subject to historical contingencies, and in no way ontologically grounded in the holy and the supernatural; the 'gospel' of reform he announces is one based on human resourcefulness only. As for Michael Furtado's charge that, methodologically, I engage in "condemnation by extraneously introduced association", I point out that Shea himself in his Commonweal article draws explicitly and substantially on "Judas was A Bishop" to which I refer in my earlier posting.
John | 06 March 2018


Judas was not a Bishop. Bishop: A senior member of the Christian clergy, usually in charge of a diocese and empowered to confer holy orders. (online Oxford dictionary). Because Judas' life ended abruptly before the trial, crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus, he was not present in Luke 24:36-49, when Jesus said, ''You are witnesses of these things''. As the Acts of the apostles acclaim. The apostles are "witnesses" of their Lord's work and teaching, and above all of His Resurrection. Judas did not witness. Judas did not acclaim. Judas was not a Bishop.
AO | 06 March 2018


Michael, is your description of 'priesthood' perhaps too narrow or too time locked, actually, too Catholic? This topic needs a broader anthropological approach as well as a social-psychological approach. The priesthood in some form (shamans, Brahmans, Pharisees) has existed ever since human communities have existed, especially settled human communities, because those human communities needed and wanted them. These shamans/priests gave them the answers to life, answers that for the most they did not have the time, ability, inclination to seek for themselves – i.e. the majority of people. That infamous Tridentine definition of the vocation of the priesthood which lays at the heart of the 'ontological' change controversy, even itself acknowledges this. Of course, according to that definition, the Catholic priesthood far surpasses all historic and pre-historic forms. A touch of institutionalised clericalism, perhaps??? YES.
Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 07 March 2018


This quote from Doyle's "Clericalism: Enabler of Abuse" (himself a priest) sums up what I am trying to say: This phenomenon has exposed clericalism for the malignant disease that it really is. Ironically some of the harshest critics are clerics themselves . . . men and women whose membership in the Catholic or Protestant clerical elite is far secondary to their commitment to the Christian message and mission. In a remarkable book, Fr. Donald Cozzens writes, Clericalism . . . is always dysfunctional and haughty, crippling the spiritual and emotional maturity of the priest, bishop or deacon caught in its web. Clericalism may command a superficial deference, but it blocks honest human communication and ultimately leaves the cleric practicing it isolated. (Cozzens, 2002, p. 117). And that isolated state together with unresolved personal psychological issues, most often relating to parental relationships and sexual development, all usual reasons for the individual's (both clergy and lay) shift to clericalism, can and does lead to sexual misconduct against children AND adults by clergy. But see, one thing very often conveniently overlooked in all this debate is that non-clericalist liberal clergy, straight or gay, also sexually 'offend', perhaps even more so against adults. We're a complicated lot, aren't we, especially Catholics.
Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 07 March 2018


Oh, meant to mention, William M Shea wrote to me after the publication of my articles on Eureka Street/La Croix: "Vatican II, the sexual revolution and clergy sexual misconduct" (see https://eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=52339 ). He said, "I was pleased (to put it mildly) to read your essay in La Croix. You are hitting the nail on the head, and I do hope that the bishops include the essay in their reading prep for the synod." After a little further correspondence, he also sent me his book which sadly I have not yet had the time to read. Must do so now after all this discussion. I like him - he is natural, passionate and educated. Not sure if I agree with everything he says because I haven't read it. From what's been said of him here though, and from what others are saying, I always get concerned when the talk turns to utopianism (a priestless church - the non-existence of hierarchy). Even the most socialist/communist of countries had their hierarchies, and even the most egalitarian communities had their 'leaders'. It's all in our evolution as a pack (sorry - communal) animal. Being spurred on by fantasies of non-human possibilities for the sake of compassion and equality to me is dangerous and very sad.
Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 07 March 2018


John misreads or misrepresents Shea's 'desacralisation' thesis as secularist (after deeming it Protestant). It cannot logically be both, as even the most conservative Catholic theologicans would draw a distinction between the two. Distancing the clergy from the laity is the most fundamental problem facing Catholics today as many of the above posts corroborate. And those non-clerics who offended sexually were 'covered' by the hierarchical and clerical structure that secreted their abuse, Stephen de Weger. As for AO, true to his/her scriptural fundamentalism, and blinded by the fact that Judas hadn't a diocese at a time when ecclesiology hadn't developed to the point of these evolving, appeals to the Trevor Chappell school of underarm bowling to claim that Judas wasn't a bishop, when clearly he had the same status as one of the disciples called by Jesus to mission to the world. In fact, the Judas account lacks all eschatological significance without acknowledging him as one of the chosen few.
Michael Furtado | 08 March 2018


Your correspondent, John, has remarked on more than one occasion that my thoughts are informed by sociology and not by theology. I acknowledge this, though I reject any suggestion that the study of the sociology of religion has no contribution to make to an understanding of the current crisis facing the Catholic Church in respect of the global child abuse scandal. Nor do I wish to pursue the line of tu quoque argumentation with him that characterised our disagreement on the gay marriage question, in regard to which I readily acknowledged the entitlement of the Catholic Church to deny the sacrament of marriage to same-sex couples. However, in this instance, the global pedophilia crisis in the Catholic Church again poses critical questions of inquiry and explanation to the sociological study of religion, making its claims modest as well as legitimate. the basic sociological insight is that as groups grow in size they undergo institutionalisation for their survival and maintenance. In doing so, the social structures of religion can also become pathological, and, in theological terms, sinful. Delineating the processes of religious institutionalisation and of the pathologisation of religion sheds sociologicallight on the pedophilia scandal, rather less on the abuse of children by priests and more on the cover-up of crimes by bishops, which is at the core of the clerical crisis.
Dr Michael Furtado | 08 March 2018


Dr Furtado, I agree with your sociological approach to religious issues. They are vital, but so are psychological, legal/magisterial and theological/spiritual approaches. Just one will not be enough. I am being sort of forced to approach the issue I am studying through just one lens (sociology/criminology) but oh how I want to go so much furhter and how the subject of clergy sexual misconduct needs to go way bneyond just the sociological.
Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 08 March 2018


Michael, when you said this " the core problem to be confronted is the gulf that separates clergy and laity, etc", you were indeed making a very valid point. Thinking this issue through more because of this great conversation, it could be concluded that this 'change' is actually ‘normal’ and needed, but not how the Catechism of Trent would have us believe. Priests on ordination, are changed - they are given new 'powers' to serve, in the same way that, for example, at graduation, psychiatrists are changed - they now have the ‘power’ to practise. There then results a ‘natural’ gap between ‘experts/shamans/priests’ to which we all contribute, a gap they need to have otherwise we may not believe in them or their ability to ‘help’. So, any professional/expert has the ability to abuse their positions of power. When the Church ‘spiritualises/formalises’ clericalism by saying that on ordination men who become priests, also become 'gods', there's the error. They have exaggerated what actually happens. On the spiritual level, the Church dehumanises clergy. However, as well, on the psychological level, it castitas-es them through demands/expectations of obedience and chastity. But, in reality, as the famous line goes, for quite a lot of them "they're not messiahs, they're just naughty little boys" (well, the ones that end up resenting all this and break their vows especially in an abusive way with adults and especially with children). "And those non-clerics who offended sexually were 'covered' by the hierarchical and clerical structure that secreted their abuse". I totally agree, and this is what my PhD will be exploring - HOW they did this. The 'why' is another issue. Having a hierarchical structure is completely natural for human society. It is not the structure that's the problem - we need them like flesh needs a skeleton. However, as we all now elite institutions can also BECOME deviant and this is what we have been witnessing with the whole sexual abuse issue in the church, well, how it's been handled. Some say the 'why', at least systemically, is because of adherence to errant canon laws; some say it’s because the Church simply wanted to protect its reputation. Well, I'm sure these two main reasons given are true; however, I wonder - if canon laws were 'fixed up' would there still be reasons for covering up. Oh yes. “Let him who is without sexual activity cast the first stone". Who dares to throw stones (do something) when so many clergy know of each other’s even one-off sexual events, or their predictions which whatever way you perceive such things, the clergy still do not want them exposed. So, when we keep 'blaming' just the systemic issues such as there being a hierarchy, or dubious canon laws, we are in danger of seriously missing the boat and solving nothing. What also becomes clear is that this whole issue is pitted with broader social philosophical ones - e.g. left vs right; liberal Catholics vs, conservative Catholics. In the end, both have answers and deeply valuable things to say.
Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 08 March 2018


Michael Furtado. When clearly he had the same status as one of the disciples called by Jesus to mission to the world? Clearly? When Jesus describes who Judas is in the new testament and the old. Do you believe Jesus didn't know Judas would kill himself? He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it, etc. (Ecclesiastes). When Judas' death was fruit of 'his desire,' to have Jesus put to His death. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death. (St Paul) Whereas, Jesus' life and death, (and the life and death of His apostles), was to do the Will of 'His' Father: Eternal Life.
AO | 08 March 2018


Reading the Letter to the Hebrews, Jesus was the only priest. If his followers have any priesthood, it is, for those in office as well as those in the pews, not their own, but a share in His priesthood. A cleric is one who holds an office of ministry at a certain level. The ministry of the ones we call 'priest' is that of being elders - 'presbyters' in Greek - they belong to the presbyterate. We should call them elder, not 'priest', and we should expect them to be elders, which implies a gift of life experience, acquired wisdom, compassion, humility, spirituality and love. In this office, their prime charism should not be managerial or authoritarian but spiritual, as was that of Jesus. It is obvious that these gifts cannot be acquired by the seminary training of youth, but only by life itself. These would, I believe, be the benefits of choosing and ordaining more mature and, especially, married people to be elders in the church to give example and advice to the younger candidates who might choose celibacy as a way of life - or not. This is why the church should urgently consider this idea which has been explored in the mind of Pope Francis: not just as a stop-gap measure to solve the 'priest' shortage, but as a fully pastoral strategy. The faithful are demanding more spirituality and better theological meaning - not just better management.
John O'Donnell | 11 March 2018


Stephen, there are several flaws in your submission. The first is that the priesthood cannot make ordained men ontologically different, when it rejects the claims of women to the Sacrament of Holy Orders purely on grounds that are biological and traditional. Secondly, many highly regarded (in terms of their status as well as their recognised theological contribution) religious women and men that I know of reject the ordination of men as an absolute and incontrovertible outward sign of inward grace (conferred on them to mark them out as special in terms of their ministry) because of its obvious association with clericalism. Among these illuminati has been my kinsman, Raimon Pannikar, who contributed a ringing endosement of William M. Shea's 'Judas was a Bishop'. Thirdly, ordained priests who break their vows in respect of falling in love with a consenting other are in no way guilty of doing something transgressive of their humanity but instead enhancing of it, as most other breaches of rules and laws that are counterintuitive to the injunction of Jesus to love unconditionally conceed. One cannot be partly right or partly wrong in an argument when one side abjectly rejects foundational principles for an inclusive Christian ministry.
Michael Furtado | 12 March 2018


AO, the question of Jesus's retrospective omniscience has been conceded by several sripture scholars to fly in the face of his humanity. In short, a reliance on such a view, based on extrinsically rethought scriptural justifications and the 'all-knowingness' of Jesus, is fundamentally anti-incarnational. Judas was chosen. He exercised free will as a follower of Jesus and member of Jesus's inner circle. And he may well have repented his treachery, given that we are told that he was plunged into despair and took his own life, after realising what he had done. The suggestion that Judas was a 'plant', or a kind of historically-predetermined cypher or contrivance, who was introduced to the written record in order to ensure that Jesus be eventually crucified and resurrected, is purely to satisy the fundamentalist eschatological imperative and its demand for restrospectivity, coherence and justification. Faith is as much dependent on hope, mystery and trust, as it rejects coherences that focus on the tying up of loose chronological events as well as bits and pieces of biblical historiography.
Michael Furtado | 12 March 2018


Thanks Michael – I need and enjoy the challenge to my thinking. “The first is that the priesthood cannot make ordained men ontologically different, when it rejects the claims of women to the Sacrament of Holy Orders purely on grounds that are biological and traditional”…I’m not sure why you have said this because I wasn’t discussing gender issues in the priesthood and I wasn’t at all affirming any ontological change beliefs, rather I was denying them. I do believe that ‘ordained women are just as capable of abusing their positional power. My study has concerned some of these – well not ordained women but religious sisters/superiors abusing other younger nuns. “Religious women and men that I know of reject the ordination of men as an absolute and incontrovertible outward sign of inward grace (conferred on them to mark them out as special in terms of their ministry) because of its obvious association with clericalism”… Count me in there, too. Did I say otherwise? Where? Also, I’ve been reading William M. Shea’s book and agree with him for the most (by the way, he’s enjoying this discussion). (See next comment for my third ‘flaw’).
Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 12 March 2018


“Ordained priests who break their vows in respect of falling in love with a consenting other are in no way guilty of doing something transgressive of their humanity but instead enhancing of it”… Ah, now this is where you raise many problematic issues especially regarding consent in the context of a power imbalance. I get very concerned that priests are using sexual relationships or other people to “enhance their humanity”. A well-known priest said the same on this forum, and while I agree that ‘enhancement’ can and does happen, my concern is not for the priest but for all the other adults who become caught up in the priest’s journey which far too many times ends in the priest returning to his marriage to the Church. I know this is difficult for you to agree with because of the community in which you are involved. Please understand, I am not about judging individuals, we are all on our human journey – the outcomes can be very positive for all as we know, but, they can and are very often extremely negative for the other adult. These have been and continue to be passed over. It is clergy who can and also do use their position of power to deeply manipulate and abuse adults and these are the ones that concern me. Part of the ability to manipulate is a belief on both the part of the clergy and the victims that the priest is somehow much ‘holier than thou’. In this we need to all be educated. Hence the need to de-clericalise but not de-priest the church. PS. I’m also with John o”Donnell above.
Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 12 March 2018


One more thing, Michael, what is 'falling in love' especially in the context of unconditional love, especially in the context of a supposed to be celibate priesthood/religious life?
Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 12 March 2018


Michael Furtado. While every square is a rectangle, not all rectangles are squares. Judas was not a bishop. Every word Jesus spoke was a revelation of the present, past, and future events. But to those it has been given. As we know: But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.
AO | 12 March 2018


Perhaps we need to hear what William M. Shea himself wrote about Judas being a bishop. "When [the leadership of the Catholic Church] denominate themselves as Successors of ten Apostles, when the Pope calls himself the Successor of Peter, then they must be reminded constantly that Judas was a bishop according to their own reading of the founding of the church. Thuis, the title of the book: Judas, fresh in his consecration as an apostle and bishop, walked out of the Upper Room and betrayed him" (end of quote; p.12). In other words, bishops are capable of the deepest betrayals and if the leadership of the church exclude Judas because of what he did then there in lies the seed bed of deception, corruption, foolishness, and, clericalism. Does that help? It's not so much that Judas was a bishop but that Judas was a man who betrayed and he belonged to the first group of 'bishops'.
Stephen de Weger | 12 March 2018


Sorry, not "Successors of ten Apostles" but "Successors of the Apostles"
Stephen de Weger | 13 March 2018


What does it matter if Judas was a bishop or not.
john frawley | 13 March 2018


It is clear what Mr Shea wants to convey, by having entitled his book, 'Judas was a bishop'. It is clear the desire to justify this premise is, if even involuntarily, to further perpetuate darkness. ''In the total expanse of human life there is not a single square inch of which the Christ, who alone is sovereign, does not declare, 'That is mine!''' Abraham Kuyper. Is this conveyed in the book? What about the antagonism between light and darkness? And the light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out: A much better title for a book about Truth.
AO | 13 March 2018


Stephen, lots of lengthy posts, but not much to redress the power abuse endemic within clericalism. Priests who take seriously the injunction to unconditionally love, as do many lay persons contracted in marriage, must eventually mature enough to become aware that sacramental contracts of marriage and ordination owe their survival to a canonism that sometimes dispenses release from those self-same contracts. Not for nothing are canon lawyers the sacrificial victims of a church steeped in casuistry. Much better to return to a Christianity, shorn off the accoutrements of Greco-Roman hierarchical forms, which atrophy and infantalise the moral machinery of Christians to such an extent as to prevent them from becoming adult followers of Christ, prepared to jetison the legalistic paraphernalia of a clerical culture for a morality that embraces the complexity of everyday global existence. Since you press the matter, I doubt if your speculations about a future PhD-endorsed theory that will put the world of clericalism to rights will ever eventuate or satisfy the cogent arguments of William Shea, although its the journey, as always, that provides the key to such conversion. And yes; my gayness has a great deal to do with my anti-clericalism.
Dr Michael Furtado | 13 March 2018


Michael, it saddens me that you just can't seem to grasp my argument or from where I am coming. For one, I was not referring to your gayness but your Church community. Secondly, I am also working to de Romanise or de-clericalise the Church which I do see is a major issue (you should read my 25 page poem about that - but no, I won't put anyone through that) and my PhD while it may be completely ignored is my attempt to provide a language and theory (a tool only) with which anyone can critique the way the Church responds to victims of sexual abuse by clergy. Thing is, I won't 'work' for any side...indeed it is the taking of sides that is militating against the finding of real answers to our contemporary context, and not some hoped for fantasy which just won't ever happen (think Christian Anarchism). So, let's just leave it at that then. I wish you well in your pursuit of justice and love.
Stephen de Weger | 13 March 2018


Sorry everyone, one last comment (yes, too many comments, but then, it's a free world and anyone here can join in, too). Michael, perhaps I have misread you, too. Your concern in your last comment is that I am not contributing anything to the de-clericalisation of the Church. Well, you might be interested in an article I wrote with my supervisor on the misuse of positional power by clergy and two ways two difference diocese have dealt with it and the abuse that followed. It will be coming out in April in a peer-reviewed journal. As wel, I am being constantly encouraged by Tom Doyle and Richard Sipe who consider my work very much needed and the time ripe for it. Hopefully I can have some positive influence in the reforming of the Church. One thing we do all agree on is that nothing is going to change until we de-Romanise/de-clericlaise the Church while maintaining what all institutions, including education, a structure to keep it going and make it unified and co-herent. It's been a worthwhile discussion and thank you Andrew for the article that got it going.
Stephen de Weger | 13 March 2018


Stephen, you misinterpret my comments. If the Tom Doyle you refer to is a former Executive Director of the Melbourne Catholic Education Office and who appeared before the Royal Commission to admit Archbishop Little's failure to report, you might wish to read Helen Praetz's 'Building a System', which shows that the Church rejected the proposal of integrated schooling, as in NZ, where 'Catholic' abuse cases are automatically reported by the Education Ministry to the police. This reveals a critical absence of professsional standards in Catholic schools to the extent that Archbishop Little could lament at an Education Conference (with the catch-cry 'Light New Fires') that he had spent his life putting them out! The key to cleaning up corrupt systems, as any public administrator will tell, is to embrace professional standards. The architect of Catholic school funding in Australia, Peter Tannock, had an uncertain knowledge of this when he stated that Catholics ran a comprehensive school system, by which he meant schools for different social class catchments, when comprehension means the precise opposite. You might also investigate the transiting circumstances of Susan Pascoe (a highly gifted professional who succeeded Fr Doyle) from that office in your search to contain clericalism.
Michael Furtado | 14 March 2018


John Frawley asks why it matters whether Judas was a Bishop or not. The point surely is that the hierarchical Church in its efforts to protect its structure and sustain itself has become a tame and toothless poodle, prioritising docility over mission in ways that have resulted in several of the pathologies here on offer featured in posts. Starting with Judas we have a gifted man, though vulnerable like many of us to being undermined by appeal to his pride, vanity and perhaps ambition. Such people have their weaknesses as well as their breaking point, as did Judas, who wasn't immune to providing inside information, in return for which he was, like some former-day Pooh-Bah, handsomely rewarded for his collaboration and astuteness. Doubtless the Jews and Romans saw in him someone they could do a deal with, so as to keep the Christians quiet and on the right side of the law. I have known several bishops like this, starting with those who signed the death warrant of the Catholic Commission for Justice & Peace, as well as others leant on by politicians waving a Catholic schools funding deal in return for silencing those who spoke with a prophetic voice.
Michael Furtado | 14 March 2018


John Frawley: “What does it matter if Judas was a bishop or not.” Perhaps it is better to acknowledge Judas as a bishop because we then have proof that God has anticipated a continuum of virtue in the college of bishops (some will betray their office, most will hold their office well but without any visible distinction, while only a few will be graced to encounter Christ through a transfiguration) which of itself will not impede the saving work of the Church. More significantly, accepting Judas as a bishop also sharpens the mystery of forgiveness. Who had the greater sin, the bishop who wept because he had betrayed a man whom he knew to be innocent for thirty pieces of silver, or the bishop who wept because he had betrayed a man whom he knew, from a moment on a mountain, to have a nature at least equal to Moses and Elijah? If culpability for sin is subjective, Judas could only know that he had betrayed a man, perhaps a man so favoured by God that an eclipse and earthquake occurred when he died, but, nevertheless, a man, not a demi-god. Yet, earthly reparation was granted the greater sinner.
Roy Chen Yee | 14 March 2018


No, Michael, I meant the better known Dominican Fr Tom Doyle, canon lawyer and the man who has, for 25 years, spearheaded the breaking down of clericalism because of its connections to sexual abuse. He wrote one of the best appraisals and critiques of clericalism - See... Doyle, Thomas P. 2006. “Clericalism: Enabler of Clergy Sexual Abuse.” Pastoral Psychology 54 (3): 189-213. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11089-006-6323-x ).
Stephen de Weger | 14 March 2018


Some tying up for me to do, if I may. Andy, I trust that as unclear as you say you were about the curiosities of clericalism, you are now more enlightened about the rage discussion of it at this 'child abuse' juncture has unleashed in these columns. With respect, I'm astonished that you mentioned it, it being akin to the inflammatory remark by Marie-Antionette when apprised of widespread starvation in the French populace. "No bread?" quoth she; "let them eat cake!" She paid with her head for it. Roy Chen Yee, great thanks for reminding me that forgiveness, especially in the midst of a dog-fight, is always the Christian imperative. I suspect Judas, apart from being gifted and a bishop, was also deeply broken to have betrayed the One who loved him most, a paradox that dogs me in my daily life, behaviour and self-reflection; your's is an eloquent encomium to the virtue of forgiveness. And Stephen de Weger, thanks for the reference and being such a gentle but persistent opponent. I wish you well with your PhD on how to eliminate clericalism from Catholicism. It will be an uphill battle, I fear, but all the more necessary for attempting.
Michael Furtado | 15 March 2018


Roy, it was good to remind us of the alternative betrayer and, therefore, the role o forgiveness as being so central to the Christian faith. Judas despaired and didn't say sorry or seek forgiveness, Peter despaired for a time but did. And there in is revealed the reality of the two extremes we all carry within us. What will our choice be. There is a third - to believe you have done nothing wrong so, nothing to repent about.
Stephen de Weger | 15 March 2018


Kudos to Judas, Peter, the good thief... So, not so good for the unrepentant thief on the third cross at Calvary? Free will what a gift. The gift of the grace of repentance, more so.
AO | 15 March 2018


Well put!
Francis Ughanze | 21 March 2018


Stephen de Weger pinpoints the issue of coverup. Let HE who is without sin cast the first stone". I can personally testify to this both as victim and litigant. I was told during my abuse and I quote: "there's lots of people out there doing what 'we're' doing", in response to my protest over what was happening.
Dr Jennifer Herrick | 12 April 2018


Stephen de Weger offers another valuable insight with "But see, one thing very often conveniently overlooked in all this debate is that non-clericalist liberal clergy, straight or gay, also sexually 'offend', perhaps even more so against adults.". I can personally testify to this. The absence of clerical attire in the priest offender makes him seem "a regular guy". The criticism he makes of the Pope and members of his Order makes him seem well, human, not part of the hierarchy, different, trustworthy. But the lay attire and the criticisms were a disguise.
Dr Jennifer Herrick | 12 April 2018


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