Clerical culture produces poor fruit

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In a recent Eureka Street article I remarked that in the Catholic Church clericalism is a pejorative term. I tried also to identify some of the attitudes and behaviour associated with people regarded as clericalist. The article sparked a lively conversation.

Priest on cobbled streetSome contributors criticised me for focusing on individuals and not on the more insidious culture of clericalism. The criticism was justified, and in this article I shall reflect on the culture and its byproducts.

As a culture clericalism displays a world view in which the Catholic Church is a self-sufficient world. Its security, reputation and internal relationships are the centre of attention. Within the Church relationships are hierarchical, and the difference between grades is in practice seen as more important than what Catholics have in common.

The relationships are also often authoritarian: bishops and priests are fearful of Rome, formal in their relationships with one another, and priests are prescriptive in their relationship to the laity. Clergy feel no need to consult the laity in matters of liturgy, finances and policy. The boundaries between the Church and the world outside are strongly marked, as are the boundaries between faithful and unfaithful Catholics. In all these respects clericalism is a culture of control that privileges secrecy.

Like any culture, clericalism finds expression in a network of relationships. They are relationships of people with the material world: through distinctive everyday and liturgical dress, for example, distinctive church arrangements, and distinctive liturgical artefacts.

They are also relationships between people: both those between individuals and especially those mediated through institutions. The latter include forms of address, of remuneration, of formation of children and adults, of the disposition of space, of processes of involving people in decision making and governance, of customs, of imagining the history of parish, diocesan and national church.

The institutional relationships are particularly important because they are often simply taken for granted as necessary and inevitable. They shape what participants see and how they see it. They also create patterns of expectation of how clergy and laity will speak and behave to each, will express or conceal disagreement, respond to injustice, accept direction and view the outside world.

 

"An authoritarian and controlling network of relationships of this kind generates fear, timidity and a disengagement that can be rationalised as virtue."

 

In an undiluted clerical culture (which of course does not exist) all bishops will automatically follow Roman instructions and all priests will be formed to obey their bishops unthinkingly. They will also be a reliable channel for communicating to the laity instructions by the Pope and Roman officials about liturgy, dress and ethical issues. Priests and bishops will find advancement by being reliable and unquestioning and by resolutely defending the Church and its interests.

The laity will be formed to obey their authoritative parish priests and to be silent about concerns they may have with their behaviour. If they confront the clergy they will be seen as unreliable; if they leave the church their dereliction will be seen to have justified the clerical culture.

An authoritarian and controlling network of relationships of this kind generates fear, timidity and a disengagement that can be rationalised as virtue. For bishops, priests and laity to act in ways that conflict with the norms of their culture will require courage and perseverance.

In practice many Catholics, both clergy and laity, have not accepted these expectations. They question, they confront, they represent, they talk together, they disagree. Any network of relationships is mercifully full of holes and of disconnections. Even a strong clerical culture does not control everybody’s behaviour.

For that reason it is difficult to assess the precise part played by clericalism in criminal behaviour, including clerical sexual abuse, and its cover up in the Catholic Church. Many elements of complex relationships are involved. I am not persuaded that there is a strong causal correlation between the culture and offending. Some serial abusers seem to have been poster boys for this culture. Others seem to have strongly rejected it.

A stronger case can be made that clericalism enables such crimes as sexual abuse and theft to be covered up and for criminal actions to be repeated. Deference and timidity in the face of authority make it more likely that lay people will turn a blind eye to signs of criminal behaviour by priests or people employed by the church. The desire to protect the reputation of the church also makes it more likely that a bishop will place the reputation of the church above the welfare of people affected by crime, and so allow offenders to move from one parish to another where they can reoffend.

Regardless of whether clericalism can be proved to be causally linked to clerical crime, however, such a culture certainly shapes a network of stunted relationships that are deficient whether judged by human or Christian values. It will inevitably produce poor fruit.

 

 

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, clericalism, clergy sexual abuse

 

 

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Existing comments

Since ordained priests, as Andrew recognises, are not disembodied beings who live in a social vacuum, perhaps it would be timely and beneficial to identify the characteristics of a healthy priestly culture, and the roles of the laity in contributing to it.
John | 12 April 2018


Andrew, this is great. Much of the discussion we are daily confronted with emanates from a polarity-based need to justify one's own position of, generally, conservative vs liberal Catholic. This is why, for the most, people cannot truly discern what is indeed going on. I am now, after belonging to both sides, always very doubtful of anyone who proposes an 'either/or' presentation of clergy abuse. I am utterly convinced that it will not be properly dealt with until we adopt a 'both/and' approach. I have been fascinated by the 'it's not about bad apples' argument of the more liberal inclined, with the 'it's not about the Church's belief and structures' of the more conservative Catholics. I am convinced it is about BOTH, and one more element, the legal/magisterial element. If you study the mentality and histories of abusive clergy, it becomes very clear that they entered a clerical system WITH their problems (the bad apples/psychological...Diane Celenza 2009) and then the system (the apple barrel - sociological...Anson Shupe 1995) only tended to worsen those problems, especially when there is much sexual activity or knowledge thereof in clerical life, and this occurs within an overarching magisterium/Tradition/Canon Law (the barrel makers...Tapsell 2014, Provost 1992); think teachings/canon law on sexuality, celibacy/pontifical secret/brotherhood of clergy. ALL are highly relevant to understanding the problem.
Stephen de Weger | 12 April 2018


Thank you Andrew for ,to my mind , a very long article, the gist of which is important.Having experienced a lifetime of clericalism, meaning the power of priests and other religious it deserves a simple comment. Power over anyone is suspect, and the laity are those mostly affected by clericalism,namely the Parish priest.The main problem to me,is that we have forgotten the word "empower" , and the laity, perhaps, because of "power"and culture ,are unable to challenge the Priest. Somehow the laity need to listen to Pope Francis, and believe they are of equal value. The laity may need to search for the Popes words, as they are not likely to be embraced by many parishes. Clerical power may need to be curtailed, if the freedom, and benefits of the Spirit, are to be enjoyed in Parishes
Bernie | 12 April 2018


Thank you Andrew for your insightful reflection on clericalism. As one who serves in the clerical state I have over the course of my nearly thirty years have grown to dislike this word clericalism more and more. So much in fact I refrain from using the word in the liturgy. Instead I have grown accustomed to saying ... 'those called to teach, to minister, in serving the people of God'. I thank those who in times past were formators in seminary days. For the pastoral programs offered and accepted like Clinical Pastoral Formation, a hospital based pastoral program where you were opened to seeing possibilities and enrichment for ministry. I would like to think such programs for Church ministry are still considered valuable. Offering these and other pastoral programs might be a way forward to moving away from a 'clericalist' mindset, hopefully!
Peter Taylor | 12 April 2018


Andy, I am surprised that you are "not persuaded that there is a strong causal correlation between the culture and offending." Of course there are other factors, but I would suggest that the Royal Commission left no room for doubt as to the direct role played by clericalism in facilitating clerical child sexual abuse. Further, clericalism and the Church's associated unaccountable decision-making were clearly at the core of decisions by bishops, tolerated and encouraged by the Holy See, to cover up and protect paedophiles thus leaving them at large to abuse further children. It was the culture of clericalism that led bishops and religious superiors to attempt to avoid public scandal to protect the reputation of the Church and the status of the priesthood. The abuse of children was considered an acceptable price for the avoidance of scandal! There is no higher priority for the Church than the complete rejection of clericalism and the reform of governance by introducing basic systems of accountability, transparency and inclusion of all the faithful (particularly women).
Peter Johnstone | 12 April 2018


Thanks Andy for this article. We need dialogue among all groups in the church so that we might lead to a new culture of equality and an understanding of church as an inclusive community. I actually can't see much opportunity for this kind of dialogue at present. I guess the challenge for all of us is to create such opportunities. This article could provide the basis for a discussion in different forums.
Brigid Arthur | 12 April 2018


The church is necessarily apart from the prevailing culture. That doesn't denote superiority, rather the opposite. The church, clergy and laity, are there to serve. Not only each other, but 'others'. Last night I watched part of a TV program about Martin Luther King and one of the remarks about him which rang so true was "His words were simple". A clericalist culture puts so much store on things other than simplicity. Our truest relationships are those where the words and actions are simple. The misuse of power was the cause of the sexual abuse scandal within churches and power should never be a part of church culture.
Pam | 12 April 2018


This should be required reading for our bishops. This is the culture that currently exists in pure/undiluted form in my own parish, which is being slowly (?) and inexorably destroyed by a priest who comes from another cultural background and I believe genuinely '"knows not what he does". I agree wholeheartedly with John's initial point about a 'healthy priest culture' but am at a loss to identify how the laity can contribute to developing this if all opportunities to do so are closed. Voting with our feet is not a very constructive way forward (either for ourselves or our parish).But what else remains?
Margaret | 12 April 2018


Andrew shows true humility in acknowledging his neglect of the institutional aspects of clericalism in his earlier article. However, it still puzzles me that he sees no causal connection between clericalism and priestly child abuse. While undeniably there are other causes contributing to such offending, the pedestal status accorded to the clergy, and the sense of entitlement it produces in them, surely strips them of at least some of the inhibitions of their offending behaviour. I suggest that the trust placed in the clergy by child victims would be unequalled by the trust placed in members of any other profession. I suggest also that the understanding of the authority placed in them as confessors, as the Royal Commission heard, enabled them to entrap and unduly influence victims in their sexual behaviour. This sense of their authority in themselves as confessors surely encouraged a sense of entitlement to the loyalty and obedience of their victims, and also provided a basis for rationalising their behaviour as 'counselling' penitents. Catholic culture constructed confession on a policing model, the basis of which was the authority of the church embodied in the priest. The culture spared no pains in promoting and sustaining this model: when did we ever hear a sermon that did not remind us of the need of frequent confession in order to remain in the state of grace? The theology of sin and redemption, and the image of God promoted in this model form part of this pernicious culture designed to induce subjection of parishioners to priestly authority.
MICHAEL LEAHY | 12 April 2018


The miss use of power. Pam said and I agree. Sad, as we have had great clergy. Great article! Should be read out at masses !!!
Peter C | 12 April 2018


Thanks Andrew for a great article - but you still need to address the elephant in the room! How to change the clerical culture. Without a revolution. There is no way an all male clerical caste with power and authority who believe they are ontologically different (superior) from the rest of us are going to relinquish that power. Nowhere in the world has a power group voluntarily let go of their power! But just imagine if Francis declared all positions in our Church open to both male and female, or insisted all bishops sell their residences. moved into a 2 room unit or with their priests; and the proceeds used from the sales used to fund rehabilitation programmes for those affected by clergy abuse. Oh and the fund to be administered by woman drawn from all the Diocesan Parish Councils!
Steve | 12 April 2018


There was obviously a long time when the current hierarchical structure, based essentially on the parallel societal class structures that grew out of medieval feudalism, did work. But they no longer do really haven`t for a long time, as realised by Pope John 23rd . This now dysfunctional order has in fact become increasingly disastrous at least in more educated and democratic societies. In most of these countries the church is literally dying off, even in places like Ireland and Poland where it all seemed to be working until remarkably recently. There are likely many social secular factors involved in this implosion, but unless the Church can transform quickly into a responsive, loving, merciful, inclusive and collegial organisation , and rather more recognisably Christian, then there is no way it can possibly turn things round. As recognised by Francis. Otherwise, who will still be about to put the light out?
Eugene | 12 April 2018


Thanks Andy for an insightful article. I agree that clericalism may not be a strong causal factor in sexual abuse, but it certainly is in the cover ups. Some bishops were just bemused and ignorant about the nature of pedophilia, but most were concerned to protect the institution before protecting the victims. Clericalism will only change if we have a new theology of priesthood which requires a new (re-newed?) ecclesiology where ministry is primarily about service and accountability to the community. The current model of priesthood looks nothing like that of presbyters in the early church. The concept of ontological change needs to be ditched. You could see how the commissioners at the RC were bemused by the explanations given to them about this concept. In practice ontological change means that the ordained don't have to play by the same professional and relational parameters as every other person in church and in society. It's not just in the area of sexual abuse that this has an impact. Lay Catholics experience it as 'power over' in all aspects of church life, rather than 'power for and with'. Theology and canon law support the creation of this feudal understanding of clerical life for deacons, priests and bishops. We need a new theology of the ordained and canon law that reflects this understanding. There are many good priests and bishops. But if they work in an accountable and collaborative way, it's because they choose to. Not because it's inherent in their role. The laity are walking away in droves because they simply won't accept a 'grace and favour' model of church leadership when the rest of the world operates on a different leadership model.
Matteo | 12 April 2018


Even though we somewhat suffer from information overload we are these days the recipients of much helpful and awareness facilitating information. While information is not a guarantee of wisdom, wisdom hardly makes the grade without it. Thank you for extending some informative coverage of a complex yet often debilitative aspect of being Catholic. Not only has clericalism in its insidious way demeaned the spiritual ambiance of being a lay-catholic it has been a wasteful energy draining institutional farce perpetrated on the numerous clergy that have tried to eliminate it from their lives of pastoral service and care. The more we understand it for what it is the better off we will be as we travel the Catholic road ahead.
Fr. Paul Goodland | 12 April 2018


I agree with Anne O'brien's comments in her article about 'Governance and Culture' available on the Documents section of the Catholics for Renewal website: "Clericalism is a deviant culture of social elitism, entitlement and privilege which developed out of a particular theological understanding that, at ordination, a man’s very being is elevated to a level of existence superior to that of other human beings. The grades of hierarchical rank, status and power are integral to this distorted culture. Many priests, however, would probably reject these notions now. Clericalism, nonetheless, has had an extremely negative impact on Catholic life for centuries. Appalling misuses of clerical power, lack of accountability, shared responsibility and transparency have been felt at every level of Church life. It is widely believed that an over inflated understanding of priesthood along with a narrow, restricted theology of ministry has resulted in a sacramental famine in this country and abroad. Furthermore, occasional stories about clerical misuse of church funds and an over indulgent lifestyle have caused scandal. The culture of misogyny, which lies at the heart of Clericalism, is also seen as a causal factor in denying diaconal and priestly ordination to women as well as effectively shutting them out the highest levels of governance in the Church." The rapid decline of the Catholic Church will continue until the Church hierarchy adopt the principle of equality of all Catholics, including women.
Grant Allen | 12 April 2018


I quite enjoyed Andrew's previous article. I commented then that the emergence of clericalism in the Catholic church ought to be a particular study in a seminary course on the history of the Catholic church. I suggested Mutations of Western Christianity. A short essay on any kind of ism, from Atheism through to Zoroastrianism, is never easy to write. Much easier to personalise it along the lines Some of My Best Friends are Atheists or Zoroastrians I have Known. I am attracted to the easier way. My parish was blessed to have a parish priest eager to implement the recommendations of Vatican 2 Constitution on the Liturgy. For the Liturgy to be effective the faithful must be well disposed; know what they are doing; participate. The PP appointed me as facilitator for a discussion on the Eucharist. PP & I agreed our first session would be aimed at discerning what the parishioners already knew. Almost from my first testing question one or more participants would turn to PP sitting down the back of the group and ask: What's the answer Father? Even when a PP strives strenuously to devolve his power, his parishioners press him to exercise it.
Uncle Pat | 12 April 2018


This is a remarkable and thought-provoking piece. What is most striking is that it describes a culture common to many, possibly most, human institutions, not just the Catholic Church and probably has more to do with human nature than it has to do with the clergy. In the other institution which has shaped my life alongside Catholicism, the brotherhood of surgeons under the guidance of the College of Surgeons, the hierarchy defines practice and imposes rules, laws and ethics (the liturgy, the dress, the behaviour and morality of surgical practice). Without this "surgical clericalism", there would be a hell of a lot of dead people around. Maybe we should be a little cautious before we destroy clericalism in the Church or there will be a hell of lot more ex(dead)-Catholics around.
john frawley | 12 April 2018


A wise article and thanks to Andrew for it. I am left with the chicken-and-egg-question: does the clerical world view, with its implication of a "natural" hierarchical order (a place for everyone and every one in their place), follow from theology, or is it vice versa? The older I get, the more I puzzle as to how the sayings attributed to the Risen Christ abruptly become, by and large, didactic and prescriptive while most of the sayings of Jesus-in-Ministry ("love one another as I have loved you") are inclusive and accepting. To me, it is the former by which the Western Church's claim to magisterial and disciplinary primacy seems to be justified to the plebs. But the two putative Jesuses come across as mutually schizophrenic. "Our Way, of the highway (to Hell)" is the perceived message. Where, from the above, is the somatic and spiritual continuity that renders the Resurrection our ultimate hope, reflected and affirmed in the Church's frankly Mediaeval lord-and-serf disposition for humanity?
Fred Green | 12 April 2018


Andrew, thanks for the revamp. Let's consider this 2 para statement of yours for its import: "... it is difficult to assess the precise part played by clericalism in criminal behaviour, including clerical sexual abuse, and its cover up in the Catholic Church. Many elements of complex relationships are involved. I am not persuaded that there is a strong causal correlation between the culture and offending. Some serial abusers seem to have been poster boys for this culture. So Andrew, I am the only publicised victim of clerically "adult" (groomed a disabled teenager) abused (read targeted) victim in Australia, representing hundreds (possibly thousands of unknown) others, so does this make my perpetrator a "poster boy"?, that's certainly how he was presented to me at my local Church by the PP when I was 18, and how he presented himself to all and sundry, so Andrew, is that what you mean right? and maybe poster boys have to be exposed by their 'girls' and 'boys', who have to expose themselves to expose their "naughty boys" - so what does that make these victims Andrew? what does that make me? oh right a poster girl. what a horrid image for a victim that you use. "A stronger case can be made that clericalism enables such crimes as sexual abuse and theft to be covered up and for criminal actions to be repeated. Deference and timidity in the face of authority make it more likely that lay people will turn a blind eye to signs of criminal behaviour by priests or people employed by the church..." Now this para is more like it, and in particular, the acknowledgment "and for criminal actions to be repeated" so herein lies the inconsistency with your former para.
Dr Jennifer Herrick | 12 April 2018


Fr Andrew, how right you are: " . . such a culture certainly shapes a network of stunted relationships that are deficient whether judged by human or Christian values. It will inevitably produce poor fruit." Occasionally we meet mature clergy who have fallen-in-love with Jesus Christ and remain faithfully to our Lamb, humble and lowly of heart, and ever submitted to The Father/Mother who is Love and is Spirit. They are generally mocked by the majority of ambitious clerical and lay persons; sometimes called 'impractical dreamers'. For the 'practical' all that counts is 'getting the goods' - cash, property, numbers; and collecting their worldly rewards, like their name on a Church building. That's real success; that's true, concrete eternal life in their estimation! "Whatever it takes" is the 'practical' person's god. This inevitably involves hypocrisy, abuse, and even occultism; transparency never. Luke 6:39 has Jesus asking: "Can a blind man lead a blind man?" A diseased tree that produces bad fruit needs radical Christian ministry. I'm sure such ministry is self-effacingly present in the Church. The only question, then, is: "Are our spiritually-blind and diseased clericalists humble and hungry enough to seek for and submit to renewal in Christ Jesus?"
Dr Marty Rice | 12 April 2018


And, at the parish level, minutes of those present at meetings usually read 'Mary Robinson, Peter Brown, Fr. Kevin Smith'; rarely 'Mrs Mary Robinson Mr. Peter Brown, Fr. Kevin Smith' and perhaps very occasionally 'Mary Robinson, Peter Brown. Kevin Smith'. Next time I am asked to take the minutes will I dare to break with tradition?
Joanna Elliott | 12 April 2018


Thanks for your interpretation of my words, Peter C. Or should I say miss interpretation.
Pam | 12 April 2018


Thank you Fr Andrew for engaging us further with this vexed topic of clericalism. As all the commentary to date highlights it is both complex and elusive in nature and action. For these reasons it is deeply challenging to both respond to and engage in a cultural shift for the better. I think one of the best examples of a culture that people are wishing for in their parishes and church life is the culture that L'Arche communities practice and live by. Perhaps we could start there?
Mary Tehan | 12 April 2018


Thank you Andy ! Wonderful article ! Agree entirely.
Madeleine Fox | 12 April 2018


Another dimension to your valuable comments should be gleaned from Sr Ilia Delio's Global Sister's Report item (10/4/18) - 'A World without Gender' which I expect you've seen. And I'd draw your attention to ,say, just one sentence, 'While the church insists on a male clerical elite and a three-tiered universe (heaven hell, earth) technology is creating a new type of person hybridized with androgynous robots.' We have to dig deep to see what's wrong with the church - and the directions we must look to for renewal. While Jesus said 'I will be with all days.........' he surely could not have meant 'this church' and 'as it is at this time'.
Len Puglisi | 12 April 2018


"I am not persuaded that there is a strong causal correlation between the culture and offending." Maybe you are not persuaded, Andrew; but if abuse is an abuse of power there is the connection. Tibetan Buddhists recently has a problem with their leader to whom they had given too much power. And then there is Bill Clinton... What your article does not describe is the climate, the assumptions of the culture breathed in with every breath in a dependent culture. Dependent cultures are always dysfunctional. Group Dynamics 101. People give away their power to get something, look at how they treat doctors, or bank managers. I was fascinated by the number of responses to your article which were about sexual abuse which is a good example but not the nub of the matter and I apologize if that sounds callous. The other thing which struck me was the basis from which people comment. Many who could have helped with reform have left. They are still able to pray, benefit from the New Testament and behave decently. But as Rosmini asked in the 19th century how can those raised in such a culture redress it? Lay Catholics seem inordinately unwilling to take back power. But no one is going to give it to them. Perhaps more basic progress would be made by asking did Christ want a church? What kind of structure would genuinely support Christians to practice what they believe? And what is the difference between a cult and a healthy group? Much of what is said about clericalism seems just like the failures of cults. And how is Faith superior to superstition?
Michael D. Breen | 12 April 2018


The church upholds a tradition which was comprised by men who deliberate theologies over many centuries. The church does not accurately reflect the teachings of Jesus, especially in regard to the status of children (see Matthew 19:13-15). The incarnation of Jesus revealed the character of the Father's love, but where is love in this culture of clerics? It seems the all male culture reflects their own creation as ontological beings in a monarchy. Rather than upholding the Institution as a paradigm appointed by God and worthy of honor they should be serving Christ by adhering to His values. Not the thoughts and values devised by church officials who run the Commission for the Doctrine of Faith. The exclusion of eros and the feminine was never supported by Jesus when he taught his disciples about church.
Trish Martin | 12 April 2018


Thank you for your article, Andrew, and for the thoughtful responses that have been offered. I think that clericalism is upheld by two structures: hierarchy is one, as you have indicated, and patriarchy is the other. These are old wineskins that cannot contain the new wine of a church worthy of the Gospel. Christopher Fry's poem "A sleep of prisoners" holds an invitation for all to begin the journey of reconstruction.
Alex Nelson | 12 April 2018


John Frawley, your analogy to the work of a surgeon in explaining "clericalism" is exactly the perjorative understaning of "clericalism" I would imagine needs to be overcome rather than held up as a something to aspire to. Fixing someone's liver through surgey is not necessarily going to make someone less "livid"/angry, although many would argue there is a physical connection between the liver and angry emotions that lead to sin and violence. Matters of the soul which the cleric is fundamentally concerned with require more than simply an understanding of rules and laws. A surgeon is not required to have liver disease in order to treat it, but a cleric - one following the example of Jesus - is called to a life of suffering and sacrifice that can't simply be codified in some ethics rule book.
AURELIUS | 12 April 2018


The article makes no mention of the very close connection between law and culture. The culture of homophobia was never going to change in civil society until homosexuality was decriminalised in the civil law. The culture of clericalism is never going to change in the Church while canon law embodies it. There are some requirements of canon law that have a theological basis which some might argue cannot be changed – women priests for example. But many parts of canon law are dripping with clericalism, and they have no theological basis. The pontifical secret over child sexual abuse which in most cases prevents reporting it to the police does not apply to abuse by the laity, but it does apply to clergy. Canon law requires vicars general and judicial vicars to be priests, thus excluding both women and laymen. There are no theological reasons why purely administrative and judicial functions must be performed by priests. Changing canon law on these matters is not going to change the culture overnight. But failing to change them will ensure that that the culture remains, because law has the effect of reinforcing a culture, a point made by the Royal Commission.
Kieran Tapsell | 13 April 2018


Andrew, having known an offender that entered the brothers after secondary school, they, in all probability, enter with their ingrained orientation. In the past the religious orders have encouraged candidates with that proclivity to enter their orders. Having been taught by some offenders and after the washup of the RC, I now realise how they went about their activities. My cousin's life was ruined by a senior Catholic headmaster in Townsville after his father died. He promised my aunt fee relief and extra tuition for a 12 year old then proceeded to violate him for a 2 year period. It is simply a waste of time thinking that most men at least, can live celibate lives despite their best intentions when they may join the religious orders. And the cover up culture has been endemic. The hierarchical ranking system in the Church with its layers of status is largely to blame. The problem gets shoved upward, the offender gets moved around. Same sex schools with boarding facilities should admit female students. Teachers with a record of cruelty should be sacked. Not protected. The power symbolism, crucifixes, robes of the religious eliminated. Priests and religious allowed to marry. Parents more involved.
francis Armstrong | 13 April 2018


@ Peter Johnstone | 12 April 2018. Thank you, Peter, for saying what you did. My initial comment above left out what you have highlighted. Deviant clericalism which assists the perpetrator and denies the victim/survivor, destroys lives and renders God dead. Deviant clericalism is particularly guilty in how it influences how the Church has dealt with offenders when their offending was discovered. Furthermore, it is also so guilty regarding how victims/survivors who report have been responded to and are still being responded in the case of the abuse of adults. When the Church and clergy fail in even wanting to adhere to the most basic elements of Christianity, God ceases to exist, and the clergy and the Church do not deserve to exist or be followed. Deviant clericalism kills God/Love/the Body. And regardless of the appeal to sentimentality that the Church has changed, I know of too many real cases where this is so obviously not the reality. I thank God I have experienced deviant clericalists - they know who they are and while they almost ‘killed’ me and my wife, the experience made me/us grow up spiritually. However, I also thank God for the few understanding clergy who have helped me/us to not totally die – they also know who they are, I hope.
Stephen de Weger | 13 April 2018


Insofar as critics of clericalism fail to distinguish it from priesthood they lend weight to John Frawley's sobering warning about protestantizing the Catholic Church. While this might this pose no problem for advocates of an undiscerned "diversity", "reform" and "aggiornamento", it gives more than pause for those who respect history and properly constituted authority in the Church, both in structure and teaching.
John | 13 April 2018


Thank you for all the thoughtful comments on my article. In response to those who questioned what I said about the relationship between clericalism and clerical crime, I would like to offer clarification and a correction. I did argue that a compelling argument can be made that a clerical culture can encourage the cover-up of crime and hence continued repeat offending, but that I found the link between the committing of crime and clerical culture less evident. I would correct that by adding that people who may not otherwise have offended could be drawn to do so by the apparent impunity enjoyed by clerics. I remain unpersuaded that of itself a clerical culture makes it more likely that people will commit crimes, including sexual abuse of children. My experience is that there is no more or less reason to be concerned for children at the sight of a priest wearing a biretta over short back and sides, carrying and breviary and punctiliously observing every liturgical rule and looking to the Papacy for the resolution of every dispute than by the sight of priest in a ponytail and back to front cap over a Hawaian shirt, who says, 'Call me Jack' is liturgically sloppy and is critical of church authority, or of anyone in between. The risk of criminal behaviour, including sexual abuse, from people of every stripe will persist even if clericalism disappears. To sharpen the point, if we are to trust the accounts of survivors, an Indigenous child taken from his parents and placed in a clerical mission school would have had no reason to rejoice if transferred into a secular government institution. A culture does not have to be clerical to be bad. How to turn around a bad culture? The medieval Catholic response was reform of head and members. How quick and easy is that? Ask the banks. How can it be begun? Keep insisting on it.
Andy Hamilton | 13 April 2018


Andy, I agree with your view " . . . the risk of criminal behaviour . . . will persist, even if clericalism disappears", though I do think its instances are likely to decrease if the "deviant" dimension of clericalist culture, as Stephen de Weger calls it, is eliminated. The basis of my agreement is the experience and doctrine if original sin, and the need of all people for Christ's liberating grace from everything that enslaves and disorients us from what we are called to be as God's handiwork and reflections.
John | 13 April 2018


The analogy I used, Aurelius, was meant to convey that "clericalism" is not peculiar to the systems employed by clergymen nor related to their status as clergymen. It is simply a word chosen to describe those structures wherein clergymen exert their influence. "Surgicalism" would be the appropriate corresponding word for those same relationships within surgery. The College of surgeons over the last few years has had to implement wide-ranging changes in culture to address discrimination on numerous grounds (including religion), bullying and sexual harassment of younger trainee surgeons, both men and women, by more senior surgeons deluded by a sense of superiority or nebulous power obvious only to themselves. (Sounds like some of the clergy, Aurelius!!). This is flawed humanity, not related in any way to the systems or occupations involved. We could also have "retailism", "unionism" or any other "ism" that involved institutionalisation and they would all be the same as "clericalism" - weasel words. On another less serious note, Aurelius, surgeons can't alter personality traits like lividity or sheer gall by removing bits of liver or the gall bladder. Such associations of disease, with characteristics attributed to body parts, died with the enlightenment of Pope Sixtus IV in the late 1400s although still exist in some primitive Eastern systems of medicine notably of the Chinese variety.
john frawley | 13 April 2018


Andrew, you say "A culture does not have to be clerical to be bad.". No one would argue against this. But it is false logic I believe, to use this to argue that it is not clericalism that makes the Catholic Culture Bad.
Dr Jennifer Anne Herrick | 13 April 2018


Dear Dr John Frawley, I'm impressed by a level of emotion in your posts, stemming from your distinguished professional experiences. However, that does not obscure your 'category confusion' in this matter. The clericalism that Fr Andrew and most of us commentators are concerned about is the malign impact of the non-Christian, non-transparent, non-accountable, dishonest, devious, exploitative, self-serving, collusive, abusive, corrupt, and criminal desecrations meted-out by 'holy' clergy to those they are dedicated to whole-heartedly deliver, heal, teach and serve. I'm sure you'd agree clergy maleficence is orders of magnitude more serious than liberalisation adjustments within the community of surgeons that you allude to. Honestly, the issues you refer to are a mere pimple compared to the massive, dispersed cancer our Church has to remove and still hope to continue to live. All the best from Marty.
Dr Marty Rice | 13 April 2018


Clericalism per se is not the overall problem as corruption as is everywhere not just within the clerical system. . The problem is sin, as in, lack of integrity manifest by the leadership, within the church. In life all of us encounter evil with its different faces, we do not always act with integrity as we are impaired through our own weakness and sinfulness, we turn a blind eye, we justify what we have done or didn’t do, we hide (run away) from the Truth, all of mankind does this. When we first truly commit ourselves to the light of Christ, we start on an inner journey of discovery. We are continually put to the test, as we have to confront our own sinfulness and frailty by looking at ourselves honestly. We often fall as we follow our master home. As more is asked of us, integrity, virtue (like a lamp) in time should become manifest, as honesty (Openness) leads to humility (Holiness) the one and only place where the Holy Spirit can reside. So should we the Laity expect a spiritual/holy Priesthood? Is the leadership of the church capable of looking at its self honestly and in doing so lead in humility, encompassed by the Holy Spirit? If the answer is yes, is an act of humility too much to ask?......To truly connect with others we need to tell/show our vulnerability/humility, for when we do so, it confers authenticity, a place from where we all can truly share the communal meal. The true Divine Mercy image, one of Broken Man, permits all of us to approach His table wearing the wedding garment of humility (See the link below). To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart, in truth to each other before our Father in heaven, and in so doing so create Unity of Purpose. Please consider continuing via the link http://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2017/10/15-october-28th-sunday-in-ot/#comment-91945
Kevin Walters | 13 April 2018


Thank you for your identification of a Catholic world view in which the church is a self-sufficient world. This has struck me forcefully since moving to a small town parish in eastern Ontario a year ago. One example says it all: there were two refugee welcome committees. One was the RC parish, and the other was the Anglican, Presbyterian, United, and entire town and county. The RC group has closed down after one successful resettlement. The Community Alliance for Refugee Resettlement is awaiting two more families after helping two and some single men. There are some joint ventures, but they are outside the mainstream of Catholic activity which is inwardly focused on itself and its spiritual life. I take my lead from Marion Dewar, of St Basils church and mayor of Ottawa, who led the effort to bring 5000 boat people to the city and who always cared both for individuals and her community.
Marianne | 14 April 2018


Yes, Dr Jennifer Herrick, being abused by a 'poster boy', the 'golden boy' of a community (see page 115 of "Sexual behavior by male clergy with adult female counselees" by Gordon L. Benson), is as disturbing a concept/reality as believing it is useful for clergy, especially psycho-sexually immature ones, to go out and 'experiment', 'fall in ?love?' in order to grow up. What does that make the other adult/s? A human/clerical resource? This is where clericalism causes dissociation from reality - it cannot see that this so called noble quest TO celibacy is the systemic contradiction that it is. Their life choice is far more important than those they have sex with on their journey to perfect celibacy. And then there are those clergy/clericalists who think celibacy has a whole range of meanings and expressions including sexual activity (see Chap. 3, Louis Bordisso, "Sex, Celibacy and Priesthood"). Further, there are those clergy who believe even that having sex with their spiritual directees can even be a spiritual experience, (see my study here - https://eprints.qut.edu.au/96038/ - and search for the cases particularly of 'Edith', ‘Tanya’, and ‘Sarah’) and that somehow sex was an expression of God’s love and sanctioned by God, because the cleric said so. Nah, this has got to stop.
Stephen de Weger | 14 April 2018


It took a Royal Commission to expose child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church within the culture described in the article. The perception that a priest is somehow Godlike ( special powers) was at the heart of my being disarmed, along with an already predisposition to being a vulnerable person. I commend you Stephen for your action (catholicmetoo.com). Maybe coming together on a program like "Insight" to discuss this area of abuse would help to expose it and a culture that has been the cause of so much distress, and seems to continue to be very quiet about it. Just a thought.
Anne | 14 April 2018


Good morning Dr Marty Rice. I agree with your take on the sexual abuse scandal expressed through 11 indisputably apt adjectives. I would call what you describe here "malignant clericalism" as opposed to "benign clericalism". I simply caution that in obliterating the malignant variety we should not at the same time obliterate or kill off the benign variety which has none of the features of the malignant and much good to offer to the health of the whole [Church]. Another insular analogy!!!!
john frawley | 14 April 2018


A pertinent 1963 quote from Yves Congar, one of the most important Catholic theologians of the 20th century: “We are still a long way from reaping the consequences of the rediscovery, which we have all made in principle, of the fact that the whole Church is a single people of God and that she is made up of the faithful as well as the clergy. We have an idea we feel implicity and, without admitting it, unconsciously that the Church is the clergy and that the faithful are only our clients and beneficiaries. This terrible concept has been built into so many of our structures and habits that it seems to be taken for granted and beyond change. It is a betrayal of the truth. A great deal still remains to be done to declericalize our conceptions of the Church (withoug jeopardizing her hierarchical structures), and to put the clergy back where they belong, in the place of member-servants.” (Power and Poverty in the Church. The Renewal and Understanding of Service (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2016 (1963), p.139)
Peter Johnstone | 14 April 2018


I agree with john to a limited degree that we are failing to distinguish between priesthood and clericalism - because it seems to me we are paying too much respect to this 'clerical power' in the same way as someone would trust a deviant uncle with peadophile tendencies to look after a niece or nephew without supervision. The misuse of power is simply the grave breach of familial trust. And a breach that no one would suspect an uncle would be capable of. The deviate cleric is simply an opprtunist with no conscience in this same way. Nothing to do with his role as uncle or priest.
aurelius | 14 April 2018


What is wrong with the idea of accepting responsibility for doing ones job properly? A Bishop is in a position of responsibility. Bishops have encouraged parents to send their children to a Catholic school so that they can be led to God. Parents have accepted their responsibilities, so why can’t the bishops do likewise, just as a store manager is responsible for how his staff treat his customers. It is necessary for a secular government to tell the church how to behave itself, when it should be the other way around.
Jenny O'Rourke | 15 April 2018


John Feawley, your comparison between the practices of the College of Surgeons and the Catholic Church are rather nebulous. In the College of Surgeons, the hierarchy don't impose all the rules, laws and ethics (the liturgy, the dress, the behaviour and morality of surgical practice). A lot of them come from and are imposed by outside bodies. This is true of a lot of the research which informs the best current surgical practice. (That's also called Evidence-Based Medicine, still resisted by some within the profession, and not necesarily the old guard, either). University medical schools train medical students, not the various specialty colleges. A more accurate comparison would be if the Church had free-lance theologians informing the Magisterium, and candidates for the priesthood attending university theological colleges instead of Catholic seminaries (which in fact should be a mandated reform for the Church). Consider: if surgery was still in the 16th Century (as the Catholic Church still is), then we would have surgeons operating on or dissecting someone with a highly infectious disease, then immediately moving on to the maternity ward to deliver babies, without washing their hands in between! No wonder there were so many deaths from Puerperal Fever even up to the early 19th Century! Time for the Church to leave the 16th Century and catch up with the present attitudes of the College of Surgeons, eh, John?
Bruce Stafford | 15 April 2018


About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they're just one thing. Joan of Arc. Makes you think. Doesn't it?
AO | 15 April 2018


In all of this discussion, on Clericalism, it must not be forgotten, that so many of our Shepherds gave themselves, in sincerity of heart to serve the church and God. As a child in the fifties I would usually spend my summer holidays in Limerick, Ireland, as my bed in Leeds was needed by one of my Uncles, so that he could spend the summer months working in England. On one occasion, I was with a relative queuing outside a butcher shop, close to the centre of Limerick, when a young priest joined the queue, I could not help noticing how clean and well turned out (nourished) he was, in comparison to the rest of us. The butcher came out of the shop and in a loud voice proclaimed “It is not right that a man of the cloth should have to wait in a queue; come forth and take the first place” (Words to that effect) the smiling young priest went forward and for his troubles also received some extra free meat (Lamb). There were murmurings within the queue from some of the women; to the effect of “I have twelve hungry children at home waiting to be feed, another....1 of 2
Kevin Walters | 16 April 2018


Continued 2 of 2. “I will be lucky if I can afford a few bones” etc. As the young priest left the shop, full of hope with a kind smiling face, someone quipped, “Our next bishop” this was accompanied by sniggers, he was oblivious of what he had just done. In oblivion, our young priest had taken his first step into venality, in spiritual ignorance, his pride had taken advantage of his spiritual position and unaware he had bought into the privileged classes of power and authority and in so doing he may have begun a journey of trampling on those he was meant to serve. The butcher, businessman (Man of the world) was fully aware of what he had brought about and this scenario (corruption), under different disguises, is still been re-enacted today, not just in Ireland but throughout the Western World, as our emptying churches can testify. As our young priest walks away, full of hope and expectation, to begin his priestly journey through life, we can reflect on what he had to contend with. Please consider continuing in the link Posts 3+5 http://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2013/10/st-mark-has-a-message-for-people-on-the-margins/
Kevin Walters | 16 April 2018


Clericalism is not just a Catholic problem tho I have seen examples of it having come from a family of Catholic Irish father and a Scottish mother. They had 11 children. Most of them did not stay Catholic.
Noeline Champion | 16 April 2018


Interesting comment, Bruce Stafford, but perhaps a little shaky as an analogy as you have detected some shakiness in mine. University medical schools do indeed train medical students. They do not, however, train surgeons. That is the domain of surgeons teaching medical postgraduates under the direction of the College of surgeons. Your analogy of the evidence based medicine that Ignaz Semmelweiss provided in the elimination of puerperal fever in childbirth in Vienna (1850s) would need to be matched by similar evidence based revelation through scripture, tradition or Spirit-inspired Apostolic teaching rather than opinion before change was implemented in the Church's teaching or practice. Maybe the Magisterium through its many expert advisors and scholars in all fields of human endeavour fails to find sufficient or significant evidence based need to implement some of the changes demanded by the opinion of some modern day progressives.
john frawley | 16 April 2018


“But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." As for the pope, so for the clergy, the teaching arms of the pope, to turn back from a fall in grace in order to return to its calling of strengthening the faithful. This, of course, means that the laity cannot have the last word in setting doctrine as they are the ones to be strengthened. The current calls for reform is noise about process, about women participation, about lay voices on diocesan pastoral councils and so forth. But what is the substance that lies at the destination of the desired process? That through the democratic myth that one conscience is as valid as another, the laity, even while sifted by the world, the flesh and the devil, will have the last word in remaking doctrine. In chess, the validity of a step is authenticated by the fate of the game because a match can be lost in the earliest moves. In Orwell’s Animal Farm and present-day South Africa, yesterday’s sentimental favourites become tomorrow’s oppressors. The early moves by today’s church sentimental favourites lead to doctrinal innovation.
Roy Chen Yee | 16 April 2018


John Frawley, you state that what is needed is "evidence based revelation through scripture, tradition or Spirit-inspired Apostolic teaching rather than opinion before change was implemented in the Church's teaching or practice". Yet the Royal Commission has provided evidence in spades of why certain practices within the Church should be changed. The Royal Commission however is not part of "scripture, tradition or Spirit-inspired Apostolic teaching". I go along though with not changing things based on just popular opinion.
Bruce Stafford | 16 April 2018


If a cleric can abuse me, and then a bishop refuse me, where is God? Furthermore, 'Church' as 'magisterium' then loses its ability to be trusted as 'divine' and crippling existential dread replaces loving, hopeful faith...that is, until we have a new meaning for the Divine/God/the Church....that God is Love, a verb. Where there is no Love/God, be/do Love/God and you will find Love/God (John of the Cross). The opposite is also true. The abusing cleric, and the refusing bishop and their 'magisterium' are all example of the suppression of Love's/God's existence. From this we flee, or against this we rebel, or to these we call to repent, and rightly so. The helping cleric, the embracing bishop, are all examples of Love/God being God in them. To these and their 'magisterium' we are supportive and attentive, and rightly so. The 'poor examples of cleric, bishop and' law' you will have always with you, and as such, you will always have; 2000 years of Church history tells us this. With you then is also the need to be aware of these types of ‘poor,' and to the need to deal with them.
Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 17 April 2018


Bruce and Stephen. I interpret what you are both saying is that we [Church, or what was called the Body of Christ before Vatican II] have an obligation to change the flawed human-made in the Church. I agree completely with that but think the lines between human-made and Christ- made are sometimes very blurred and difficult to define. Such blurring, for example, is found in the teaching on contraception derived at a time when the science was not clearly defined and the process of conception had not been illuminated by the electron microscope some 10 years after Paul VI's extensive and highly informed review in Humanae Vitae. I believe that teaching needs to be re-examined and perhaps the enlightenment that should come from an understanding of the science should alter the existing teaching. I am an ignoramus when it comes to canon law but suspect some of that might also need revising in the light of modern day revelation of its relevance to current society.
john frawley | 17 April 2018


john frawley: I also know little of cannon law, but I believe that the basis for Humanae Vitae (HV) is found within the Gospels, ‘But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother (continuing the creative process) and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh”. (The Truth of this statement can be seen in any offspring they may be blessed with) And this visual Truth, defines marriage as “(been open to the Creative process)" sexual union, “So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” Are we taught the right use of our own sexuality In Humanae Vitae, does the priesthood point us beyond themselves and ourselves to a horizon way beyond mere sexuality in serving the Truth, Jesus Christ, who’s teachings with the guidance of the Holy Spirit lifts (Leads) our consciousness to bear witness to our original makers gift of life, given by God through the action of our parents, refusing to fully partake in His creation by deliberately denying another the opportunity of life, is sinful, and this is known innately by mankind. I have made this statement on many sites, directed at both sexes.. “I wonder if anyone who reads this has the honesty and courage to serve the Truth by acknowledging that at some time in their life they have felt the natural inclination of a tinge of sadness or/and been aware that they have participated in the possible loss of a new life through an act of using a method of contraception”... No one ever responds I wonder why. kevin your brother In Christ
Kevin Walters | 18 April 2018


@ Kevin Walters | 18 April 2018. Kevin, I am really 'enjoying', as in getting a great deal from your comments. Thank you for your approach to many issues: It is full of wisdom. I wrote an article for Eureka Street titled 'Why is sexual abuse, abusive? Two interesting approaches to sex', which unfortunately was not accepted. It dealt with two approaches to sex, one propounded by a feminist anthropologist professor (Gayle S. Rubin) titled “Thinking Sex: Notes for a radical theory of the politics of sexuality”, and another by a Professor of Christian Ethics (Karen Lebacqz) titled “Appropriate Vulnerability: A sexual ethic for singles”. Rubin’s radical approach was useful, but I loved Lebacqz' understanding - it was human and realistic. Her somewhat liberal approach was that sexual activity was wrong/damaging when it ignored human vulnerability. Also, when you relate this topic now to an article which appeared on "America - the Jesuit Review" titled '#MeToo shows the dangers of 'end-less' sex. 'Humanae Vitae' shows the way forward', it becomes obvious that people want to talk intelligently about sex without instant reactions from agendaed positions. Angela Franks made a great deal of conservative sense. Put the three PsOV together and we have the makings of a brilliant debate. Thank you for your contribution.
Stephen de Weger | 19 April 2018


Thank you Stephen, for the generous comment, made in your last post on the 19th. From my perspective any new article that incorporates subject matter relating to Humanae Vitae would be beneficial, because the teaching within HV has sapped the churches moral authority, while breaking the spirit of so many good (Honest) men and women, who have left the church, over the last fifty years. kevin your brother In Christ.
Kevin Walters | 20 April 2018


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