On this his birthday, our Holy Father Pope Francis chose to preach on a subject that is most important in a church that seeks to evangelize the world with its witness to what is true, good and beautiful. In this article, the Pope expresses the truth that prophets can never be clerical. A prophet is one who proclaims a truth that is not always easy to see, but must be proclaimed in order to bring about the greatest good for all of humanity. An example would be the prophetic words of an equitable and sustainable economic system. Neither unbridled capitalism nor godless socialism have proven to be the best systems for the advancement of the common good, so the Pope prophetically asks the world to be aware of the poorest of the poor in how it approaches economic goods.
But what is clericalism? In the Church today, clericalism is simply the disordered idea that by virtue of ones office, all proclamations made by the perceived or actual authority must be followed regardless of contrary evidence or differing opinions. Clerics are not the only ones who are clerical. College professors, bosses, lay ministers, journalists, politicians, etc. can all lay claim to clericalism, which finds its roots in false or misused authority by the clerical class. This is a most unfortunate reality, as the clerics claim to know and fully understand God’s word and desire for human flourishing. Clerics have dropped the ball on this time and again.
Possibly the best example from my life that explains clericalism is the story of my great uncle. He was a highly educated and intelligent man who, according to his children, wanted to believe. He came from a strong Irish Catholic background. When Uncle Thomas met with his local parish priest many decades ago, he mentioned to him some of the books he was reading and told the priest that he was questioning his faith. Instead of listening to uncle Tom’s concern and his story, all the priest did was tell him that it was a sin to read those books. That’s it. Case closed. Uncle Tom left the Church, never to return, yet never being hostile to those of faith.
This sort of clericalism is what the Pope is trying to rid the Church of once and for all. A priest is a proclaimer of the Word of God, a minister of the sacraments and a man on fire with the Holy Spirit! Any priest who relies on the authority of a legal status (i.e. the Index of Prohibited Books – Index Librorum Prohibitorum) has lost the argument. Certainly the Church has the authority to say certain books do not teach the revealed truth of God or are dangerous to the faith and/or morals of a person, but that is a side-note to the real question at hand: What is troubling you about the faith? Lets talk about that!
We are told to be prepared to give a reason for our hope in Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:15). Clericalism has no place in this reality. Our authoritative proclamations as priests or religious hold no weight in world that is highly educated and torn apart by the scandals of many religious people across many stripes of Christianity and other religions. We are sinners. When we are not afraid to make that reality known to the people we seek to serve, our voices will be more readily accepted. It must be voice of love and authentic humility that does not rely on the authority we have been given as priests and religious, but on the authority of the God who humble himself to become one of us. An innocent baby in a manger. The God we worship did not come in a spirit of worldly power and authority, but in innocence and humbleness. May all who follow Him as priests, brothers and sisters in religious life witness to this wonderful truth of our saving God and may scourge of clericalism come to an end, never to find a home in our Church again!