|This is NOT clericalism!|
Fr. John Hardon defines clericalism in his Catholic dictionary as:
The advocacy of exaggerated claims on the part of the clergy, especially in matters that belong to the jurisdiction of the state. More commonly it is used as a term of reproach by secularists and unfriendly critics of the Catholic Church who aim to banish all religious influence from public life.
Yup! Clericalism is a tool in the hands of both dissenting Catholics and Catholic baiters.
Other sources define clericalism as the idea that the clergy are morally superior, have jurisdiction over all matters both religious and secular, and must be deferred to at all times. The role of the laity, as the saying goes, is simply to "pay, pray, and obey!"
Clericalism is a distortion of the role of the priesthood. St. John Newman recognized its existence when he recommended that bishops consult the laity about things with which they have expertise, like schools. He was roundly criticized by one of his confreres, Msgr. George Talbot, who wrote to Archbishop Henry Manning with this arrogant dismissal of the laity's role in the Church:
What is the province of the laity? To hunt, to shoot, to entertain? These matters they understand, but to meddle with ecclesiastical matters they have no right at all, and this affair of Newman is a matter purely ecclesiastical…. Dr. Newman is the most dangerous man in England, and you will see that he will make use of the laity against your Grace.
Sad to say, that attitude continues and is often reflected in the distrust with which the laity are treated. Meanwhile, we have a never-ending litany of nonsense coming from, not only the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) who seem to think they are experts in just about everything, but from the Vatican. Wouldn't it be refreshing if all the hierarchy followed Newman's advice. We would see fewer documents on policy relating to fossil fuels, the environment, uranium mining, immigration, and other prudential matters about which people can disagree. They would focus on the intrinsic moral evils and the moral issues underpinning social issues without recommending specific policies.
To see clericalism on steroids, one has only to examine the recent motu proprio of Pope Francis, Traditionis Custodes, and the Responsa ad Dubia controlling and limiting the Latin Mass. These documents are icons to clericalism. They and other papal documents and pronouncements from the Francis era send the message that the pope and curia own the faith and can do with it what they wish. They can define it, distort it, mold it, shape it no matter how much their modernist interpretations depart from thousands of years of Catholic doctrine and Sacred Tradition. Vatican curia can make up the faith, create new doctrine, and can arbitrarily trample the rights of the faithful.
So much of what we've seen in recent years illustrates what Dr. Peter Kwasniewski calls "hyperepiscopal authoritarianism." He used the term in describing the actions of bishops demanding the laity receive Communion on the hand during the COVID crisis, which clearly violates their rights, but it equally applies to other Vatican abuses.
Yes, indeed, clericalism is alive, but it has nothing to do with honoring the role of the priest as persona Christi. It has nothing to do with the rubrics of the Latin Mass where the servers kiss the hand of the priest or incense him before he proclaims the gospel or assist him in donning the liturgical vestments. Priests are different! Recognizing that is not clericalism.
By virtue of their ordination they are singularly marked to shepherd the flock, to bring them the bread of life and to forgive their sins in the place of Jesus Christ. Ordination doesn't make them experts on scientific issues or medicine, or animal husbandry, although many in the past were as history shows. But it does make them spiritual fathers who deserve respect and gratitude for doing what no layman can do -- bring Christ down upon the altar under the disguise of bread and wine to feed us with His Body and Blood.
The laity has a major role as well -- to bring God out into the market place, to witness by our lives that He is real, that in Him we live, and move, and have our being. And because He is real and lives in us and we love Him, we serve our neighbor by the use of our talents whatever they happen to be.
Let us honor our priests for the important role they have as priest. And let us abandon the modernist view that to avoid clericalism we have to usurp the role of the priest and demand a place in the sanctuary.
May Jesus Christ, our High Priest, have mercy on us and grant us wisdom.