Friday, March 30, 2012


The daily topic of "serious" seminarians as they walked home from their classes.  It was also a hot topic discussed by bishops reporting for duty to the opening of the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican.  The bishops were walking into the well fortified backyard of one, His Eminence Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, Secretary of the Holy Office, now officially known as the  Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.
When I opened my online copy of the NCR this morning I saw the headline of the lead story by John Allen, renowned American Vaticanologist, as follows:  Benedict's gentle debunk of clericalism.
As it turns out Benedict XVI was one of those who, it was said, was a champion of the anti-clericalism faction of bishops and cardinals.  In the parlance of the day, there were the clerical-fascists, the clerical imperialists and maybe even more epithets than that to describe the various political positions of the incoming Council Fathers.  It was great sport for the seminarians to discuss the possibilities of what the downfall of clericalism could bring about.  Every day we looked for quotes from the likes of Ratzinger (he was still only 35 years old), Suenens, Bea, Alfrink, Schillebeeckx and Lustiger.  We were rarely disappointed.  We didn't really know where all this was going, but we were storming heaven with prayers to the Holy Spirit that there would come an end to the "pray, pay and obey" Church.  Well, it didn't work as well as we all hoped.  It takes a long time to change a culture.  
One of main reasons for the slow change, I think, is that a priest spends anywhere from eight to twelve years in formative preparation for the life of ministry.  During those twelve years, a man develops an attitude about his worth to the mission of Jesus.  He knows that no one else in the pews has its equivalent.  Most are people of good faith, but not of faith and  development in a method of formation practiced for centuries.  Not very many lay people have twelve years of intense spiritual and intellectual formation in the discipleship of Jesus.  So naturally, the clergy know that they have a decided advantage over the laity in the area of theology, spirituality, Church life, etc.  Lay people are also aware that they have not achieved the level of personal formation, spirituality and theology that the priests have.  So they are not too uncomfortable in holding their position as good followers.   This basic disconnect between the two has led to the separation that exists between clergy and laity.  There's more, of course, but this is the start, I think. 
Therefore, Benedict XVI can chide gently about clericalism because he knows where he is coming from.  There are many who do not have the experience of the early Vatican II attitudes that were brought there by the bishops and cardinals.  It is because the seed of the thought fell into the ground fifty years ago, before many of today's faithful were a) born, and b) old enough to appreciate what was happening. Don't think that clericalism is going away any day soon.  
I do invite you, in conclusion, to stand your ground and make your contribution to the cause of its diminution.  Make your positions known, intellectual, spiritual, educational, material and fiscal.  Make things happen.  Remember, "It's easier to beg pardon than to ask permission."