Declericalising Priesthood

We have been told that clericalism is an evil we have to avoid. When clericalism reigns priesthood dies. Priest is a religious term while clergy is a sociological term. When we identify the term clergy with the term priest we are at the threshold of clericalism. Such identification leads to the naturalization of the thinking that priestly activity is the prerogative of those that are socially recognized by their ordination. This means priestly activity is then regarded as the preserve of the ordained. This mode of thinking reduces our lay faithful to passive recipients of the holy actions of the ordained taking away the dignity that should have been rightly theirs by virtue of the sacrament of Baptism. This means we enter the culture of clericalism by clergifying priesthood. We, therefore, have the challenge to open our minds and faith to the fact that there are other priests other than the ordained. This means we are challenged to debunk our habitual thinking that a priest is always a clergy and clergy is always an ordained priest.

Who is a clergy? In his book, Clericalism, the death of priesthood, George B. Wilson indicates that the term clergy to our surprise includes professional groups like lawyers, physicians, academics, military officers and priests. This also suggests that layperson is not simply a religious term. It is in opposition to the expert or specialist that layperson gets its designation and meaning. This also indicates that society offers different ways of accessing power based on the competence and knowledge of respective persons. Those that have competence and knowledge are given status and offered privileges in a particular society. This is how it is thought that society organizes itself for the common good of everyone.

We can also find a commonality between the words clergy, clerical, clerk and clericalism. They all come from the Greek root Kleros. Kleros has no intrinsic relation to religion or the holy. Oxford English Dictionary points out that Kleros was an allotment, a piece of land, an estate, a heritage. New Encyclopedia Britannica also shows Kleros as a share, an inheritance. Thus, the root of the term clergy has something to do with people with inheritance. This shows that Kleros already in some way differentiates the undifferentiated members of society. We have noted that clergy and laity are oppositional terms. Hence, they must have evolved together. Clergy, therefore, becomes a bridge by which a person belongs to a group. This sense of belonging to an elite group empowers the person by giving the person public standing in society. This means the person feels validated in society. Special titles that are used to address such persons continue to legitimate the status of the person.

The question is what happens when we clergify priesthood? Here we have to note that clergification of the priesthood cannot happen without the association of the laity. It becomes a culture when the clergified priest thinks that he deserves the privilege that he has and the laity thinks that it is duty-bound to give honour and respect to the clergy. This traps the clergy to focus on building an image of oneself. Protecting the image then becomes paramount. This in turn leads one to operate from status, position and training which often makes the cleric lose touch with reality and the people that he serves. The cleric blinded by his privileged status thinks that he knows everything that is important in the life of laity and lay people simply have to follow his dictates. This shows that clergification converts priesthood into a power role and forgets that it is shepherding care. This is why we have to once again priestify the clergified priesthood. To do this we have christify and work to affirm the dignity and vocation of the lay people in the Church.

Pope Francis, teaches that clericalism is a perversion and rigidity is often its manifestation. This is why he calls the priest to expand the boundaries of their heart. The holy Father says clericalism grows when priests seek comfort rather than people. Pope Francis has denounced such priestly life and even described such priests as little demons. The holy Father exhortated the priests to soil themselves with the smell of the sheep. The Pope says that clericalism is at the heart of all abuse of power and authority. The challenge is to give up the wrappings as well as trappings of clericalism. It is only then we can priestify priesthood.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao