Ending High Clericalism
Today millions of Catholics have dismissed a Neanderthal, corrupt institutional church,
not only because of its past or present sins,
but because, after all, it is an institution, and no one trusts institutions these days,
and what really counts, for me anyway,
In not trusting authority,
I strive not to subvert the prophetic or critical intellectual function,
keeping institution, intellect, and the mystical balanced and in harmony.
The institutional dimension of spirituality
should be where our Quest is formalized, structured, made concrete, rendered visible.
We call it religion, the organized part of the quest.
That is the arena of sacred texts, founding narratives, tradition, ongoing stories, rituals, rites, and the patterns of authority that preserve them
and mediate and facilitate our communion with the sacred.
The intellectual dimension of spirituality
is the formulation of systems of thought, development, and reflection.
This includes how to communicate the sacred to others, dialogue,
and how to critique myself when I am untrue to it.
The mystical dimension of spirituality,
is the actual experience of the sacred.
True spirituality for me results in the balance of three essential elements:
religion (organized to preserve the tradition),
the intellectual (to proclaim, communicate, dialogue, and critique),
and the mystical (the actual experience of the sacred).
I think all three are necessary and all three must be kept in balance.
There will always be tension among the three.
Indeed, lack of tension is an indication of sickness.
That would mean that one had suppressed the others.
That is exactly what has happened and is happening.
Institutional Church has not been attentive to the intellectual and mystical elements.
When it isn't, it becomes authoritarian, self-serving, out of touch,
insensitive to the mystical and intellectual elements,
in a word bureaucratic.
And this is what we have today.
The scandal of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests
highlights the clerical culture as the root cause of what went terribly wrong.
Bishop after bishop throughout the world
moved abusing priests from one assignment to another.
Each story manifested its own particular combination
of ignorance, naivety, and less than admirable motivations
such as fear and self-interest.
But when the same kind of behaviors
show up in so many individuals in so many different settings
within the same organization,
we naturally look for common causative factors.
According to the prevailing assessment,
the reality that links this tragic story together is a shared bundle of elements,
which add up to a clerical culture.
This culture has developed in the Institutional church over centuries.
As a member of the Church,
I share responsibility for creating and maintaining a clerical culture
and thus also for what is required to transform, or reform, that culture.
I can readily understand the bishops’ role in the sexual abuse crisis;
Many of them went to junior seminaries at as young an age as 12
and were immersed in this age old culture of clericalism.
It was and is actually impossible for them to think or react in any other way.
Moreover, we laity have supported this clericalism
by putting our priests on pedestals.
By virtue of our baptism we are all members of the priesthood
and called to a life of radical holiness.
Any form of language which implies or suggests
a higher form of holiness to be imputed to the ordained
(with its implied corollary of a lower set of expectations for the laity)
must be strenuously resisted as counter to the teaching of the Church.
If clerical culture is to change each one of US has to change.
We are responsible for our cultures,
they give us roots and identity.
To bring about change requires letting go of the present security
arising from a clear plot, distinct roles, and acceptable lines,
for a set of future cultural forms whose disconcerting effect on our lives
cannot be fully anticipated.
For the individual who risks speaking and acting out a different paradigm,
the cost in terms of rejection
by the players who want to continue with the reassuring story
may be high.
There is a price to pay.
But letting go of high clericalism
will only have the desired effect
when the accumulation of small individual counter cultural actions
is sufficient to be a catalytic mass, a tipping point,
that can prevail over the comfort of the status quo.
Are you willing?
Join me and many others.
Love, John Chuchman
With Loving Dissent: John Chuchman's Blog Link
John Chuchman's Blog Link
With Loving Dissent
A Site for any who Love their Church enough to be willing to work to reform it.
(permission has been given by author to share his reflections on this blog.)