The National Catholic Review

The response to my column “Lead Us Not Into Clericalism” (10/21) has been a mixture of those whose experiences resonated with what was described in the piece and those who have taken to defending the trappings of a clerical lifestyle including the wearing of fancy vestments and use of titles. A sampling of some letters to the editor and Internet comments about the column can be found in the Nov. 18, 2013 issue of America.

There are several things that I believe merit additional comment from me. Unfortunately, with about a 700-word space limit, there’s only so much that can be said in a single column. I’ve waited to let the dust settle, meanwhile observing the responses and reading the feedback across various media. Some of the strongest resistance has come from the “blogosphere,” while some of the most supportive and encouraging responses have come in the form of private emails, letters and Facebook messages. What readers have picked up on and what they have offered in response has been enlightening.

Attire and Titles

There has been a surprising amount of discussion, primarily on blogs by diocesan priests, about clergy attire, vesture, and titles (for example, “Titles and Cassocks and Vestments, oh my!” and “The False Charge of Clericalism”). The attention paid to these themes in themselves is surprising to me (and many readers) because nowhere in the column do I claim that any of these things are inherently problematic. In fact, there is only one mention of vestments or titles at all and the point is that some priests “appear to be more concerned about titles, clerical attire, fancy vestments, distance between themselves and their parishioners, and they focus more on what makes them distinctive than on their vocation to wash the feet of others (Jn 13:14–17), to lead with humility and to show the compassionate face of God to all.”

The attire and the titles are a problem, I suggest, because they can be seen as ends in themselves and that far too much attention is given to what is distinctive about the clerical lifestyle than what is shared in common as baptized Christians and fellow members of the body of Christ, which is the church.

Nevertheless, it is striking that there would be so much energy poured into defending the uniqueness in clothing styles and the insistence on titles – some suggesting that clerical titles be used even among family and friends. The question for reflection is whether or not how we dress, how we interact with others, how we introduce ourselves, and what we expect from the people with and for whom we minister breaks down barriers to relationship or adds unnecessary barricades to potential relationships.

For every person that is drawn to initiate a friendly chat with a Roman-collar-wearing clergyman at the bank, there are others for whom that social symbol is a barrier to genuine human relationship. Does the church need priests appearing distinctively at all times? Or does the church need disciples of Christ, who minister by their presence, word, and sacrament? You don’t need to wear a cassock to the grocery store to reveal the compassionate face of God to your sisters and brothers in the community. If you think you do, then you might want to ask yourself why.

Conservative vs. Liberal, Progressive vs. Traditional, and Other Polarizations

Every response to this column that has included the claim that clericalism is “not just about conservatives” (or some iteration of that assertion) is absolutely correct. However, in the spirit of America’s new vision following the article by editor in chief Matt Malone, S.J., “Pursuing The Truth In Love” (6/3-10), I never used any of the following words in my column: conservative, liberal, progressive or traditional. Not once. I never made a claim about what ecclesiastical or political self-identifying moniker those who exhibit signs of clericalism appropriate. I only mentioned a relative age group: young priests.

Yet, these polarizing terms have appeared frequently in the online comments, letters to the editor, Facebook replies, and, especially, on blogs. In retrospect, for it was never my direct intention to do so, this column seems to have served as a clericalism “Rorschach test.” Each reader projected his or her own biases and presumptions about who constituted the clerical class about which I was writing. This has left me thinking a lot about how deeply ingrained some of this polarizing discourse and these presuppositions surrounding Catholic clergy in the United States really are.

The Other Responses

I have also seen some comments on the America Web site, Facebook and elsewhere that suggest clericalism is not a reality, that it is some fiction propagated by “(fill in the blank) types of Catholics.” While I cannot share the private emails and Facebook messages sent to me in the days and weeks after the column was published, I think it’s important to express that this topic of clericalism struck a chord not just with those who wish to defend some vision of a clerical lifestyle, but it also resonated with those who find themselves struggling daily with the burdens of this cultural phenomenon. I received notes from diocesan and religious priests, lay staff at parishes and major United States dioceses, seminarians and others who identified this reality. I heard from priests, seminarians or staff in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Archdiocese of Newark, St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie (Archdiocese of New York), and the North American College in Rome, just to name a few.

Every single one of the emails or messages expressed an appreciation that the topic of clericalism was being discussed openly, but each also expressed the complications of being situated within a culture where clericalism was often present and, especially for the seminarians, pressures to conform were felt. This does not mean that there isn’t hope. Many of these notes included references to the hope for change in culture and attitude signaled by Pope Francis in recent months. It is a hope that I likewise share.

I still maintain that hope expressed at the end of my column: “Eight months into Pope Francis’ pontificate, I sense that he is challenging the whole church, but especially its ordained members, to a similar way of living. His call for humbler and more generous priests is a call to work against a culture of clericalism. It is a call for priests and bishops, young and old, to remember that their baptism is what matters most.”

Daniel P. Horan, OFM is a Franciscan friar of Holy Name Province, a columnist at America magazine, and the author of several books including the new The Last Words of Jesus: A Meditation on Love and Suffering (2013).

Show Comments (18)

Comments (hide)

Agustin Paz | 3/10/2014 - 1:07pm

For me, the opposite of clericalism is being eucharistic, this is what I get from Pope Francis. It is about what I do with the gifts I'm given, do I celebrate and use them with and for others in thanksgiving or do I show off how special I am to have received this special gift (of being a priest or a priestly people)?

My fear is that America (not the magazine, but the people as a whole) is becoming infected with clericalism. We have been given so many wonderful gifts yet seem to be turning them into the golden calf of Americanism instead of the Eucharistic meal of authentic community.

"Encourage each other daily while it is still today." (Hebrews 3:13)

Michael Barberi | 12/22/2013 - 8:12pm

Based on the 2005 Hoge study, the issue of clericalism was not explicitly defined, nor was any specific problems identified that were caused by such a definition of clericalism. What was clear was that younger priests fell into the cultic model of the priesthood and older priests fell into the servant model. There were disagreements between older and younger priests on a host of issues such as the role and responsibilities of lay people, ecclesiology, authority and governance of the Church. There was also differences in attitudes and beliefs concerning whether priests were holier and set apart from the laity and the importance of priests getting involved in social issues in community, etc. Dress was discussed as an identify that supported either the cultic or servant models.

Frankly, I always considered the term clericalism to be a perforative term and more associated with a rigid orthodoxy where the voices of the laity, theologians and many priests/bishops are mostly silenced by the fear of retribution and censorship, and accusations of unfaithfulness and disobedience by hierarchy. Thus, in my opinion the Church's culture of clericalism is a problem that prevents any responsible re-thinking about any teaching, it minimizes the importance of human experience as well as the moral dilemma and disenfranchisement that certain teachings cause many Catholics. It also prevents a more open Church where the all voices of faithful Catholics, clergy and non-clergy, are given a means to be part of the governance and decisions of the Church. More importantly, clericalism to me is more associated with the Roman Curia and Pope as the only voice in our Church. I never considered dress as a significant problem, but this does not mean that dress does not reflect a certain ideology or theology denoting a problem. Certainly, a priestly lifestyle not befitting the vows of humility and poverty would be a problem.

If we consider all of the major problems facing worldwide Catholics today, the dress code and lifestyle of priests would not be on the top 10 list.

M Beachey | 12/22/2013 - 12:36pm

This is quite interesting. The author puts "fancy vestments and clerical attire" in an article about clericalism and now he claims surprise at the comments. As a man in religious life, I find it rather disingenuous for him to say he is blown away by the comments.

Dismas Sayre | 11/21/2013 - 6:02pm

I will leave off here, since I think I've said enough, but here is a quote from then-Cardinal Bergoglio's "On Heaven and Earth"

I do not have any doubt that we must get our hands dirty. Today, priests no longer wear their cassocks. But a recently ordained priest used to do it and some other priests criticized him. So he asked a wise priest: “Is it wrong that I wear my cassock?” The wise priest answered him: “The problem is not if you wear a cassock or not, but rather if you roll up its sleeves when you have to work for the good of others.”

It does not seem to me that any kind of clerical garb would by necessity preclude any virtue.

Anne Chapman | 11/21/2013 - 11:32am

"You don’t need to wear a cassock to the grocery store to reveal the compassionate face of God to your sisters and brothers in the community."

I would never approach a priest who was wearing a cassock. The choice of clothing says a lot - and tells me instantly that this is not a priest with whom I would want to talk even casually in the grocery store, much less someone from whom I would seek counsel or guidance or insight into the gospels.

The late Dean Hoge of Catholic University did a study that was presented at Boston College in 2005. The following is from the presentation.


Dean R. Hoge, Catholic University
Presented at Boston College, June 15, 2005


A crucial theological question concerns the nature of priestly ministry. Surveys … have found two shifts in priestly self-understanding from the 1960s until today. During and after Vatican Council II, American priests shifted from an earlier cultic model of the priesthood to a new model which has been called the "servant leader model." …

[In] The cultic model ….the priest needs to be celibate and set apart from other Catholics; his life is a witness to faith in God and an example of godliness. This model emphasizes that priests are different from laity; they are higher in holiness, and they alone can serve as mediator between God and humanity. … the servant leader model emphasizes that the priest is the spiritual and social leader of the Catholic community. As such, he must interact closely with the laity and collaborate with them in leading parish life. The distinctness of the priest over against the laity is de-emphasized, symbolized by the preference of many priests after the 1960s to minimize their wearing of the clerical cassock and collar. Also the priests living the servant leader model invest themselves more in community leadership beyond the parish, attempting to have a beneficial effect on the larger society.

The predominant self-understanding of American priests shifted from the cultic model to the servant leader model during the 1960s, and then it began shifting back, beginning in the middle 1980s. According to research in 2001, the second transition was already well advanced, and the young priests were quite a distance from their elder brothers in their understanding of what a priest is. Specifically they differed from their elders on whether ordination confers on a priest a new ontological status making him essentially different from laity…. The younger priests have been more conservative not only in the theology of the priesthood but also in ecclesiology and liturgy. Numerous observers have noted that they follow the letter of the law much more rigidly on matters of liturgy, morals, and priestly life. They find it more important to be seen in priestly attire….

An … argument against the cultic model is that it fosters stronger clericalism …A tug-of-war over models of the priesthood is underway today and promises to be with us for years to come. Judging from research on trends, the cultic model will gain ascendancy in coming years.

Michael Cobbold | 11/23/2013 - 9:32pm

"[In] The cultic model….the priest needs to be celibate and set apart

## By God, for God, to be His Alone. IOW, to be holy as God as holy. How is that a reason for self-exaltation ? For self-abasement before God, for humility, penitence and conversion, yes: but for self-exaltation ?

"set apart from other Catholics;

## In order to be available to them all. Just as the Church goes to Mass to adore God, so that it may be strengthened in God to serve the world He sends it to. The Church's call to be God's own People, set apart for Him in Christ, is for the purpose of being sent out in His Spirit to preach Christ to all nations; which is for the sake of making known the coming of His Kingdom, since He is to be Lord & King of all men on earth.

"his life is a witness to faith in God and an example of godliness. This model emphasizes that priests are different from laity;

## Sounds OK so far....

"they are higher in holiness,"

Depends what one means. Are we talking of:
a higher vocation;
subjective holiness;
objective holiness;
- or what ?

What prevents priests having, as a class, not a higher place, but a different one ? Some priests are not at all edifying; some laity are outstanding for the holiness of their lives. A model of the Church that doesn't accommodate such facts is defective & misleading. Priests can perfectly well be called, by virtue of their priest-shaped vocation, to a closer union with Christ Crucified than the laity; and such a notion allows all the room one could want to the fact that many laity are in fact far closer to Him than many priests are.

"and they alone can serve as mediator between God and humanity".

## Again, depends what one means. Stated thus, the idea is simply false. But it should not be difficult to correct it with a more adequate theology of Christ, the Christian vocation, & of the priesthood. A Catholic priest is a cultic functionary, and the old Rite of Ordination makes that clear. He is more, but he is that.

"the servant leader model emphasizes that the priest is the spiritual and social leader of the Catholic community."

## What happened to the priest's function of leading the Church in the Offering of the Eucharistic Sacrifice ? If the priest were not called to offer up this Sacrifice as a propitiation & expiation for sins, the Church could not offer the Sacrifice in a visible & objective manner, but only in a purely spiritual manner; which is to forget that the Passion was visible & objective.

"An … argument against the cultic model is that it fosters stronger clericalism" - Only if that model is Christ-free. If its theology begins & continues from Him, His Gospel & His Cross, the danger of using that model can be greatly decreased. *Any* model in theology, and any theologising, can become the vehicle of human self-assertion and pride and lust of domination. Because theology is carried on by limited, fallen, sinful, frail, ignorant human beings.

Dismas Sayre | 11/21/2013 - 4:23pm

But is this not, by definition, judging by appearances?

Anne Chapman | 11/21/2013 - 4:35pm

Yes, it is judging by appearance, because the choices we make in our appearance send messages. A hip-hop artist dresses the "part", business executives and aspiring executives also dress the "part". Etc. In the United States (this may not be equally true in other countries), priests who choose to wear cassocks and the related "accessories" are quite deliberately conveying a message about how they understand themselves, and about how they understand the priesthood, especially in their relationships with the laity.

Dismas Sayre | 11/21/2013 - 5:53pm

Also, by that reasoning, what message does Pope Francis send out by wearing his cassock? (And yes, it is a cassock, not a religious habit).

Dismas Sayre | 11/21/2013 - 5:41pm

That seems an awful lot to read into a vestment. Would it be wrong to pass moral judgment on a hip-hop artist or an executive for their manner of dress?

Then-cardinal Bergoglio seems to not have had a lot of problem with people coming up to him, even on the bus or subway, when dressed in his blacks. St. Francis chose his garb specifically to give a visible witness.

Anne Chapman | 11/21/2013 - 6:10pm

The young priests who are choosing to wear cassocks are not the pope. Nor are they sending the same kind of message that St. Francis sent - which was one of humility. The young priests are not sending messages of humility. Please re-read Dean Hoge's study.

I have no problem with clerical suits and Roman collars - most priests wear those in public, and most Episcopal priests also wear clerical suits and collars. Roman Catholic priests in the US who choose to wear cassocks instead of clerical suits are sending a message - and it is not a message that inspires me to trust them - I speak only for myself, not for you. I would not choose to confide in a priest who is sending these messages via his choice of cassock over clerical suit because it conveys the message embraced by "cultic" priesthood.

Dismas Sayre | 11/21/2013 - 11:55pm

Read also what the pope wrote in his interview book. There's nothing wrong with wearing a cassock.

Dismas Sayre | 11/21/2013 - 11:25pm

But by your reasoning, the pope is NOT showing signs of humility, for he wears a cassock that is above all others, since it shows his rank as pope. So at least one person is wearing a cassock, and is not arrogant.

Again, it is very dangerous for one's spiritual health to read into souls, unless one has that gift. I've read the study, but I have yet to find this, at least among my own religious brothers, in any noticeable number. And we have had a fair number of vocations from the "JP2" crowd.

Our province, like many congregations and dioceses, has a pastoral year. If the candidate shows signs of, I'm just going to call it arrogance, not limited to clericalism, and/or an unwillingness to engage people in ministry, etc, we discern that he is not called to this life. Some of our brother priests, who felt much like the author about the crop of incoming students, find that as residency year students, they are not what they prejudged.

Anne Chapman | 11/22/2013 - 4:54pm

From your comments, I assume that you are a priest, or perhaps still in formation and that you like to wear a cassock instead of a clerical suit. Or perhaps you are in an order that wears a habit (such as Franciscans), which is a different thing all together. I am referring to diocesan priests who choose to wear cassocks outside of church functions. Just as a teen who emulates a hip-hop singer in his dress is expressing certain ideas or a young businessman who emulates the senior executives in his dress is trying to show that he is ambitious and willing to play by the corporate rules, priests in the US who emulate the style of dress of priests before Vatican II demonstrate a mindset that has been linked with the cultic model of priesthood.

BTW, I am not passing "moral" judgment - a hip-hop artist may be perfectly moral as may executives. But they send messages through their choice of dress. I am not saying that priests who choose cassocks over clerical suits are "immoral" - but they are sending a message as to how they see themselves and about their conceptions of themselves and their vocation v. that of lay people. Is it an "immoral" message? Maybe, maybe not. If the priest is full of pride and forgets humility then there may be moral dangers.

I would like to ask you why you prefer to wear a cassock? As a woman, I know that long skirts can be very clumsy, get in the way of normal everyday activity, and that few women wear them in the modern world except for "dress up". Is that what the young cassock-wearing priests are doing - playing dress-up? Why do they seek to so clearly differentiate themselves from others - what kind of affirmation are they seeking? Everyone who sees a priest in a clerical suit knows he is a priest. There is no need do adopt a style of dress that seems to shriek - "LOOK AT ME!"

The Dean Hoge and similar studies are based on sound research and they show a link between mindset and choice of clerical clothing. Are there exceptions - of course, there are always exceptions. However, anecdotal evidence also supports this research. Many of my friends in parishes across the country have noticed that the younger priests who are assigned to their parishes, who favor the pre-Vatican II dress, are of the cultic mindset. They believe themselves to be "ontologically" superior to the laity, they believe their calling is intrinsically more "holy" than that of married people or single laity, they believe that they can teach the "simple faithful" but don't understand that they have much to learn from those who have lived more life than they have, who have developed deep faith lives and have understandings that many priests - old or young, cultic or servant leader - do not have and cannot have because they don't live the same life as those in the pews. The difference is that the "servant leader" priests usually understand this and develop a bit of humility, whereas the cultic priests believe that only they can teach, and forget that they too must learn..

Daniel Horan | 11/21/2013 - 7:26am

Here is yet one more perspective on the subject and lived experience of the culture of clericalism, written by a former seminary professor and generously shared as a guest blog post: "Reflections of a Seminary Educator."

Dismas Sayre | 11/21/2013 - 4:26pm

I've run into professors like this one in my own studies. But I have found that our students had great respect for the lay professors, greater than some religious professors, by their content, not their status or ordination. I think he comes dangerously close to attempting to read the hearts of the students.

If he has a set idea of how the students are, then everything they do will serve to confirm his notions -- "confirmation bias" is a very human trait. Even if it be difficult, make every effort to engage.

Dismas Sayre | 11/20/2013 - 10:25pm

To me, it seems a little odd to invoke Pope Francis, when every picture showing him in his humble riding on mass transit in Argentina is while wearing clericals. Certainly, he wants his shepherds "smelling like their sheep," but he also seems to say, in harmony with V2, that the shepherds should be identifiable. If anything, he seems to speak for a strengthening of the priestly identity (see his Chrism Mass homily), though stripped of pride.

Michelle Sullivan | 11/19/2013 - 9:07pm

Thank you for your thoughtful article.

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