The People, the Priests, and the Pope

Over at Catholic Digest, Editor in Chief Dan Connors recently wrote a thought-provoking article in which he expresses a frustration with clericalism, arguing that the laity needs to look at the possibility of its own complicity in the abuse scandal. The crisis, and who is to blame, is, as he says in his article, "a very complex subject." Thoughts? An excerpt is below:

Many of us have long exalted our clergy. The institutional Church told us priests are “special” and we took it to heart. We were told they followed Christ in stronger ways than we did, and we said “Amen.” Following the lead of many in the hierarchy, we exalted their kind of priesthood and ignored our own. It may have had benefits for some of us. In a way it served our needs: The pressure was off; they could lead the sacrificial lives; we just wanted to know the minimum we needed to do to get to heaven. And in a Protestant society suspicious and scornful of Catholics to begin with, we could take pride in our exalted, well educated, and saintly clergy.


I’m being much too broad and superficial here, of course, but in general, with multiple exceptions all over the place, the Church gave us a steady diet of clericalism, and we gobbled it up. Seeing priests as weak or sick or perpetrators of crime had ramifications way beyond the individual in question. It touched the life of the Church and the trust we placed in it; it would give aid and comfort to people who scorned the Church we love. Better to hide it, like a spouse of an alcoholic, hiding and covering and doing everything possible to avoid the satisfied clucking of those who gloried in his or her shame.

By putting priests and the Church high on a pedestal, we all cooperated in a system that nurtured cover-ups and excuses. So I wonder: Do we have the right to feel smug and self-righteous when the system that encouraged bishops to make all those horrendous mistakes was one that we not only failed to protest, but eagerly participated in? While we demand to see what the bishops have learned, and how they are making sure this will never happen again, maybe we should also be asking what we have learned in all this. How are we addressing the root causes of the cover-ups and our complicity in the system that facilitated them?

...[A]s loyal Catholics muster to the barricades, shouldn’t we be careful about putting anyone above criticism, challenging the motives of everyone who seeks information, and rushing to defend the Church at all costs, no matter what? Again, it just makes me wonder: Isn’t that the kind of thinking that got us into this trouble in the first place?

Read the rest here.

Kerry Weber

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Theresa Maccarone
8 years 8 months ago
A passive laity and clericalism are both equally damaging to the Church. Maybe that's why Pope Benedict XVI said that the entire Church must do pennance for its sins.
8 years 8 months ago
I have noted  the lay triumphalism too. we did gobble it up. We insisted only the most heroic men portray our priests in movies. Spensor Tracy, Carl Malden, Bing Crosby, Gregorey Peck, Pat OBrien, Frank Sinatra, ND should win on Saturday and Catholic colleges should dominate in NCAA round ball. Bishop Sheen out polls Milton Berle on Tuesday nite. humble pie should be our diet for at least 50 years.
Jim McCrea
8 years 8 months ago
I agree with Ed.
What was considered to the Church Triumphant was really the Church Arrogant.
No wonder we remain on the defensive even today.  The sins of the past are easy to find and quick to be brought up to challenge the concept of Holy Mother the Church.
8 years 8 months ago
I am sure I am not alone in having witnessed hundreds of religious, priests, nuns and brothers, who deserve to be on a pedestal because of what they have done.  There has always been legions who have earned it.  So a few fail and we are being accused because somehow that what has happened to a small percentage means we should not encourage current religious to emulate those that came before them.  This site seems to be obsessed with the religious scandals.  Not that they should be swept away but the constant drum beat seems to miss what being a Catholic is all about.  We have had one  writer say he is proud this morning to be a Catholic.  Well I am always proud to be a Catholic and it is 24/7 and not just on a particular morning.  A small group of sick people will never make me feel any different.  
I want the religious to end up on a pedestal not because they are striving for it but it is what many do naturally.  They have a gift from God and many have cooperated fully in that gift.  I know they are human just like all of us and only a few actually are meant to reach such lofty goasl on earth but to decry such an objective as ill conceived is an emotion I do not understand.  I doubt that many of the those who molested were striving for pedestals or even doing God's work.  They certainly were not cooperating in his gifts but many have cooperated and for that we are blest.  In the last few days I have witnessed recognition of three who have reached such pedestals.  Here is an article from the Philadelphia newspaper of a real Catholic heroine
A teacher from my high school touched the heart of thousands of his students and besides teaching them math, he is also remembered as one who cared and influenced their lives.  How many priests, nuns and brothers can you point to that essentially gave up their lives and did something similar.  I can point to an awful lot.  And then there was the 86 year old priest who said a First Communion Mass yesterday and who has been talking to first communicants for nearly 60 years and who made us all cry.  And I bet he has influenced a lot of lives and not just yesterday.
I am sorry, be proud of your religious and sweep the bad out and let's encourage a lot more pedestals.  That is proof that the Church is guided by God.  I have a feeling that many have forgotten this.  Without the pedestals we are just an odd social movement that has over stayed its course.
8 years 8 months ago
JR Cosgrove; I agree that there are many priests and religious who do great and inspiring ministry but none I ever met wanted a pedestal. It was the 99.9% of the people = laity, that Christ came for. The  pedestal days are over. The carry the Pope around-in-a-chair days are over too. Cappa magna wearers & Miter fans over..they seek the pedestal. And they gave us the cover-up.  next?
Molly Roach
8 years 8 months ago
Here's a possibility to consider:  when faced with the "specialness" of the clergy, loyal Roman Catholics simply projected all of their own goodness onto the clergy and enjoyed it there.  That could be the pedestal.  And such a dynamic is, in its way, as narcissistic and self-involved as clericalism.  I was painfully weaned from this at an early age when a parish priest told my mother that they didn't have room for vegetables in their school.  He was talking about my brother.  Anyway, clerical and religious pedestals do not build faith up.  They do not lead to Christ.  They lead to fallible human beings and confusion if this is where you've deposited your goodness.
Jim McCrea
8 years 8 months ago
Yes, us pampered pew potatoes have done sooooooooooo much to put them there clerics on a pedestal.
"Lay persons have always been enemies of the clergy."
Pope Boniface VIII, Clericis Laicos (1296)


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