Pope: Warns that Poorly Trained Priests Can Become ‘Little Monsters’

Some very interesting comments from readers on my recent column "Post-Clerical Catholics" ... many thanks to all those who have taken the time to share their thoughts. Along those same lines, Pope Francis kept up his own running commentary on the issue of clericalism when he spoke to 120 superiors of religious orders during a closed-door meeting on Nov. 29. The Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica published a report of the three-hour, informal question and answer session on the Friday after Christmas.

The pope cautioned that seminary formation must be “a work of art, not a police action” where seminarians “grit their teeth, try not to make mistakes, follow the rules smiling a lot, just waiting for the day when they are told ‘Good, you have finished formation.”

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For Pope Francis, “this is hypocrisy that is the result of clericalism, which is one of the worst evils.” He was even more emphatic when he noted that priestly formation "must form their hearts. Otherwise we are creating little monsters. And then these little monsters mold the people of God. This really gives me goose bumps.”

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Bruce Snowden
3 years 10 months ago
In his “Introduction To Christianity” Pope Benedict XVI writing as Cardinal Ratzinger said the following in sub chapter “The Holy, Catholic Church” pg. 339. “The centuries of the Church’s history are so filled with all sorts of human failure that we can quite understand Dante’s gastly vision of the Babylonian whore sitting in the Church’s chariot; and the dreadful words of William of Auvergne, Bishop of Paris in the thirteen century, seem perfectly comprehensible. William said that the barbarism of the Church had to make everyone who saw it go rigid with horror: ‘We are no longer dealing with a bride but with a monster of terrible deformity and ferocity.' " These words come to mind in light of Pope Francis’ recent exhortation to the heads of Religious Orders that, the “formation of future priests is a work of art, not a police action ….” He also said that if not properly trained the Church runs the risk of “creating little monsters.” Over the years I’ve known a few “little monsters” ( not only vested in Romanesque fashion useless maniple et al) but also in the business world , pompous managers, men who like “first places.” Frankly I thought that stuff had ended with the demise of triumphalism, and Vatican II, but unfortunate some seminaries are still running off xerox copies of “little monsters” from the past, infecting I think the Body of Christ with a dangerous virus! We don’t want the bride (our Church) as “a terrible monster of deformity and ferocity.” We want shepherds who “smell like their sheep” and for this we pray to the Lord.
Tim O'Leary
3 years 10 months ago
Pope Francis seems to be teaching that any grasping for power or honor through clericalism does not advance the Gospel. La Stampa quoted him from a recent interview:"“Women in the Church must be valued, not ‘clericalized.’ Whoever is thinking [about] women cardinals suffers a bit from clericalism.” He has a remarkable way of making us think anew about conventional terms. http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/pope-francis-addresses-marxism-accusations-women-cardinals/#ixzz2pdW10qDk
Michael Barberi
3 years 10 months ago
This "follow the rules" mentality and a fear of retribution by hierarchy is one of the major reasons we have a silent pulpit. Weekly sermons are at best about 10 minutes long and they are mostly focused on the larger message of scripture readings. I rarely ever hear a priest speak at length on a contemporary and controversial issue, save for an visiting priest during the Lenten season. Many Catholics in moral dilemma seek the advice of their parish priest. I had many such sessions on specific issues and to my welcomed surprise the advice offered was in tension with official Church teachings. Not surprisingly, especially over the past 40 years, very few priests or bishops would even "publicly" whisper that a teaching should be the subject of a re-thinking for fear of the consequences. In my experience, and in recent polls of priests, this is not the case in many private counseling sessions. I can only surmise that in seminaries the mindset of clericalism is most emphatic. I can attest that many Catholic Journals of Theology, where many are part of a seminary, are extremely reluctant, if not governed by a strict rule against publishing something controversial. Thank God, some Catholic Journals believe in the pursuit of scholarship, contributory research and a healthy respectful theological debate. What is missing, IMO, is an effective voice of the informed laity, not only in theological publications but in the everyday management and administration of parish life. Forget about any parish discussion on controversial issues. I could say what Pope Francis said that "This really gives me goose bumps". However, I don't allow such things to prevent me from my relationship with Christ. The Church will find some way of training its priests better. Unfortunately, this will occur well after I have passed on….so I pray for the Church, myself and for others and try to move the conversation forward towards the truth. What I will say is "God bless Pope Francis." He is speaking his mind and addressing head-on the issues that are causing the Church, in part, to be irrelevant to many Catholics.
Bill Mazzella
3 years 10 months ago
Vatican II attempted to get all People of God involved by encouraging more participation by all in church matters. But the "Monsters" stopped it as they could not take the challenge of give and take with everyone. So little by little the renewal of Vatican II perished. Though the monsters could not take things that became firmly established. So powerful are the words of Francis that politicking for women cardinals is clericalism. IOW we should be getting away from the strapings of power and domination and stress service. It took the pedophile crisis to get the clergy to become more humble. It is important to not revert. The stress has to be on service. Not domination.
Anne Chapman
3 years 10 months ago
Bill, I was away from home for a couple of weeks over the holidays and am just catching up. First, I would like to thank you for responding to my post. Generally, comments go one way. An author posts an article, readers respond, but only to one another, without getting any response from the author. You are an exception and your willingness to respond to your readers and engage with them is very welcome. I am going to respond here to comments you made to my comment on the Post-Clerical Clericalism article as well as on this one about "little monsters". Your statement "Those Catholics I know who stay, stay because of emotional ties..." is very much in harmony with the point I was trying to make. Though I think the term "emotional ties" could be construed as the church simply having some vestigal emotional pull that keeps us there despite our better judgment--which I think is far too reductive. ....We aren't there as the "loyal opposition" but because we long for the sacred mystery at the heart of the Catholic faith whether we believe the clergy we deal with are pastorally gifted or not. I agree with you - if this were not true, then Joe and I would no longer be reading America and dotCommonweal and other Catholic sites. We are still "Catholic" but we are no longer able to participate in the church without a voice - because some of us believe that some teachings and some actions of the church hierarchy have been so damaging, so harmful to so many that we can no longer enable this harm by supporting the institutional church. But.....the fundamental issue with younger generations regarding religion is one of relevance. Why bother belonging to an institutional faith community at all? ..... This is statistically true across the board for Jews and Christians in the US and is even more dire in mainline protestant denominations--some of whom would appear to be more welcoming in terms of the issues you mentioned.? Also very true - and this is a challenging reality to all institutional religion. But, this discussion is focused on Catholics. The Woodstock Center at Georgetown (which recently closed, unfortunately) had a conference a few years ago on young adults and the church. The entire report is well worth reading - although I'm sure Pope Francis "speaks" to these young adults, it may not be enough as you note, especially given the growing discomfort with so many for the younger generation of "John Paul II" and "Benedict" priests. http://woodstock.georgetown.edu/resources/papers/young-adult-catholics-believing-belonging-serving.pdf James Davidson related an anecdote …. where he explained how sociologists measure religious commitment by such indicators as church attendance. .... a young man stood up and asked, “Why would you ever use Mass attendance as a measure of religious commitment?” Davidson…related that older members of the Detroit audience gasped when they heard this. But as Davidson understood him, the young man was really saying his way of practicing the Catholic faith was different from that of earlier generations, particularly preVatican II Catholics. “And we have to understand that difference,” the sociologist said, noting that many young Catholics place higher importance on service to the poor and social justice than they do on the conventional markers of religious identity” Francis surely speaks to this!. I think of a continuum ranging from what …Eugene Kennedy called Culture One Catholicism to Culture Two Catholicism. At the Culture One end, there’s an emphasis on Catholic identity, attachment to the Church, the teaching authority, the Magisterium, compliance with Church teaching. At the Culture Two end, there’s still an emphasis on identity, but the emphasis is more on the individual’s responsibility for his or her own faith; the integrity of the person’s own conscience; and the person’s responsibility to make up his or her own mind in terms of what’s right and what’s wrong.The way I read the surveys (not only the ones we have done, but earlier research as well) is that in the preVatican II Church in the 1930s and the ‘40s, probably 80 percent of Catholics were Culture One. And ...maybe 20 percent who were Culture Twos ... When you look at the surveys we have of today’s young adults, it looks like only about 20 percent ... are Culture Ones and about 80 percent ... are Culture Twos, … Colleen Carroll suggests that the number of Culture One young adults is growing. We … would disagree … We can’t find any such trend in … the national data … Culture One young adults are not growing, but they’re more visible than Culture Twos …. … there have been two shifts in the self understanding of [America] priests since Vatican II. … The first ...occurred about the time of Vatican II and it was ...well underway by 1970....a shift from the cultic model, the earlier model of the priest, to what was called the servant leader model… The cultic model ...is a more traditional one which emphasizes that the priest is a man set apart. ….he should emphasize his separate status; his main job is sacraments and preaching and teaching; it is not a high priority to work with the laity as equals or to collaborate; and he should, if possible, have special clothes so he’s always visible that he is different. This finding is relevant to Fr. Horan’s articles as well as yours. The servant leader model …emphasized continuity ...and working collaboratively with the laity. …. They ...emphasize that they were spiritual leaders of the flock. This was quite a shift at that time. … the people who bought into the servant leader model after Vatican II hoped this would be a permanent shift, but it was not. It has shifted back again. So now, especially among younger diocesan priests, some version of the cultic model is predominant in the seminaries and also among the young diocesan priests. . ...we have just heard that the trends among the laity are towards greater individualism, greater feeling that authority lies with the laity as well as with the hierarchy, and a greater wish for greater involvement in the Church at all levels. … But among the priests, the trend is different. My point is a very simple. The young people are moving in one direction; the priesthood, at least the diocesan priesthood, in another
Bill McGarvey
3 years 10 months ago

Wow, Anne, that's an incredibly thorough response! I almost wish you shared it on the Post Clerical Catholics page so the folks there could weigh in. As for me, I want to digest it a bit before I respond. Just wanted to thank you for your thoughtful comment.

 

Anne Chapman
3 years 10 months ago
Thanks, Bill, but I can't take credit for what others said (you and the folks who summarized the Woodstock conference)! Most of the post was in italics - meant to make clear your words and the quotes from the Woodstock Conference report, also in italics! I will copy and paste it on the other thread if you truly think it useful to the discussion.
Bill McGarvey
3 years 10 months ago

Thanks Anne. That would be great. B

Bill Krautz
3 years 10 months ago
What will Pope Francis do about the existing "monsters"? The Holy Father must know about their existence within the Catholic Church.

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