September 03, 2002
Priest condemns 'cancer' of clericalism

By Patsy McGarry, Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times

Clericalism has been described as "a cancer at the heart of the church" by a Catholic priest and commentator.

Writing in the current edition of the Redemptorist magazine Reality, which he edits, Father Gerard Moloney says that clericalism is "immensely damaging" and must be rooted out. If the sex-abuse scandals helped speed up that process "then that will have been a very good thing", he said.

Most clerics he knew were not consciously part of this culture.

"They may be clerics, but they are not clerical . . . but that clericalism is deeply rooted in our church cannot be denied," he writes.

Clericalism was "a state of mind, a mentality that is strictly hierarchical and authoritarian.

"It is to belong to, and to see oneself as belonging to, an exclusive club - all-male, hierarchical and celibate - that is closed and secretive; part of a system of privilege, deference and status."

This produced a culture where "the instinct is to protect the interests of the club, its reputation, at all costs, even - at times - at the cost of justice and trust itself.

"It is now clear that this has been a factor in the failure of some church leaders down the years to address the problem of clerical sexual abuse. The reputation of the institution came before the needs of victims."

This culture of clericalism was "far removed from the gospel model of how disciples related to each other and the Lord", while being "big into status and privilege", loving "titles and rank and pedestals", thriving "on power and sustained by it."

The clerical mentality believed that the proper role of the faithful was "to pay, pray and obey" while members of the clerical caste had a monopoly on wisdom and access to the Holy Spirit.

Clericalism was a strong believer in accountability, "but only accountability upwards, not downwards."

It had no time for dialogue and debate, and while it talked about service it loved ambition and encouraged careerism. Power and control were better exercised in a culture of secrecy, Father Moloney writes.

Patsy McGarry

Posted by Donnacha at September 03, 2002 06:24 PM
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