Comments on “Confronting the Systemic Dysfunction of Clericalism”

I have been thinking about the white paper (Confronting the Systemic Dysfunction of Clericalism)*. I really like the format which alternates interviews with commentary, and I found the reflective pieces very effective!

Some further thoughts: Prior to the second Vatican Council the role of the laity (lay apostolate) officially was “to be helpers of the clergy in the mission of the church.” Laity saw what they did in the church as “volunteers,” assisting the pastor with his work.

Vatican II radically changed that identity. Article #33 of The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church says the laity, through their membership in the Christian community, participate directly in the mission of Jesus Christ.

“Through Baptism and Confirmation all are appointed to this apostolate (mission of the Church) by the Lord Himself … Every lay person, through those gifts given to him (sic) is at once the witness and the living instrument of the Church itself.”**

That radically new identity is carried through in other documents. Said various ways, the “proper role” of the laity is advancing the reign of God in the secular sphere. In other words, they are the “first-line” ministers of the Gospel in the world, which, according to Matthew 25 & 28, is the commission of Christ to His church.

The most pernicious effect of clericalism, in my mind, is that it subsumes all roles in the church, making them subordinate to, and derivative of, the priest’s (Laity are “helpers of the clergy in their mission.”). That “second-class” status works against true identity of the baptized as “disciples of Jesus Christ.” A derivative or second-class identity is not compelling. The idea that Christ may be “calling me” then, is hard to perceive. I still hear laity today talking about “volunteering” or “helping-out” in the church.

The hierarchy have an essential role as leaders/servants of the mission. Clergy and lay ecclesial ministers are the “equipping” ministers who prepare and lead the People of God in Christ’s mission. But, as the Church in the Modern World says, it is the laity who are in the world and have the appropriate gifts to transform the secular sphere; they are “apostles,” if you will, to the world.

Is it any wonder that the Church seems to have so little impact on the world? How many full-time “ministers” does the local parish have? One―the pastor? A few―the staff? Or several hundred/thousand―the whole community/People of God? These are two radically different concepts of church.

This question of “identity,” self-perception, controls the behavior of all the baptized, clergy and lay. How can the church expect to have an impact on the world if the mission is left solely to the clergy?

There are lots of evils that flow from a monarchical clericalism; the most serious of these is that it eviscerates the mission of the church.

As I read the paper, this is what came to mind. (I know it is not new to you!)

Blessings on great work!

Gene

By Gene Scapanski, S.T.D. Vice President and Professor (retired), University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota

You also may want to view “Clericalism: Reality & Concerns” on Voice of the Faithful’s website …

**Confronting the Systemic Dysfunction of Clericalism is a joint white paper promulgated by Voice of the Faithful and the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests
**Documents of Vatican II, Austin P. Flannery, Ed.

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