confession of a defender of clericalism

I am a clericalist Catholic–the only clericalist Catholic, it would seem!  If it is true, as every Catholic but me says, that clericalism is the Church’s main problem, then perhaps everyone should agree that I personally am the cause of the Church’s last half-century of woes.  Everyone is hunting for the great beast of clericalism but is unable to find it in concrete form.  Search the college of bishops, the Vatican curia, the pope himself, and everyone you meet will sincerely pronounce himself a passionate anticlerical.  It’s a funny anticlericalism that has overtaken the Catholic world.  Tell me, are you of the party who hope to be delivered from clericalism by Pope Francis or of the party who hope to be delivered from it by Archbishop Vigano?  Either way, you’re not exactly Robespierre yet.  And I am your man, the one you have been hunting.  The last, the only clericalist.

What makes me so awful that I would be a clericalist?  I mean, a priest would have the excuse of collective self-interest, of being an actual cleric, but I can point to no such exculpating personal incentive.

In a sense, I am a “clericalist” for every profession.  I think it’s normal and healthy for each person to take pride in his work and to slightly over-estimate its importance.  It’s all to the good if your dentist thinks teeth are the most important organs, your eye doctor thinks eyes are the most important organs, and your dermatologist thinks skin is the most important organ; they’ll do their jobs better that way.  Nothing good has come of telling men not to take pride in their distinctive roles, and nothing good comes of forcing priests to think their roles unimportant.

It’s not so much that I wish to maximize the power of the clergy as that I wish to minimize the power of the laity.  And power, you see, is a zero-sum game.  Call me an anti-laicist.  I try to imagine what a Church with lay power would be like, and I look around at the world that the laity do control.  Or I consult polls or listen to lay Catholic intellectuals and spokesmen.  They’re not shy about what they want.  In the doctrinal sphere, they want indifferentism, universal salvation, no hell or purgatory.  In the moral sphere, they want divorce, contraception, abortion, homosexuality, usury, and anti-racism.

I always ask myself, “If that’s what you believe, then why not leave the Church and join some group that believes that?  If you are right, then the Church must be wrong, in which case why bother with her at all?”  I believe I know the answer.  In order to change religions, one must ask oneself what one really believes about the cosmos, the purpose of human life, and what happens after death.  This is something most people are terrified of doing, because what they suspect deep down of being true is too horrible to face.

We Americans do not discriminate based on religion.  Certainly not!  A person can’t help being born Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, so it shouldn’t be held against him.  Actually believe in Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, and you’ll be in all kinds of trouble, you bigot.  Atheists, too, are unpopular, even though in the dark recesses of their hearts most people agree with them, because the atheist is indelicate enough to say these hidden beliefs plainly.

The laity want the Church to drop most of her beliefs, to blend into the world and disappear.  But they want to force the clergy to do it so that they can play at following along and not be forced to confront their own disbelief and really think about what it means to live in a godless universe.  And if the laity mobilize in any way and for whatever initial reason to be able to exert pressure on the clergy, these are the things they will use that power to promote.  Pressure from the state will work in the same direction.  Any historical precedent of lay-led reform you have in mind involving the Holy Roman Emperor is completely irrelevant to our situation.

I know what you’re thinking.  “What about the clergy?  Do you think they’re so much more virtuous than the laity?”

I don’t trust in virtue.  I trust in incentives.  Is it a coincidence that the only institution that has held out against abortion and divorce is led by celibates, who do not benefit from rights to murder and abandonment?  The only thing I expect priests to believe in their heart of hearts is that they have no marketable skills, and that their standard of living is tied to the institution they officially serve.  The best we can hope for is to be ruled by the faction of unbelievers that are under the impression that changing Church doctrine too quickly will destroy the Church’s credibility and cost them their paychecks.  Reform can only go in a direction that there is a will for it to go, meaning for now that it can only be in a direction of evil.

28 Responses

  1. Do you see any possibility for things getting better?

  2. No, wait. Not quite the last!

  3. I agree with your point that clerics are the professionals that we should grant authority to be the experts in their chosen field. In that sense, clericalism is a vital and necessary thing.

    It all depends on how one defines ‘clericalism’ in the context that one applies the word. Clericalism, as it seems to me at the moment, is the self-appointed privilege exercised by some of them of their being above the criminal law, even to the degree that to question their behaviour is wicked.

  4. theplantationsite,

    Not for the foreseeable future. For things to be different, the culture must change, and at this point, I think the only hope of that is some sort of external shock: foreign conquest, the end of fossil fuels, nuclear war, really bad stuff like that.

  5. I try to imagine what a Church with lay power would be like, and I look around at the world that the laity do control.

    Can you imagine a board of laymen like Rod Dreher dictating the Church teaching?

  6. It sounds to me like you’ve bought the lie that ‘the Church’ is them (the clergy and maybe the religious) and the laity go to them</em. for spiritual direction.

    However, the Church is actually us.

    Does this mean that the laity should have control or say in doctrine? No, absolutely not. We have neither the competence nor the authority, and never shall, since the very act of conferring the authority turns one into a priest.

    But it does mean that all this talk of ‘clericalism’ vs. … I don’t know? something else? populism, probably, are a complete red herring. Our task, as the laity, is to recover and muscularize our concept of the Church as governing the whole order of creation, and take on our role as the arm of the Church Militant concerned with and competent in temporal affairs.

    As an example of what I would call ‘clericalism’, we have priests concerning themselves with global warming and the environment. Whatever your stance on these topics, such is certainly outside the proper competence and jurisdiction of the clergy. This over-reach is a symptom of the underlying disorder caused by liberalism, however; the idea of ‘separation of Church and State’ has sundered the Church and cast half of the whole into the wilderness.

  7. The best we can hope for is to be ruled by the faction of unbelievers that are under the impression that changing Church doctrine too quickly will destroy the Church’s credibility and cost them their paychecks.

    Being ruled by unbelieving clergy is better than ‘rule by laity’?

    You really are taking this clergy vs laity nonsense too far.

  8. Can you imagine a board of laymen like Rod Dreher dictating the Church teaching?

    But the best you can hope for is to be ruled by a faction of unbelievers, or so I hear.

  9. But it does mean that all this talk of ‘clericalism’ vs. … I don’t know? something else? populism, probably, are a complete red herring

    As has been pointed out, this is going to be clerics vs clerics, maybe as bad as the fight over Arianism, so this whole ‘clericalism vs laity’ is a massive red herring.

    Bonald, however, still wants to LARP as the faithful defender of clericalism.

  10. But the best you can hope for is to be ruled by a faction of unbelievers, or so I hear.

    The worst are “sympathetic outsiders” like Rod Dreher or Bruce Charlton.

  11. As compared to unbelievers who are unsympathetic outsiders?

  12. As compared to unbelievers who are unsympathetic outsiders?

    Not at all. As an example, you’re just as bad. You’re role, it seems, is to make it known in Catholic friendly parts there’s a Catholic bee in your little Protestant bonnet. Noted. And PS, no s@$&.

    I’ve never thought Bonald was LARPing, and I’ve enjoyed his recent writings on this subject immensely.

  13. Heads are still in the sand, I see.

    We can tell Bonald is LARPing, because he lacks true faith (self-admitted, in the ability of the Roman Church to endure), but postures as the last faithful defender of clericalism and the Church.

    Behind the facade is fear and despair (again self-admitted), that he can’t help spreading as he writes (ditto), and he just keeps wallowing in it. But he is “the last, the only clericalist”, and that somehow makes up for it.

  14. We can tell Bonald is LARPing, because he lacks true faith

    I don’t have much to add. I just wanted to highlight the audacity of non-Catholic commenters.

  15. Thank you Wood.

    GJ, I shall endeavor to make better sense when ending my posts in the future.

  16. The best we can hope for is to be ruled by the faction of unbelievers that are under the impression that changing Church doctrine too quickly will destroy the Church’s credibility and cost them their paychecks.

    Bonald turning up the sad poasting!

    Hope is a virtue though. And while I too, trust incentives more than virtue, I strive to trust Christ the most. So, seen from the point of view of the Husband of the Church… I think our situation is largely similar to that of the Jews in the old testament, where they run away from God’s law and then calamity befalls them, and then they realize that they need Christ, and then they run back to God. In short, the human need for God will never vanish, and so too, will never vanish true believers.

  17. It appears the lay faithful are quite capable of putting the motte and bailey into practice.

  18. My comment at 7:56 am meant to have a couple of links to it that may or may not have made the comment more intelligible. Looks like the linkage didn’t work however.

  19. Looks like the linkage didn’t work however.

    Imagination can supply the lack:

    “Democratic election of bishops!”

    “I didn’t mean democratic election of bishops, just that if you know a bishop candidate is an inveterate mortal sinner, you should speak up.”

  20. This was my bailey:

    https://cruxnow.com/synod-of-bishops-on-youth/2018/10/02/as-bishops-summit-opens-catholic-women-say-lets-be-a-nuisance/

    Though thinking on it again they both are quite bailey-like.

  21. Let’s unravel this ‘clericalism’ thing a bit shall we. Every priest is a Cleric but not every Cleric is a priest.
    A Cleric is/was a Catholic man of holy celibacy (not always historically though preferably) proficient in letters enough to administer the affairs of the Church’s sacramental life and at the core of cores – to know and to teach the Faith. He is a man of words and letters. He ought to wear clerical garb. At the highest is the priest who offers the Sacrifice to God. You didn’t need to become a priest you could’ve happily lived out your days as an acolyte or a lector and many did – no pressure dude. A young man could’ve pursued the intellectual life right there with his bros.

    Priest of modernity stretching back even before the vocations crisis seem to be quite against there being the organic hierarchy of Clerics instead employing the factory-method to funnel everyone to be a priest (the Clerical level requiring the highest sanctity of life) and filling the vacancy in the servants of sacramental life with muh wammyn and muh Folk participation. From a a rich, detailed, hierarchical order to a socialist monobody. Right as the internal trunk&branch structure was demolished, the whole class was being brought into question.

    The point is – do we as Christians, or do we not, believe in a class society even if it is slightly less efficient (and I’m not saying it is) at producing Standardized Unit of Product or whatever.
    ‘With classes three God filled the world, one to teach, one to feed and one ‘gainst wicked lads to strive.’
    The Christian proponent of class society would be a clericalist. Due to the fact that so high a mission is bestowed upon the Clergy (to lead Christians to God, to save eternal souls) it is understood they are the first class. Everything else about Clerics commanding armies, leading the state and factories is just weird and comes from a defunct understanding of the body that is the Church, besides I thought that was called theocracy not clericalism. 11th century knights would be outraged to hear that they are ‘not the Church’.

    And when traditional Clergy complain of ‘laicism’, they seem queer to me sometimes, do they really want bishops and convent masters ruling large swathes of land like princes or maybe they just prefer to have that option on the table, maybe they would do a good job who knows. I think clergy should sit in and/or influence the legislative body because human law should be in line with divine law. The more general and broad the matters of state are the more clergy ought to be involved.

    Moderns seem to perceive the Elites and the Folk as without distinction between or within these. The Männerbund ought to have its own chain of command, its own loyalties, grandeur, prestige and ceremony and the Folk ought to have many distinctions of wealth, privileges and obligations, influence and skill within itself. Clergy ought to pray for the preservation and concord of Christian Elites as well as security and success of the Economic class. But what we hear is generic talk about ‘muh laity’. Are they interceding before God for the restoration of Elites?

  22. Excellent points.

  23. I don’t have much to add.

    You certainly haven’t contributed anything substantive.

  24. Bonald:

    GJ, I shall endeavor to make better sense when ending my posts in the future.

    I have been wondering about what’s underlying your latest writings, including the comment that the pederasty crisis is a PR problem, and the implication that if journalists could be silenced that would solve the problem.

    Not too long ago, you were flirting with some protestant thoughts publicly on this blog. Recently you’ve turned around and purged posts, which is understandable. But talking about yourself as the ‘last clericalist’ just doesn’t convince. It makes sense as a sign of your internal conflict, but does it mean anything more?

  25. You certainly haven’t contributed anything substantive.

    Substantive, apparently, means having a good cry from the rooftops that one is Protestant in Catholic comboxes.

  26. GJ,

    Writing under a pseudonym is partly an admission that I am not personally very interesting. Calling myself “the last clericalist” is my ironic way of pointing out the ubiquity of anticlerical rhetoric in the Church. When the pope is a committed enemy of clericalism, what does clericalism even mean? With one billion Catholics, nearly all of them screaming the evils of the clergy, can’t we afford to have one criticizing the laity and non-Catholics?

  27. I will confess that I’ve had a very vague idea of what clericalism actually is and I perhaps uncharitably suspect that for most condemners of it this is still more true.

    Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn claims that clericalism is when a clergy assumes the roles of both first and second estates and that this is symptomatic of societies that have been decapitated of native aristocracies. The most clerical societies, according to him, are Slovakia, Slovenia, Ireland, and by extension of Ireland the United States.

    I don’t know if this is true but it’s certainly an interesting observation. And the only framing of clericalism that could make a rightist reject clericalism.

    https://www.unz.com/print/Chronicles-1986jul-00016/

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