In the document, Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to the People of God, the pope recently addressed the clerical sex scandal crisis. One term that is found repeatedly in this letter is that of “clericalism.” Pope Francis apparently feels that the present Church crisis is primarily due to clericalism, and the bishops in America and elsewhere are quickly following his lead. As a result, one already finds the term “clericalism” in one episcopal statement after another. Even the media has seized upon it.
I would agree that clericalism is a serious problem in the Church. It always has been, and it probably always will be. But what, exactly, is clericalism?
Clericalism is one manifestation of the capital sin of pride. The glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines it in this way:
“Pride is undue self-esteem or self-love, which seeks attention and honor and sets oneself in competition with God.”
In other words, to be proud is to be full of yourself. It is to have a disordered infatuation with one’s own qualities, achievements, status, and opinions and to crave or even demand praise from others. We are all guilty of the sin of pride and we especially act on it according to our particular station in life.
Clericalism is that manifestation of pride that afflicts men of the cloth – popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, and deacons. It takes many familiar forms: misplaced pomp in liturgical and other public appearances; excessive signs of external respect; emphasis placed on clerical opinions on Church matters, to the belittling of the opinions of lay people; an aloofness and air of superiority; a tendency to look upon the laity as personal servants, and to disregard lay concerns as unimportant.
Christ warned the Apostles about clericalism. He said,
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:25–28).
The man who practices clericalism does just what Our Lord proscribes. He makes his authority over others felt in oppressive ways. He does not serve others, but insists that they serve him. And he enjoys every bit of it. Let me give one concrete example of clericalism. Many years ago, when I was employed by the Church as an organist, I was socializing in a friary with the priests shortly before a Confirmation ceremony. A priest who had just been ordained said to everyone present, “When I’m finally made a pastor, it’s going to be ball-and-chain.” Everyone laughed. From what I’ve heard about this priest, I’d say the prophecy has been fulfilled.
Now, let’s suppose that the pope and the bishops are correct in their assessment of what ails the modern Church, that it’s primarily clericalism. If this is so, then I would expect to see some predictable forthcoming changes. For example, let cardinals be addressed, not as “Your Eminence,” but more humbly as “Cardinal so-and-so.” Let bishops be addressed, not as “Your Excellency,” but more meekly as, “Bishop so-and-so.” Forsake the kissing of episcopal rings, and such expressions as the bishop’s “throne” and the bishop’s “palace,” wherever these practices are still in use. And let’s simplify clerical and liturgical vestments as well, so that the pomp in Catholic liturgy is directed entirely to the glory of God, and not to man. Such changes could be only the beginning of purging the Church of arcane signs of clericalism.
Does anyone really expect to see these changes? If you do, then I’ve got a drawbridge I’d love to sell you.
The present crisis is not due to clericalism. Clericalism does not make a normal heterosexual male want to sexually molest another male or a child! Such a term only provides an easy escape for those unwilling to admit and confront the far more malevolent problem in the Church; namely, rampant homosexuality. The liberal pro-gay media has escaped this admission by defining the crisis as one of pedophilia. The ecclesiastical powers that be have done the same. But the statistics prove otherwise. Pedophilia consist of sexual relations between an adult and a child thirteen years old or younger. There have been many such incidents in this crisis, that is for certain. And one of the most disturbing aspects of this is the realization that men this sick, with such an extreme sexual-psychological disorder, have been ordained in droves, in spite of the various examinations candidates for the priesthood must pass. Is this not suggestive of collusion? However, the statistics reveal that approximately eighty percent of the sexual abuse in the Church has been committed against boys older than thirteen. In other words, the present crisis is one of bishops and priests having homosexual sex with teenagers and seminarians, boys and young men. That is the unpopular but well-documented fact.
The present crisis in the Church is not one of clericalism or pedophilia, but widespread homosexual activity, abuse, recruitment, and protection of the guilty. This latter tendency has unfortunately been receiving all the attention, and it’s in this protecting of the guilty that there is the alleged clericalism. But every ring of scoundrels protects its own, so there’s nothing unique about this. The real issue is the behavior itself, the actual sin committed, which is then being concealed and denied. And that sin is homosexual acts. Until the pope and bishops can face this ugly truth, the Church will continue to be mired in scandals and to decline in her reputation and her ability to perform her God-given mission.
Although I do not have proof, I think it’s a safe presumption that many holy souls in the Church’s history – men and women from all periods and places – have been afflicted with homosexual desires. These persons have perhaps suffered in silence, confessed their occasional falls, and striven to the utmost to avoid temptation, by the grace of God. Perhaps heaven is full of such saints. However, especially in light of our age’s omnipresent encouragement to indulge in all forms of sexual sin, I am strongly opposed to the ordaining of homosexual men. This includes celibate homosexual men. Again, such persons may live lives of extraordinary sanctity, but there is far more to the priestly ministry than only personal sanctity; there is also fidelity to Catholic teaching.
A priest with a homosexual attraction will be surrounded by temptation for his entire life. The Church prudently and wisely teaches that, in order to effectively avoid sin, we must avoid the near occasions of sin, those circumstances which cause us the most potent types and degrees of temptation, those to which we are most likely to fall, based on our personal history. A homosexual man in the priesthood, having even the purest and noblest intentions, would nevertheless be contradicting the Church’s counsel to avoid the near occasions of sin.
An equally prudent and wise teaching of the Church warns, “Do not trust thyself.” Do not ever place faith in yourself, in the confidence that you will not fall to a temptation. Instead, presume that you will fall, and so, avoid the temptation. Saint Augustine once advised his fellow priests and bishops, “Don’t ever leave me alone with a woman.” A homosexual priest would again contradict this invaluable counsel of the Church, recklessly trust himself, and frequently be alone with one man after another. This is a reliable recipe for the commission of many sins.
There is another reason that I’m opposed to the ordaining of homosexual men to the priesthood, and it concerns teaching the faithful. To make an extreme understatement – the current state of biblical and catechetical teaching in the Catholic Church is deplorable, and it has been so for over half a century. There is a consistently narrow selection of Christian themes that are repeated over and over again, ad nauseam, wherever the Church teaches. Sometimes I feel as if every homily is the same as every other homily, except that the order of words has been rearranged. And we all know the themes: love, mercy, tolerance, acceptance, blah-blah-blah. It sounds like a campaign speech from Bernie Sanders. We hear and read this drivel week after week and decade after decade. But these themes, as much as they are somewhat biblical, are not accurately presented as Holy Scripture presents them. They appear to be, not strengths and virtues, but weaknesses and vices. For example: love, the most over-used and abused word in the modern homiletic vocabulary. Properly understood, Jesus Christ did not teach about love; He did not say one thing about it, except to warn us about it. Instead, Christ taught about the virtue of charity, which is about as far from the emotion of love as you can get.
The Catechism defines charity in the following way:
“Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God” (CCC 1822).
Charity is God-centered, transcendent, and exceedingly holy. And if it is genuine, then it results in the acceptance of all that God has revealed through Scripture and Tradition, and the conformity of one’s actions to the divine moral law. But this is light years above the rubbish that is repeated day and night in the sanctuaries, halls, and classrooms of the Church today. Instead, we hear about love, love, love, without any clarifications that would distinguish Gospel love – charity – from worldly love – desire, often of the most disordered kind. After all, rock musicians sing about love all the time. Is that Gospel love? Absolutely not! So then, let our pastors and preachers teach us about the vast differences between charity and love.
I could carry on regarding the other redundant themes that we constantly hear and read about in the modern Church, but I’ll stop with charity. In my opinion, the above-mentioned narrow selection of Christian themes amounts to a new gospel, a false gospel; it amounts to an effeminate gospel. The teachings that are presented to us week after week and decade after decade are the by-product of an effete character. I dare say, it is all that a homosexual clergy, or a homosexual-influenced clergy, is willing to preach and teach. It is their system of belief, not God’s. It is the gay gospel of the world, rather than the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this reason, it is especially weak in the area of sexual morality.
This is not to imply that all or most priests and bishops are homosexual. Realistic estimates place the number at an average of about forty percent. But as with the rest of the population, in which homosexuals amount to only about two percent, the political, social, and cultural influence this population has is astounding. It’s a testimony to the effect a committed and uncompromising group of people can have on others. If only the Church would get the message.
My favorite spiritual writer – Dominican theologian Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange – once penned a passage that struck me from the first and has remained a personal guiding principle ever since. In a footnote, he wrote, ‘The greatest thing a man can do is nothing.’ This is pithy Thomistic wisdom at its best. The greatest thing a man can do is NOTHING! What on earth does this mean?
It is the common view that the manly man is the character that is quick to curse, quick to punch, and has half-a-dozen women hanging all over him. He’s the handsome stud who’s sleeping with all the beauts. But this is exactly backwards. It takes no strength to indulge in one’s desires. It requires no heroism to surrender to temptation, vice, and sin. There’s simply nothing manly about falling. On the contrary, the strong man is the one who fights his sinful desires and wins. The Christian hero confronts his temptations like a soldier of Christ, defeats them by the grace of God, and retains his holiness. In the face of sin, the true man of God stands strong and does…nothing! That is, he does not act on his temptations, but resists them. Through the spiritual gift of self-mastery, he overcomes his most potent foe: himself.
This is precisely what the homosexual life style contradicts. It gives in to grave sin, it surrenders to extreme temptation, and it celebrates these mortal falls as victories in the name of a perverse liberty. But such a so-called liberty, such libertinism, is actually a dreadful form of bondage. As Our Lord said,
“Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin” (Jn. 8:34).
In my opinion, the presentation of Catholic teaching and preaching has been deplorable for so long because homosexualism – an actual ideology, meaning a philosophy, world view, culture, and religion all based on the homosexual fixation – has dominated the Church on all levels. The fragmentary gospel that we nearly everywhere encounter in the modern Church is a gay false gospel that has surrendered to grave sin.
Until the Church ceases to ordain homosexual men, the gay false gospel will be the only Gospel we hear. May God Almighty give our pope, bishops, priests, and deacons the manly courage to confront this evil and reform His Holy Catholic Church.