Sunday, December 15, 2013

Women Cardinals and Clericalism

The pope has given an interview to Italian Journalist Andrea Tornielli, mostly focusing on the meaning of Christmas, but with a few random quick questions thrown in. I found this one particularly interesting:
May I ask you if the Church will have women cardinals in the future? 
“I don’t know where this idea sprang from. Women in the Church must be valued not 'clericalised'. Whoever thinks of women as cardinals suffers a bit from clericalism.” 
Clericalism is an attitude that clerics (bishops, priests, deacons, cardinals) are somehow morally superior to the rest of the Church, that the authority they hold and the power they exercise to enact that authority are the highest goods in the Church. Clericalism is overly concerned with power, and it is a problem you find on all sides of the ecclesiological spectrum. Anyone who is more interested in using authority to put into place their ideological agenda than using it to further the Gospel and the Kingdom of God is a clericalist. Clericalism is about power, not servant leadership.

The clericalist assumes that one's worth within the Church is determined by the authority or power one holds in the Church. We see this mindset everywhere within the ecclesiological spectrum, whenever someone tries to turn every utterance of a priest or bishop into an infallible proclamation, binding by force of excommunication--be it ueber-traddies who denigrate receiving Communion in the hand because some saint somewhere allegedly said it was bad (even though it's an ancient practice and the Church officially allows it), to the super-lib who says anyone who doesn't adhere to their reading of every suggestion of prudential judgment from every USCCB statement on peace and justice issues is "not really Catholic" (ignoring, of course, all the conference's pro-life statements, which are just as much "peace and justice" issues as anything).

Those who agitate for women to be included among the College of Cardinals usually couch their argument in terms of power and authority: the Church needs to include women in decision-making roles; women need to have their voices heard at the highest levels; and so forth. And dig a little deeper with these folks and ask why they think women need to be placed in these positions, and 11 times out of 10, you'll hear things like: "...because then we would have the influence to change the Church's teaching on contraception/abortion/women's ordination...."

Aha! It's not about humbly serving the Church, but about substantially changing the Church. They think that might makes right, that the will determines the truth, that the teaching of the Church will be determined by the personal ideas and preferences of the governors of the Church--an even more twisted form of cuius regio, eius religio. It is the clericalist mindset that thinks the ruler makes the religion.

Pope Francis' point in this brief quotation is to slap down clericalism and uphold the dignity of every Christian and the unique calling God makes to each. You don't have to be a priest or bishop to do the work of God. Indeed, as Jeremiah 23 reminds us, the shepherd has an awful burden and responsibility before God should he lead the sheep astray--if that authority is misused, "woe unto you shepherds."

Pope Francis has said elsewhere that Mary is the model Christian, around whom the apostles were gathered at Pentecost... and she wasn't an apostle, wasn't a bishop, wasn't a cleric. She was simply herself: a disciple of Jesus Christ. Which is what we are all called to be. Let's be that.


  1. Enjoyed reading this post. I slightly disagree with this tough, "the clericalist assumes that one's worth within the Church is determined by the authority or power one holds in the Church," I think clericalists assume that worth is determined by ordination, not authority or power.

    It's a reality that authority (of many varieties) and power exist. Some people who possess these things (and use them appropriately with right motives and virtues) are not clergy. And yet I hear many people who have our society's mainstream clericalist attitudes discount the authority/power of these persons, arguing that "so-and-so's responsibility/rank/power/authority doesn't matter because he/she isn't a priest." To me, that's clericalism--and it's about ordained-status, not actual power.

    Also, I think there is a sub-category of clericalism, something like "presbyterate-ism" -- aka the attitude displayed by those who more than just assuming that one's worth in the Church is determined by ordination, assume that it is determined by being a priest, and thus call deacons things like "Jr. Priests" or "Priests-Lite," and therefore demean the distinct calling of the ordained deacon in the Church.

    1. Nice to hear from you, Colleen! Hope you're well.

      I defined clericalism the way I did because, technically, one need not be ordained to be a cardinal, which was the particular rank in question. You're right, though, that most often it's attached to an attitude of superiority of the ordained, which is the sort of clericalism animating those who agitate for women's ordination and talk about it in terms of power.

      And you're absolutely right, too many people see deacons (and male religious) as "not-priests" instead of what they are in themselves. It's a shame, as the diaconate has contributed greatly to the life of the Church.

    2. :-) Hope you're doing well too!