Normally clericalism is associated with starchy chaps in cassocks doing their best to impersonate Pius XII the low point of whose year is the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday. I’m not so sure. I think the worst clericalists are in powder blue clerical shirts reading copies of the Tablet. Though there are quite a few Neo-Cons among them as well.

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Knowing a good many Latin Rite clerics and seminarians either as friends or in a professional capacity I am often struck by the way in which clericalism goes hand in hand with liberalism. Younger clerics and seminarians and outright liberals have a strong tendency to pull rank when you point out that they are talking rubbish or question them about some liturgical enormity. It is thus quite natural that liberals would be drawn to clericalism as for them the spouting of rubbish and the pursuit of questionable activities is an occupational hazard. But it also seems to me that clericalism causes liberalism.

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This is because clericalists are essentially people who identify the church with the ordained faithful and see the laity as consumers of what ‘the church’ offers or fans of the clergy. Such persons are prone to worry about the ‘role of the laity’ and ’empowering the laity’. By the former they mean ‘golly what are they for?’ and by the latter they mean ‘lets reward the friendly ones by letting them be junior clerics for the day’. They are often particularly enraged by people genuflecting to the Blessed Sacrament during Mass. I suppose they are concerned the Tabernacle might distract people from the clergy. It is this attitude which fills the clericalist with rage when he thinks about kings and things and engenders an undying hostility towards the ‘confessional state’ and all things ‘mediaeval’. Of course he himself is unaware of the connection, but what he hates about coronations and chivalry is the suggestion that the political order ought to be part of the church – the lay part. This seems to relativise the position of the clergy to make them just one element in the life of the church, rather a functional element in fact.

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I suspect it is exactly the same impulse which leads to the clericalisation of the religious orders. Non-clerical religious are a threat to the clericalist they draw attention to the fact that the clerical state is not the mode of life most conducive to holiness. In fact, it is probably an obstacle in many ways. ‘The floor of hell is paved with the skulls of bishops’ as they say. The ordained religious is much less of a threat to the clericalist. I knew a group of non-ordained friars who used to visit hospitals. The chaplain used to go around handing out the Blessed Sacrament like sweeties to people who hadn’t been to confession (often not to Mass either) for decades and anointing them in so desultory a manner that they had no idea it had even happened. The one thing the chaplain was desperate to avoid was hearing people’s confessions and the one thing he hated was the friars visiting the patients and urging them to repentance. In the end the friars (who were not bad at urging people to repentance) had to discretely bring in priests from outside to hear people’s confessions because the chaplain wouldn’t do it. What the chaplain was desperate to do was to commission the friars as extraordinary ministers so they could stop preaching repentance and start dispensing sacrilegious communions. The refusal of the friars to become extraordinary ministers infuriated him.

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This instinct leads the clericalist to ignore the stuff he is supposed to preach about (the mysteries of faith, the sacraments, repentance and the divine and natural law) and start sounding off about politics. Don’t get me wrong, the the political order should be subjected to the Divine Law and the Spiritual Power, but its not ratione peccati that the clericalist intervenes in the province of the lay faithful. It is not usury or abortion upon which he pronounces from the  pulpit, it is action-on-climate-change or immigration policy or (from the right) royalism or no-action-on-climate-change that he wants to foist on the laity. Whatever the merits of any of these they are not the business of the clergy they are contingent issues, matters of prudence or questions of fact or expedience to be determined by the judgment of the lay faithful. I was directed to a blog written by a permanent deacon the other day in which he was denouncing the royal wedding and promising to preach about his republican convictions. Who do these people think they are?! This usurpation was justified under the banner of ‘Catholic Social Teaching’ which was identified with the thin and non-authoritative gruel of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (a textbook devoid of theological note issued by a non-magisterial dicastery). The choice of political system is one of the matters in which the Papal Social Magisterium explicitly does not pronounce because it is in the free choice of the laity.

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What annoys the clericalist about  royal pageantry and more seriously about the doctrine of Christ’s Social Kingship is its sacral tone. Like the lilies on the crown of a Christian King it emphasises baptism, the sacrament that doesn’t make the clergy special. Just as ‘permitting divorce’ is a effectively a euphemism for ‘prohibiting marriage’ so ‘religious liberty’ is more often than not code for ‘banning Catholic politics’ i.e. infantilising the laity. This approach has got us from a situation where, at the end of the fifties, politicians were terrified of offending the Catholic Church to one were the right can take us for granted (as we have no where else to go) and the left can write us off. Great. Cheers.

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