Carvajal: Clericalism

Orlando P. Carvajal
·2 min read

“CLERICALISM arises from an elitist and exclusivist vision of vocation that interprets the ministry received as a power to be exercised rather than as a free and generous service to be given. This leads us to believe that we belong to a group that has all the answers and no longer needs to listen or learn anything. Clericalism is a perversion and is the root of many evils in the Church; we must humbly ask forgiveness for this and above all create the conditions so it is not repeated.”— Pope Francis at the October 2018 Synod of Bishops

This confirms, albeit not wholly, James Carroll’s earlier claim (The Atlantic, June 2018) that “Clericalism, with its cult of secrecy, its theological misogyny (exclusion of women from the priesthood), its sexual repressiveness and its hierarchical power based on threats of doom-laden afterlife, is at the root of Roman Catholic dysfunction.” (Parenthetical remark mine)

Clericalism sets most Catholics up to have a rather patchy knowledge of their religion. It lazily assumes that all the faithful needs to do, if he/she wants to go to heaven and avoid hell, is listen to and obey the all-knowing clergy. Thanks to clericalism Christianity has become a religion of fear (of hell, of “gaba” etc.) and not of love.

In the parish the pastor, with rare exceptions, is king. His decisions on religious, moral, and even temporal matters carry the weight of an imperial edict. Pastoral councils either function as his puppets or off they have to go.

Fear of “gaba” (punishment for disrespect or violence to sacred persons or things), scares away well-meaning folks from opening up on such errant behavior of the clergy as child abuse, having mistresses, and commercialization of sacraments, among others. It is tragic that the Church is not doing anything programmatic to expunge this insidious fear of “gaba” from the Filipino psyche.

The Philippine Catholic Church, for having the most powerful influence on the attitudes, values and aspirations of Filipinos, has to spice up the rather insipid brand of Christianity it is preaching if the Philippines is to transform itself into the just society it ought to be. But it cannot do this unless it scuttles the impregnable wall of clericalism it has built around itself through the centuries and which now keeps it from breaking out of its medieval shell.

Clericalism’s absolute use of religious power deprives the Catholic Church of the moral ascendancy to preach justice and equality to the body politic. Hence, unless bishops and clergy listen to Pope Francis and “create the conditions so it (clericalism) is not repeated” the Philippine social landscape in the next 100 years will remain as bleak as the past 500 years of Christianity.