Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Lay Clergy

I've been mulling over the most recent post at In Exsilium, especially in light of some things discussed on Reditus and some of my own concerns that I've written about regarding clericalism and also the question of self-righteousness/fundamentalism among the "good Catholic" neocons and trads.

I'd like to quote from the In Exsilium post as a jumping-off point for getting out my own thoughts. I'm going to ramble, so please bear with me.
A Medieval Christian knew that he was a sinner, yes, but, he also knew that, as a member of this Mystical Body, his failings and short comings were being mended in the lives of the Saints, in the cloistered clergy and the anonymous women religious living their entire hidden lives praying for other anonymous persons such as himself. He knew other people were suffering with Christ for his sins. The Protestants were right- there was an elevated class of persons who were living the full intensity of Christian self-oblation. The majority of people simply could not muster it, and society actually could not afford universal monasticism, so the broader society supported this class materially
So, Christianity (at least since medieval times) has been (at least) two-tiered (and, in fact, I'll argue farther down it should be three tiered). There have been different classes with different levels of expectations placed on them. Really, such a double standard was the only way to get the vast majority of a society Christian; the demands would be too rigorous otherwise.
The question of 'good' and 'bad' Catholic can not enter into this system in the same way it does presently. Sin is taken both more seriously and more lightly at once. There is no obligation to the take the Blessed Sacrament or confess your sins more than once a year. Yet, the Sacrament will be worshipped with dramatic fervor. In this fact of Medieval life, there is the paradoxical idea that one is typically both too sinful to take the Sacrament regularly and yet ought not to be so worried for his sinfulness that he needs to be reconciled and fed from week to week. Compare this to the present state where to abstain from the Eucharist is often to draw a few eyebrows.
I thought that "paradoxical idea" was a very interesting point. As nowadays there is both a liberal and a conservative horror at the idea of abstaining from the Eucharist. The liberals think the idea of abstaining is elitist, or legalistic, or filled with "guilt." No one should feel "unworthy" to receive the Eucharist, the liberals say, that's a judgmental and un-accepting or un-affirming idea. Yet the conservatives also look down on abstaining: for the conservatives, you may be unworthy to receive, but then you'd better damn well get worthy as quickly as possible!

And yet, in the early church, canonical penance excluded people for years from communion (and many people opted for deathbed baptisms, etc.) There is also the notion that, according to Reditus, even Archbishop Lefebvre apparently held, among the polygamous in Africa, that it was better to leave these people as sort of "perpetual catechumens" for many years rather than baptizing them before they were ready to take on the full burdens of Christian life.
The Catholic People were to become a regimented army with weapons of Rosaries, they were to know their doctrine in and out, and a Catholic education would become absolutely necessary. Eventually, you had to have all the right responses to the haranguing questions of the nun with her ruler.
In other words, the idea was for everyone to become religiously literate, as it were. And what was a "cleric" medievally except someone literate? The development of a literate lay class is something "new" (in the long history of the Church) and may be the source of some of the tensions we see today.
The ideal eventually emerged that one should be taking the Eucharist daily, for example. Of course, this meant one needed to be as holy as a monk- without actually being a monk. The whole of the laity had to be as holy as they thought the clergy were, to live as a “people set apart“, yet, not actually being set apart. In the past, it was obviously the clergy who were set apart. But the laity were to be incorporated into this. The same standard, one and for all.
This point is very interesting too. There has been clericalization of the laity or, at least, some of us (the "good" ones) for some time now.

This has its origins back to Trent and the Counter-Reformation, as he posits, but possibly even earlier (in fact, as I'll discuss, I might peg it to the implementation of universal celibacy for the clergy).

So there are now "high-powered" laity who pray the Office, read the Summa and catechisms and moral theology manuals and the Encyclicals of Popes (and Catholic blogs), watch EWTN, receive daily communion, and are also expected to conform in intimate detail to all the detailed tenets of sexual morality, use only NFP, understand Theology of the Body, etc, when previously there was a more benign neglect or at least discretion toward the laity in these regards.

My thought is this: this new religious literacy for the laity isn't bad necessarily. Because the "literate" Catholic laity, like anyone reading this blog, who know the finer points of orthodox theology, and for whom Catholicism is not just our religion but also our "hobby," and who are (usually) the self-appointed "good Catholics"...are probably just that segment of the population that would have been secular clergy in the past. As such, I think a "clerical" piety and orthodoxy is appropriate for us.

The fact that 80% of Catholics are not totally orthodox or orthodoxly moral or all-out zealous or whatever...doesnt really concern or surprise me, and hasn't for some time (a sentiment I think I've expressed before) because I guess I see them as sort of equivalent to the ignorant but well-meaning peasants of the Middle Ages; they have their dispensation and will be saved in their own way. They don't know any better, but I know they're good people at heart. Simple folk, spiritually at least. And though some could be educated, I'm not too concerned with enforcing too many things on them or shattering the blissful ignorance which allows the objectively immoral things they may do to be unculpable in the subjective forum.

Nevertheless, that doesn't excuse those of us who are religiously literate (and you can never take that back once it happens) from living up to the standards of orthodoxy, however. The ignorance of the laity could always be winked at; the hypocrisy of the clerical class, however...that has long been considered contemptible in the Catholic imagination. The self-righteous dogmatism of the fundamentalist-Catholic laity...may indeed be just a manifestation of the same phenomenon as clericalism, as we are in some ways now pseudo-clerical by the very fact of our religious literacy and opinionated intellectual investment in the whole thing. However, it also means, on the flip-side...that immorality and heresy among those of us who are religiously literate is as contemptible and disgusting as the hypocrisy and corruption of the Renaissance clergy (for we are now the equivalent to that class).

So the real problem (and it is a very real problem for some who really do feel called to the priesthood, but not under the current model) is, as it was so perceptively put:
Still, remarkably and unjustly, the [actual] clergy retained all the distinctions and privileges of being a unique class, with the laity being burdened with same expectations. Sure, they could have sex, but they couldn’t enjoy it. Unable to consecrate the Eucharist through their own powers? Of course such a power is barred to them, but they are also expected to be sanctified and take the Eucharist every Sunday just as the priest himself must. You are not called to be a “lay person” you are called “to be a saint”, but with none of the pretty robes or the excessive free time before the Monstrance.
A segment (and we here are part of it) of the secular laity has been "clericalized" by being made religiously literate. And also, as the recent Reditus post points out, by being institutionalized psychologically in a typically "clerical" way through a more regimented control of sexuality. I commented on that post that this may be merely our equivalent of the psychological leash mandatory celibacy creates for the actual priests (or, as JD exaggerated: we can have it, but not enjoy it, lol). Yet we are still not, in fact, actual priests or clerics of any sort. So, as he says, all the expectations, but none of those privileges.

So, there is now an unofficial three-tiered system, as it were. The actual clergy, the religiously literate laity, and the simple folk. In a way, there have always been officially three tiers too, but not necessarily corresponding perfectly to the categories that exist in practice. Namely, the laity, the secular clergy, and the consecrated religious. The secular clergy once formed the sort of middle class that the "clericalized laity" now form: the segment that was both religiously literate and secular, that was officially orthodox but not among the "perfect" according to the standard of the evangelical counsels (which really do require an institutional structure like a monastery to enforce).

But now, as I've discussed before, all priests (even the nominally "secular" [ie, diocesan] ones) are basically expected to exist on the model of religious life when it comes to things like mandatory celibacy, training in the "enclosed monastic hothouses" which are the seminaries, remaining a full-time salaried employee of the bishop, etc.

At some point in the Middle Ages, the secular clergy as such began to cease to exist in the West in a meaningful sense. The “middle tier” between the religiously illiterate peasants and the highly institutionalized monastics was eliminated as diocesan clergy took on a variety of features designed to basically merge or move them up into the category of monks. This was a development long in the making, but I think the elimination of the natural "middle category" in this way...was a big part of the process which eventually lead to the unhealthy duality of "good" and "bad" lay Catholics that is so toxic among the self-righteous neocons and trads today.

For the old second-category niche has come to be filled by highly motivated and educated lay Catholics. Lay Catholics who are, however, denied the priesthood or clerical-caste status of some sort (including the status of priest's wife for the women). Oh, they/we find pseudo-clerical roles in other ways (this all reminds me of my post on the politics of lay readers), including even a few as married permanent deacons who are technically "clerics" in canon law (but not really treated like it in practice in terms of having any say).

But since for the most part we're still laity, it creates this fundamentalist animosity with other laity, with the laity who would have been (in the old world) the "peasants." You know, the 80% who are using contraception, or not fully understanding, or sinning but not worrying too much about it, etc. Now they're considered "bad" by the arrogant "good."

In the past, this "bad" group was treated rather leniently because they weren't expected to be any better. Of course they weren't totally up to par: they weren't clerics! As JD said, there was assumed to be a holier-than-thou class, and this was considered natural.

But now, since the class of "clerical laity" has seemingly "proven" that lay people too can live up to the clerical standard of religious literacy and orthodoxy and orthodox morality (even if not the perfection of cloistered consecrated religious), everyone in the laity is held to it. Even though it's still only just a certain type of lay person who can live up to it: namely, those of us who would have been of the clerical class in the old world! But now there is a resentment towards those who don't live up to such standards among the "good" laity similar to that of the elder brother for the prodigal son. Since we bear these burdens, shouldn't everyone?

Well, that attitude is bound to antagonize the "peasant believers"...and of course it should. It's an unrealistic expectation for them, and not even what God has called them to or the role He has for them. No wonder many have reacted by simply leaving the Church or becoming, sadly, knowing/explicit (as opposed to merely ignorant) heretics, outright rejecting orthodox teachings as opposed to merely accepting that they were sinners and abstaining from communion for long stretches.

These "cafeteria Catholics" are now constantly being berated by the "good Catholics" and told that they are "bad"...or, perhaps, "false" might be the more accurate concept; people in the past didn't mind being sinners, but now they're being told that they're not even "real" Catholics, even if they were willing to recognize their sin. At that point, of course they're driven away or embrace heterodoxy. The message they hear from the orthodox is basically, "We don't want you, filth!"

Of course, that's not to say we shouldn't educate who we can (we should; we could be the instrument of their vocation to the "clerical" state) but it's never going to be everyone or even a majority. And I do, of course, think we men who are religiously literate probably should be made secular clerics officially to create that distinction again, without the consecrated-religious-like expectations of monastic seminary formation or not being able to have a wife (not that all would want one, of course).

There are fewer vocations because it used to be that basically all literate individuals became clergy and there was a distinction between the more strictly orthodox "clerical religion" and the more lenient "folk religion." Furthermore, there was also a segment spanning between the ignorant peasants and the perfect monks: secular priests in the true sense of the word (literate, but living in the world, potentially married, etc). But now...this second segment of literate Catholics doesnt need to be priests (in fact, many of us couldn't stand to be under the current system, because the current system basically assumes all priests will also live like consecrated religious).

Equating even secular clergy with consecrated religious led to clericalist dualism (as opposed to the natural triune structure) wherein religious literacy was equated with being "good" or holy (which previously was the domain of the Monks and Nuns only, not necessarily the secular priests). Well, this of course wasn't acceptable. For one, a good portion of the secular clergy were bad, and so with such evident hypocrisy, it was especially patronizing for the laity. The Protestants rightly protested this:
"I wonder if, perhaps, it could be said that Protestants tried to absorb all the energy of the dismantled priesthood into the laity [while still retaining a nominal clergy], while the response of Trent was to turn all the laity into priests [while retaining all the privileges for the actual priests]. The result is roughly the same, in the end."
The result was indeed the same.

For Protestants, it was unacceptable to identify religious literacy (ie, clerical status) with "goodness" their "clergy" were basically laicized to eliminate such a distinction; goodness was for everyone, because everyone was to be a secular. For Counter-Reformation Catholics, on the other-hand, the unacceptable duality was solved in the reverse manner: we couldn't get rid of the concept of the religious (as opposed to secular) life, so the ideal became just for the laity to all be clericalized and all the clergy to become like Religious.

But the result is indeed basically equivalent either way inasmuch as it leaves the ideal as everyone being the same, everyone being held to the same very high standard.

In the end, it won't work. Because there is always going to be a distinction between the religiously literate and the illiterate. Between those who just happen to adhere to a religion, and those who do so zealously. Between those who do believe but aren't that interested or concerned with religion actively, and those who think about it a lot and get a real kick out of liturgy and prayer and theological discussions.

We in the "clerical lay" group may romanticize the "folk religion," or try to fight for it to be benignly neglected rather than condemned or antagonized by our peers, but ultimately we ourselves are not and can never become peasants. For better or worse, we are bound by the rigors of orthodoxy and morality in a way they (subjectively, in practice) aren't. However much we might envy their care-free ignorance and lower expectations, however much we might resist the emotional leash they've gotten on us, however much we might wish we could be one of those peasants, however much we might resent our vocation to this status and the obligation it imposes on us.

Not everyone is called to be religiously literate. Many people are naturally those "peasants" and only some of us are meant to be "clerical." The problem, I think, is that not everyone religiously literate is meant to be a Religious. Not everyone meant to be of the clerical class is meant to be non-secular. By getting rid of that middle class (of secular clerics) in practice (if not in name)...they caused first clericalism (since even the very often not-holy secular clergy basically became identified with the holy religious) and then (as Protestantism reacted against this) fundamentalism, as the "good" laity (the ones who would probably become secular clerics if it weren't for the 'religious' aspects of the current secular priesthood: ie, mandatory celibacy, seminary formation, etc) were then set against the "bad" laity.

Another friend of mine responded to these thoughts in the following manner:
This idea of the tiered structures and now the removal of a tier might explain why within the Roman Church there is so much tension from various groups. I don't perceive within the Orthodox Churches (but then again I don't search out news of the Orthodox in the same way I do for RC.) These groups are made of religiously literate laity. They feel as if they need a say in the Church since they'd be the ones who a thousand years ago would have been the secular clergy and actually had a say.
Exactly! Yes, I certainly feel that's a large part of our frustration. I'm religiously literate, "clerical" as it were...but there is no class for real secular clerics in between the peasants and the monks (and all priests are basically now expected to be monks, even if they are diocesan, by the mere fact of mandatory celibacy, monastic seminary, a life "apart" from the world, etc).

Well, I know I'm not called to be a monk, but I also care and have opinions and ideas to try about church matters...yet being part of the segment (it's maybe 10-20%) that is religiously no longer enough to be an actual cleric. So, there is a lot of tension, and yet not enough vocations to the real priesthood. A lot of energy and ideas and motivation among the religiously literate laity, and yet they are denied the say that the actual clergy get except, like, on parish committees (shoot me if I ever join one).

So the "clerical laity" get self-righteous because (since they aren't of a class with different expectations) they want to demand everyone else be like them. The priests get all clericalist because, being identified with the Religious in externals, people assume they are holier and not just more literate. In the meantime, the actual Religious get less strict and watered-down since they are made essentially equivalent to secular priests. And many lay people are left frustrated, seeking pseudo-clerical roles and activities (including, in the end, even just altar serving, or catholic-blogging, or theological debates, etc).

In some sense, the breakdown of the clerical/lay distinction or roles in the liturgy since Vatican II was already there implicitly in allowing lay servers, in having a portion of the laity that follows along in missals, in having lay people who were well versed in catechism or for whom Catholicism was our "hobby" and not just our religion. The attempt to clericalize the laity while denying them actual clerical status...eventually burst out in the modern culture wars within the Church among the armchair lay theologians, and in the destruction of the liturgy according to "populist" premises ("populist" as ironically determined by a revolutionary elite).

The solution, however, is not to discourage this segment who are called to a higher standard, or to excuse ourselves from orthodoxy just since we're lay/seculars. Rather, these people (the men at least) should be made actual clerics minor and major (and the women like this would probably be inclined to marry that type of man). Definitely, some sort of official recognition should be given to this class to take the pressure off the simple peasants to conform to it.

The removal of the "middle" tier leaves religiously literate laity in a weird position. It also antagonizes the "peasants" because there is this pressure now that they too become the catholic-fanboy type, because they're lay too and, the logic goes, if some of the laity (ie, the clerical laity) can do it, then all of them can. But they can't. So it turns their mere apathy or ignorance or accepted sinfulness...into actual apostasy, explicit and knowing heresy, and obstinancy about sin.

What is the celibate clergy's investment or ulterior motive in allowing all this? I can't say for sure, but one theory might include the fact that it creates a niche market for the paraphernalia of clerical-catholic piety (regular confession, EWTN, books and booklets on theology, websites and the blogosphere, retreats, "good liturgy," Newman Centers, etc) without us being able to confect the sacraments ourselves, with us remaining dependent on them to supply it. So they get us hooked, get the leash on us psychologically, but then deny us the corresponding privileges.

By doing so they create a greater demand for themselves (since we can't do it without them) and maintain even the secular clergy as a full-time salaried position. When, really, if the "clerical laity" were allowed to be actually clerical (the role I feel they are naturally called towards, the men at least)...almost all its tasks could be fulfilled by part-time volunteers and their wives. But, as it is, we keep "needing" the lazy alcoholic who works only 2 hours a day and lives off our donations...

It is a real structural problem in the sociology of the Church. The secular clergy needs to be untied from the pseudo-Religious expectations it is now held to and be opened to a model which is meaningfully secular. This will both return rigor to the actual consecrated religious, solve the vocations crisis, and also give the religiously literate segment of the laity an official place and voice within the Church so that they will stop having to antagonize the simple folk as self-appointed inquisitors.


Tomas said...

I've been skimming through much of your blog in the past few weeks and I applaud your bravery in bringing out a number of phenomenal insights. I thank you for giving me some great food for thought and even forming some of my opinions.

However, I must question you about a number of tendencies you depict throughout much of these reflections and are readily apparent in this post.

Throughout this reflection you speak about your apparent call to some form of "clerical life." There has been much discussion about the "creepiness" of seminaries being your only deterrent. I am still quite lost as to how you reconcile this issue. To accept the priestly ministry is not to simply accept the responsibility of administering the sacraments, the chief duty of a priest, but rather of living out the Christian message as alterus christi, in a different form than that of a lay recipient, namely in the form of spiritual guidance and attention to the flock one's bishop has entrusted one with. This means a form of sanctification is called of priest that is beyond the laity, as you point out as a tier above the "peasant."

Part of this sanctification includes a living out, though not as perfectly, the life of a monk, who is the ultimate model for all as a bloodless martyr, dying to the world in order to live for Christ. The seminary thus acts as the forge in which one places one's will in order to obtain the sanctity necessary to live out this life.

Do I believe it is difficult, if not nearly impossible, to live out a life modeled the the bloodless martyrdom outside of seminary? No. In the past, there has been the option to apprentice oneself to the local priest(s), learn the trade and gain the needed spiritual formation.

Do we need to seminary in our society? You better believe it. The western psychology and ideology is shaped around the will of the individual. We have a tendency to believe that we each know what is best for ourself, are able to teach ourselves, and can make it on our own. This is an attitude foreign to the Medieval Age, foreign to the patristic age, and foreign to Paul, who upheld the need for a community to live out their lives, oddly enough, communally. Read the introduction of St. Benedict's Rule and one gets a good look at the contemporary opinion of those who "sought holiness on their own." St. Antony, the great hermit, didn't start out by doing it on his own.

Even recognizing this tendency to individualism, western man tends to fail in ridding himself of them. Working them out on his own is circular kind of therapy. Thus this society needs a place where those seeking the priestly life may rid themselves of these errors and learn to graft their will to Christ's (and their bishops, a priest is ultimately a man invested with the sacramental and presbyteral duties by his bishop).

Tomas said...

I bring these ideas up in this post because they get right to the heart of the problem I feel is apparent in this 3-tiered thesis. The laity should never be winked about among the ordained and consecrated. We are called to perfect sanctity. Christ, Paul, and the Church Fathers make this clear.

To believe otherwise is to fall into a radically scholastic notion of ignorance and morality where one is trying to find the line where one is "saved." It is looking for minimum or the lowest common denominator and settling for it. It is to be lukewarm with all the fear that comes from such an accusation.

In the Early Church, and currently in the Orthodox Church, the monk was considered the model by which all men and women were to strive. They were images of individuals who died completely to the world so as to allow Christ to live in them. In many ways, the laity is graded not in how far up the ladder they get, but in how hard they properly strive to live out the life of Christ, modeled especially in the radical life of prayer of the monk.

Which is why TOB is so important. While I disagree with you in the way the Church is obsessed with sex, there is no doubt that the drastic difference in monastic call to chastity and the married call to chastity caused some problems of understanding. JPII was able to bring to greater light the sacrificial and self-giving aspect of sex and thus placed even that aspect of the lay life as a mirror of Christ's absolute sacrifice and the model of the monks radical devotion to prayer.

The west decided that it was best for the priests to be taken from those who were willing to live out a life of celibacy for the kingdom of God, to better be a model and guide in the spiritual life for those entrusted to their care.

The Church did not make these choices lightly and out of some obsession for power. Parish priests normally have the biggest say in parishes only because most people would rather shoot themselves than be involved in their parish council. The Church has always had the bishops as their guides and teachers, an aspect of the Church that comes from the ecclesiology developed since the apostles, but those especially insightful of the faith have always been used and have, as you have said, often been ordained individuals. Vatican II and the popes of the last 100 years have been heavily influenced by lay thought however. Thinkers such Jacques Maritain, Etienne Gilson, and George Weigel have had influence.

You often have numerical data, psychological reports, and the examples of individuals still working out their own spiritual life. May I recommend you also turn your eyes to the saints, patristic, medieval, and modern? The life of the Church is rich with thought and thinkers who can guide one asking questions. In fact, reaching back to the tradition in this way is rather renegade in the Catholic Church, the ressourcement movement having somewhat stalled when Vatican II was hijacked in the post-conciliar period.

Hoan said...

I remember reading that the Korean Catechumens that came from the slave class found memorizing even the 10 commandments found it too much of a burden.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you. There is too much pressure for laity to be holy and too many "website-Catholics" who have never even prayed with or gotten to know their parish communities, thus think themselves Gods as regards to Catholicism. What the community understands as regards to holiness is that no one is better than the other. What the individual thinks without being sobered by contact with other people, is that no one is as good as him.

There needs to be a balance, and often the uninformed Catholic "peasantry" are holier than their holier-than-thou counterparts. They have beautiful personalities and will generally achieve sanctity or at least a holy death (have the sacraments).

Though we are so educated, no one should be left ignorant, there should be a realistic approach that people will sin and will need Confession, often, but not too often.

Ultimately, Love was human.

A Sinner said...

Thank you for your kind words on the blog, Tomas! (And thanks for bothering to read through such a long and rambling post...)

However, I have to disagree with much of what you say about the priesthood and also lay life, that I believe gets back to the very distinctions I posit in this post.

I am no longer certain in any way that I am called to the priesthood or anything like that. However, I am (clearly) religiously literate. "The Church is not a democracy," of course...but there is a definite frustration among the "clericalized" laity, both married and single, both those who might feel inclined to be priests if they could and those who don't.

This frustration is the result of having, frankly, all the knowledge, skills, and devotion of the "real" clergy (and, frankly, very often MORE of all those things) and yet having no official role or say in the Church when it comes to, for example, celebrating better liturgy or trying new pastoral strategies.

I've said before: I'd work my own job and support myself AND say an Old Mass for a parish every morning. And volunteer to help with things on weekends. If they'd ordain me. If there was a competency exam, I'm confident I'd pass it.

And yet, there are all these barriers that do not (as has been pointed out before: make priests notably more holy, or knowledgeable, or competent than much of the "high powered" laity, and yet which DO seem designed to guarantee that a certain type of (often dysfunctional) personality is attracted to the job.

As for priests leading a flock, I will say that the vocation to be a pastor may well be different than the vocation to be simply a priest. There are plenty of lay volunteers now (including women) who provide counseling and spiritual guidance and, on the other hand, there are models of priesthood where priests are not always pastors. The Ethiopian model, as I have discussed here, relies on many men in the parish being priests and each taking one week a year to preform the priestly duties (like the Jewish Temple Priesthood).

Your comments on the seminary disturb me, as they are the very attitudes constantly critiqued on this blog. You are repeating, essentially, the "party line" on seminaries and their purpose, and that's all great "in theory" and "on paper." But the big problem is simply that it just isn't true in practice.

The seminary system DOESNT seem to provide ANY guarantee of priestly sanctity or holiness. For all the monkish externals they're put through...secular priests are simply not (in most people's experience) a radically holier class than the laity. So all the nice-sounding rhetoric about the seminary guaranteeing holy priests simply doesnt stand up to reality in practice.

A Sinner said...

There is also the fact that holiness is not competence. If Marcel Maciel is any dont need to be holy to help sanctify other people. You need to be competent. I'd much rather a priest in my parish who is secretly leading a double life but preaches well, does good liturgy, and gives sound advice...than a bumbling, clueless, boring Saint. Saints are of most use to us once they're dead...

Your notions of seminary are lofty and very traditional...but they simply haven't borne the fruit in practice that they've promised to "in theory."

You say, "The laity should never be winked about among the ordained and consecrated. We are called to perfect sanctity. Christ, Paul, and the Church Fathers make this clear."

Once again, this is where idealism clashes with realism. I wouldn't disagree that all are called to sanctity. But it's also naive to think that most people will, in fact, achieve like it. Throughout has never been done. It has always been a small fraction, and usually not of the laity.

As the In Exsilium post and also many posts at Reditus make clear...the simple folk very often get something else out of religion, and attempts to try to socially engineer a Church where everyone is zealous and rigorous...simply won't work. You end up, at best, pressuring an unsustainable and unnatural arrangement into existence artificially, like in Communism.

I am not looking for a lowest common denominator personally. I personally do "know better," so I must hold myself to a high standard, and do hope to become holy and a saint. But I have no business putting such an expectation on the vast majority of mankind.

You can keep repeating pretty IDEALS all you want, and I'll admit they're ideals and hold them up as such in my own life. But ideals are neither here nor there when it comes to concrete discussions of fact and reality. For better or worse, "should be" is very different than "is."

The reality is, there ARE plenty of dysfunctional dynamics in the current Western policy of mandatory celibacy and some of it does involve obsession of power and control by a class of lonely, infantalized old men. You still seem to be giving too much of the benefit of the doubt to the human policies of mere mortal men who very often have been corrupt or stupid.

Mark of the Vineyard said...

I'm curious about your reasoning of the three-tiered model of the Church in the Middle Ages. Where exactly did the Third Orders fit into this model? After all: they were lay people, not really "peasants" because they wanted to live a "stricter" life, but they weren't exactly religious either because they could be married. Would you fit the minto the "secular clergy"?

A Sinner said...

Third Orders are confusing. For example, the Franciscans had Third Order Regulars (who are lay brothers that do live in community, and do profess the three vows, just under a simpler rule) and Third Order Seculars (who are more like a confraternity, except they may have some sort of scapular or habit) some of whom are married and so not consecrated persons, but some of whom do take the vows privately (and so do sort of constitute consecrated persons, similar to the model of Secular Institutes).

If they're married, they're seculars, definitely. In general, if they're living in the world outside community life...they're seculars. But, yes, I suppose they fill the "second category" niche that was formerly held by secular clergy but is now held by religiously literate laity. Given that the Third Orders developed mainly with the rise of the Mendicant Orders, and that the final imposing of "monastic" rules (ie, celibacy, etc) on the secular clergy is usually traced to a about a century earlier...the Third Orders may represent the beginning of the transition to having this second niche be filled by religiously literate laity as opposed to true secular clerics.

Tomas said...

"...ideals are neither here nor there when it comes to concrete discussions of fact and reality. For better or worse, 'should be' is very different than 'is.'"

This is where we part ways and will probably have to agree to disagree. I'm in no way so naive as to believe the ideal guides life. As a handicapped individual, struggling to find a way to live out a call to radical sanctity, and unable to live on his own, I know intimately the ways in which life fails to live up to the ideal. Life is messy, most especially because man is far, far from perfect.

However, one cannot talk about the 'is' without an understanding, acceptance, and striving towards the 'should be.' It's why pagan "the good life" was in many ways radically different from Christian "holy life" (though today's view of Christ's message speaks very differently). The pagan world had a very different "should be" than that of Christianity, as such the "is" of both is very different. Just as one could make the argument that today's "is" is much different from the "is" of the Medieval age or patristic age in the Christian communities. Today's ideal tends toward "what's the best we can do," supplanting the call of Christ or of Paul.

Which is why the saints are necessary. To say that they're more use to us dead is to do a great disservice to the great influence they had in their time on this world: St. John Vianney, Blessed Mother Theresa, Blessed John Henry Newman, Gregory the Great, St. Antony of the Desert, Bernard of Clairvoux - men and women whose lives witnessed to the Fullness of Gospel Truth as they lived. In fact, more people have been inspired by and are devoted to those "bumbling, clueless, boring saints" than any great religious treatise. Even those devoted to Thomas are in love with the man for the mysticism Thomistic philosophers often forget about.

As for seminaries pumping out "holy men," I hope to goodness that our seminaries aren't pumping out "holy men." Holiness is not some commodity to be manufactured. All the seminary is supposed to do, beyond the theological and vocational training, is help them realize just how much they need to work at growing in holiness - to help enliven them to pray with fear and trembling "Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, the sinner."

Sanctity is not about being "zealous and rigorous." Was Christ zealous and rigorous in the way we tend to imagine zealotry and rigor? Being holy means recognizing you are in need of God's grace more than you can possibly imagine. If anything, our seminaries are failing (which I agree that they are) in not making this clear enough. They tend to want those men who are good photo-ops, capable of being kind, and models to the world that priests are just "good guys" (this is a point we agree upon).

Tomas said...

Regarding pastors v priests, that is a dichotomy I fear to make. Priests are called to minister to people. A priest unable to properly care for those he's ministering to has no business becoming a priest. I would be curious to hear if the Ethiopian model made such a dichotomy. Even in a monastery, classically, the abbot, or those entrusted with the ministry of the brothers, was the only ordained man, because he was already called to minister to those under his care.

"This frustration is the result of having, frankly, all the knowledge, skills, and devotion of the "real" clergy (and, frankly, very often MORE of all those things) and yet having no official role or say in the Church when it comes to, for example, celebrating better liturgy or trying new pastoral strategies."

This must just be experiential differences. My pastor is a bit cowardly and the laity tends to run the parish. Though I have heard of parishes where the pastor runs everything. These tend to be parishes where the number who want to be involved is small or are rather upset with the tendencies among their fellow parishioners and so treat them as "peasants" who one does not wish to associate.

For the record - I wouldn't bat an eye at married clergy or a change in the seminary structure. I just don't think it's good to build up a strong man with extremely negative, emotional language or claiming "concrete realism" as a defense for setting aside the ideal to any degree.

As an aside, being a theologically trained, prideful S.O.B., I'm in no place to recommend you act with humility. I mean, I'm damn good at theologizing. I'm also no St. Antony and so am far from the gates of heaven.

Fathers of the Desert, pray for us.

A Sinner said...

"However, one cannot talk about the 'is' without an understanding, acceptance, and striving towards the 'should be.' It's why pagan "the good life" was in many ways radically different from Christian "holy life" (though today's view of Christ's message speaks very differently)."

Again, I sympathize, but I simply disagree about what this implies, in practice, for the pastoral approach of the Church or certain structural features.

I can hold up the ideals in my own life and strive towards them, but that doesn't imply that I should try to enforce such ideals on other people. The reality is, most people won't approach the ideal.

Attempts to socially engineer a laity of "perfect sanctity" are doomed to, in our world especially, merely drive most of them away. The neocon and trad indignance at the "cafeteria" Catholics...well, they should take the log out of their own eyes first.

What the Church should do, is be there offering the tools of sanctification when, and to the extent that, people come seeking them. For some folk, this may be no more than coming to light a candle when a loved one is sick. The Church will be there waiting.

The perfect need not be made the enemy of the good.

As for seminaries, I can only repeat how, even with your new stated goals of making men realize how unworthy they are...they don't seem to have had any practical effect, except perhaps to make the men more socially dysfunctional.

Again, it all sounds good in theory, but we have to look and see and ask "Is it really doing anything?" I don't see it. Priests are not notably different as a class of people, certainly not notably more up to the task of their job than many lay people would be. As another friend of mine once said, "If seminary was that necessary spiritually for priests, we'd make all Catholics go for a stint."

As for theological and vocational training, the fact is...priesting isn't rocket science. They are ridiculously over-educated, and the goal seems to be more about mentally institutionalizing them than about "training" per se. They simply don't require as much professional training as, say, medical doctors. Six years of seminary is ridiculous overkill. I consider priests to be more like gradeschool teachers (which I am currently in training to become) in terms of level of professional development needed.

While I'd argue that it is the bishop who is the ultimate pastor in the diocese, and that priests are merely his "hands" to use as needed (including as mere "sacrament dispensers") there is also the contradiction I've pointed out before regarding permanent deacons. Permanent deacons are also meant to minister to people. Moreso than priests even (whose primary ministry is performing the Sacrifice).

And yet, in many dioceses, the permanent deacon program is much "easier"/shorter/less time intensive/more truly secular. Deacons can do everything priests can except say mass, absolve, and anoint the sick. Yet deacons can lead communion services, do spiritual direction, and bring communion to the sick. And yet, for some reason, a priest requires this radically different amount of "training." I just don't buy it. Plenty of deacons I know would make better priests than many priests I know.

sortacatholic said...

A Sinner (via Arturo): There is also the notion that, according to Reditus, even Archbishop Lefebvre apparently held, among the polygamous in Africa, that it was better to leave these people as sort of "perpetual catechumens" for many years rather than baptizing them before they were ready to take on the full burdens of Christian life.

Okay, I'd usually throw out the 'blatant racist' barb, but this is Marcel Lefebvre we're talking about. This guy idolized Petain and adapted Vichy principles as his society's MO. Yuck. My sympathies to the Catholic people of Dakar that found themselves under his archepiscopacy. Senegal is a majority Muslim-animist country, so he couldn't have made that much an impact.

A Sinner:
Rather, these people [the devout laity] (the men at least) should be made actual clerics minor and major (and the women like this would probably be inclined to marry that type of man). Definitely, some sort of official recognition should be given to this class to take the pressure off the simple peasants to conform to it.
My brackets

This is a VERY BAD IDEA. Take it from one of the reprobate: this will drive the nominal Catholics, the sexual Other, and many convert-seekers from Rome. Your motive is good: give the new second estate an official part in the church to neutralize their downward pressure on the spiritual peasantry.

I spent fifteen years with "the devout". Most of them are in fact incredibly ignorant and just darn mean. Their intellectual and educational deficiencies are shellacked over with hefty amounts of hatred. It's as if a trachoma of the mind (thanks Pynchon) substitutes for charity or meditative reflection.

I don't see a real thirst for a truly catholic knowledge either in the "lay clerical" caste. There's a lot of knowledge (and prejudice) on the pelvic issues but very little on the very fine fabric that is the interlace of theology and liturgical text. It's so bone-crushingly pathetic that I've had wonderful hour long conversations with an Anglican priest on the fine philological grace notes of the Roman Canon, but get told to literally shut up when I try to have an intellectual conversation with a priest. Nevertheless, the priest and the lay clergy will happy praddle on about why they think the local bishop should deny communion to the Catholic neo-con enemies du jour.

Do you want a "lay cleric" now priest that's just going to moralize and condemn rather than preach the gospel with an educated precision? Do you want a lay cleric now priest that belts out a Low Mass but could care less about knowing Latin well and even less about the meaning of the prayers? He's got those 10 kids -- what a holy man for accepting God's providence!

Jesus called some of the Pharisees he met "hypocrites" not because of their adherence to early rabbinical Judaism. Rather, it was their ignorance of the rich traditions of late second temple Judaism. The hypocrites prostituted their rich social and ritual patrimony on cheap piety. Is this where we're going?

vae vobis scribae et Pharisaei hypocritae ...(Mt 23:25)

Οὐαὶ ὑμῖν, γραμματεῖς καὶ Φαρισαῖοι ὑποκριταί ...(ibid.)

"(Sigh) Scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites ..."(ibid)

vae and Οὐαὶ are usually translated "woe" in English Bibles. I think that a better translation would be (sigh), almost as if the evangelist has interjected the though of Jesus into the text. Here, then, is the anointed cast s**ting in their own cage. Jesus is not out to condemn, but rather to marvel at the prisons we construct for ourselves.

A Sinner said...

"Your motive is good: give the new second estate an official part in the church to neutralize their downward pressure on the spiritual peasantry."

Yes! That's a very good description of the idea.

I share your concerns, I really do, but I stand by the proposal nonetheless.

Because I believe all the mean-spiritedness already exists, here and now. I don't see making that lay reader a lector, or that lay server an acolyte...making things any worse.

For one, because I do imagine this secular clergy to be part-time, so not necessarily in the position of pastor, but at least able to fill the gap in Sunday Masses and do actually good liturgy (maybe).

As for homilies, well, I've often imagined that we could (at least for this class) simply institute a cycle of patristic homilies that they'd just read, instead of having to write their own. And though "priests simplex" in the past did not hear confessions if these did...they could be limited to just assigning a penance out of a penitential manual and not giving any (potentially harmful) advice of their own.

I dont see things getting any worse, and maybe it would take some of the pressure off the "peasants" if the middle class had an actual investment in the institution, outside their own armchair, into which to direct some of that energy.

The fanboys want to play the game instead of just watching on the sidelines while absolutely bumbling dysfunctionals (ie, the current "real" clergy) do a mediocre job. But they also know laity aren't supposed to be in the sanctuary. Well, I say, let them (us) play.

All these debates and infighting and opinions would still exist of course (your committed liberals and heretics are religiously literate too, remember), but maybe if they came to be seen as just an intra-clergy issue, the peasants would get caught in the cross-fire as collateral less, wouldn't be the political foil they are now. Currently, the peasants are used as pawns in the neocon agenda, because the only hope the "devout" have of making a change is from the bottom up. If they actually had projects to work on WITHIN the institution, and their big fights were against other CLERICS, maybe a benign neglect for the laity would return.

Andrew said...

I would generally agree with this post. I have floated around as a "lay cleric" for a while now.

Some points, however. The whole "universal call to holiness" (which is actually a pre-Vatican II notion) doesn't fit in to well with allowing the "peasantry" to live on in ignorance. Can we ever assume they are actually invincibly ignorant? Even if they can't or don't read Church documents or know any fine points of liturgy, that doesn't seem to preclude them from living actually moral lives, not just one that is subjectively moral because of sheer ignorance. There is certainly place for this, however. I have gotten great advice from wise traditional priests to this basic end on the subject of fraternal correction. It might seem like the "right" thing to do to throw the book at people who you see doing bad things but often it will do more harm than good. Sometimes you just have to let people learn through experience and get to where they should be on their own. The point about Communion is also something I really agree with and get a bit of a Jansenist rep for. What's so wrong with not going to Communion every time you are at Mass? There can be a bunch of different reasons, not keeping the fast or not being properly prepared/recollected, this being your second or better Mass in that day etc. besides being enmeshed in mortal sin. When I was a seminarian I had no problem hearing a Mass and not receiving Communion in my cassock. I figured it was good example if nothing else.

Secondly, again, I like the idea of this three tiered system, but how would it ever be put into place? The powers that be in the USCCB and their equivalents are loathed to do anything that would seem to be too un-egalitarian.

Going along with that, you do realize that the peasants do not like to be thought of as peasants, right? Unfortunately (going along with the general theme) today's "peasants" won't just listen to their superiors. They have enough knowledge and sense to be dangerous and definitely do not like to be considered "lower" than folks like us. Today, they are much more likely to try to be vocal in their religious opinions even if those opinions are very rude and unrefined. I'm sure you've had conversations with folks like this on topics like limbo or if Fluffy gets to heaven who take their wholly irrational emotionalist "arguments" very seriously...

Also, there is really no way to get around that this all sounds very condescending. It seems that at least when the lay-clerics try to beat the peasants into order, they at least have some sort of respect for them as persons in that they think they have the capacity to at least do what the Church asks of all of us. Winking at their ignorance seems to act as if they are subhuman proles who are just left to their antics because their is no real hope for them, as we sip our brandy and take a drag off our cigars...

That said, as I said before, I am in substantial agreement with your idea. To me, a little "condescension" isn't always a bad thing because God simply didn't make us all equal. Acknowledging this doesn't make one haughty or egotistical.

Lastly, who gets to be one of these "lay clerics"? It seems that the present clerical state has plenty of folks who might have been better off as "peasants". There are plenty of people who think of themselves as well read and religiously literate yet who really aren't. Where do we draw the lines?

A Sinner said...

"The whole 'universal call to holiness' (which is actually a pre-Vatican II notion) doesn't fit in to well with allowing the 'peasantry' to live on in ignorance."

Maybe it doesnt. I think the point of the blog post at In Exsilium was that the "universal call to holiness" actually goes back to Trent, in its desire to enforce doctrinal and moral conformity, religious literacy, and positive intellectual assent among the laity. And that Vatican II and its aftermath are, thus, ironically, simply the playing out of the same "populist" spirit of ideas that were begun, at least implicitly, at Trent in this regard.

"Can we ever assume they are actually invincibly ignorant?" it our job to either assume or not to assume? The point is...that isn't our business, it's theirs. They'll know the state of their conscience. And the Church will be their waiting for them with the tools of sanctification when, and to the extent, that they come and seek them.

The point is merely that it isn't our place, especially as mere other lay people ("clerical" as we may be) to act as self-appointed enforcers of orthodoxy or morality and to go around policing their bedrooms and condemning them for being "cafeteria Catholics," or whatever.

If they know they're wrong; then that's on their conscience. If they don't know they're wrong, who are we to go around as Inquisitors trying to enforce our ideals on them? I know I have a duty to live morally and to believe orthodoxly. I know I am called to holiness. That's all I should be focused on. Not on angsting over the fact that a bunch of other Catholics contracept. As long as I dont, what business is that of mine?

Now, I think I can also hold other "clerical" types to a higher standard, as hypocrisy among the self-anointed righteous is foul. But it's really not my place to comment on the simple folk or what they're doing.

"that doesn't seem to preclude them from living actually moral lives"

No, it doesn't. Many do. And that's great. On the other hand, many also don't. And that's none of our business.

"It might seem like the "right" thing to do to throw the book at people who you see doing bad things but often it will do more harm than good. Sometimes you just have to let people learn through experience and get to where they should be on their own"

Exactly. I think this is all of our point. It is isn't our job as laity, or even as lower clergy, to go around condemning cafeteria Catholics, or basically excommunicating people, or starting moral panics about various issues, as you see so often in the "conservative" Catholic blogosphere. Live and let live.

"Secondly, again, I like the idea of this three tiered system, but how would it ever be put into place? The powers that be in the USCCB and their equivalents are loathed to do anything that would seem to be too un-egalitarian."

Well, but that's exactly it. It is the current system which is un-egalitarian because it divides the laity into "good Catholics" and "bad Catholics." If the "good Catholics" were made actual clerics, however, then their increased privileges would simply be explained as part of their office. Only people who cared enough to be religiously literate would bother to become part of this second tier of secular clerics. They dont seem to have any problem with PRIESTS being a separate class. This is where their pretense of modern "egalitarianism" falls apart; they are actually very clericalist. Their denial of the priesthood to married or otherwise secularly-living men has nothing to do with egalitarianism among the laity, and everything to do with preserving the clericalist closed-culture of the priesthood.

A Sinner said...

"Today, they are much more likely to try to be vocal in their religious opinions even if those opinions are very rude and unrefined. I'm sure you've had conversations with folks like this on topics like limbo or if Fluffy gets to heaven who take their wholly irrational emotionalist 'arguments' very seriously..."

Why are you arguing with them? That shouldn't even come up, is my point.

Also...if they are so opinionated, are they really peasants? The liberal heretics are "clerics" too inasmuch as they actually care and have an intellectual investment.

The "peasants" I'm thinking of are simple folk like my grandparents who do their best, and go to church, and say their rosary, and may have some quaint ideas, may have no idea what the Divine Office is, or about the nuances of Catholic soteriology, may be rather superstitious...but are not spending their time thinking or writing or reading about religion all the time either.

"Also, there is really no way to get around that this all sounds very condescending."

Well, the "peasant" terminology is simply to show the analogy to the tier system in the MEDIEVAL Church. Yet, I suppose that class would have contained even lay nobles, however, so maybe "truly lay" vs "clerical lay" would be better?

But it's also simply realistic. There is a difference between those who are Catholic fanboys for whom religion is also the "hobby" which they read and write and talk and think about (especially thanks to the internet)...and those for whom it is "merely" their religion, not their whole life.

"It seems that at least when the lay-clerics try to beat the peasants into order, they at least have some sort of respect for them as persons in that they think they have the capacity to at least do what the Church asks of all of us."

Yes, that's the "theory" behind it. It's just a theory that has shown itself to be incredibly spiritually destructive for the Church. That sort of "democratic" idea simply doesnt seem to play out well in practice. People DO seem to be called to different levels of commitment to it all.

"There are plenty of people who think of themselves as well read and religiously literate yet who really aren't. Where do we draw the lines?"

As I said, I think the mere fact of someone wanting to make the greater time and effort commitment that would be required of even just part-time volunteer clergy...would be a pretty good indicator. They could be vetted from there to check how well-versed they really are in all these things and brought up to par as need be.

Because, as you say...there are priests and seminarians for whom I had to think "Why would you want to dedicate your life to something that you clearly don't even know all the basic ins and outs of??"

But, in general, the division is between those people for whom Catholicism is "merely" their religion in a minimalist way, and those people who want "more" and to dedicate more time and energy to it all (And, the highest tier, those who want it to take up their WHOLE life...can become consecrated religious).

sortacatholic said...

I don't have my own blog (wouldn't that be a nightmare!) Let me use someone else's to make a novel suggestion.

Everyone here should read Hermann Hesse's "Narcissus and Goldmund". The Noonday translation is good and easy to find, but read what you can find. If you are so inclined, auf Deutsch, Narziß und Goldmund.

This is Hesse's masterpiece. Quite broadly speaking, Goldmund is a spiritual peasant that happens on two of what we now call "lay-clerics" while wandering through the medieval German countryside.

A psychologically complex look at ingrained hypocrisy through the eyes of a weary agnostic author.

Andrew said...

Well, then it seems we have a bit different idea of how far the "cleric" label would extend. In my experience at least (YMMV) there are fairly few left who would fit the sorta pious/superstitious and largely ignorant group aside from some of the older folks and some folks from immigrant populations. Many parishioners are somewhat opinionated. I would class them in the peasant group because while they might have opinions, those opinions are often 3rd hand ignorant reiterations of what they heard from some Fr. Freespirit.

I do think we should still be very explicit with the Church's teaching. It is our Christian duty to make this known to all men and in the right situation, to fraternally correct our erring brethren. That said, I don't agree with moralizing them to death and acting like a self-appointed Grand Inquisitor. I personally tend to overlook quite a few things and it goes on a sliding scale. Less for fellow "lay clerics" and quite a bit for the unchurched and pagans. If they freely ask about the Church's stand on this or that, however, they get both barrels (as charitably as I can muster, of course).

I also look at this through the old notion of the fewness of those who will be saved. It seems (from reading and experience) that many people (in and outside of the Church) could care less about the Four Last Things or their immortal soul. They are busy eating and drinking and being merry while they have the time. So, while it seems that many will perish in eternal perdition, I will not be found blameless if I just sit back and let them go about their merry way. Again, hearkening back to what was said before, the APPROACH is what is different though. No need to browbeat as its counterproductive anyway.

The differing levels of commitment I heartily agree with and often tell people just that when I am talking about the Church or their joining/coming back to it. One can really be a decent Catholic with a lot less commitment then people like us and I tell folks that. Go to Mass on Sunday, confess your sins once in a while, pray some according to your state in life and you are good to go. Even if you screw up, no one who's opinion actually matters is going to come around and excommunicate you for being lukewarm. Your level of commitment is basically up to you and you are always welcome to come back if you wander off.

Agostino Taumaturgo said...

A few comments, although I'm not sure if they're going int he same direction the rest of this thread is going:

"A Medieval Christian knew that he was a sinner, yes, but, he also knew that, as a member of this Mystical Body, his failings and short comings were being mended in the lives of the Saints..."

This comes very close to Melancthon's begrudging admission in Article XXI of the Apology for the Augsburg Confession, where he admits the intercession of Saints, and admits that the Angels and Saints intercede for us all the time. This is a concept that I wonder whether we literate moderns (clerical and laical alike) truly grasp anymore. I mean we know it because we read it, but how many ofus actually know it because we trust it?

Totally unrelated to anything else, I know, but I figured it could bear pointing out (especially to any apologetics geeks out there who could easily find this useful).

" the "good" laity (the ones who would probably become secular clerics if it weren't for the 'religious' aspects of the current secular priesthood: ie, mandatory celibacy, seminary formation, etc) were then set against the "bad" laity."

There is an easier solution to all this, you know. Just make them Old Catholics! With a few exceptions, a large part of the OC/IC movement isn't all that concerned about clerical celibacy or seminary formation, and they don't even have to worry about doing al the mental calisthenics to justify themselves to themselves (when the Pope says something they don't agree with, or prove how the new matches the old, or whatever the case may be that week); so it'll be a match made in heaven! *lol, even if I'm the only one who thinks this is funny.*

Actually, all kidding aside, and on a more serious note: I'm not sure what to make of the idea that literate laity should just be made clergy. In my experience, the "religiously literate" laity tend to be great with book-knowledge, but the vast majority of them outright suck when it comes to pastoral sensitivity and dealing with people who don't think 100% like they do. In order to be effective, a cleric needs to be able to deal with people from all different walks of life, he needs to be able to see and accept people for who they are, and he can't just be some self-righteous prick with a chip on his shoulder expecting everyone else to toe his own personal party line. And this includes accepting the "bad" laity as well.

But on the other hand, being placed into situations where they're forced to deal with people from all walks of life, that might just grow them up a little and help them get the maturity and the pastoral sensitivity that one can't get through book knowledge. Now, not everybody's going to excel at dealing with all kinds of people all the time --- for example, I don't deal well with people from the suburbs, and I'm downright terrible at dealing with Calvinists (I have no patience whatsoever for their predestinationist, lapsarian, anti-sacramental nonsense) --- I think that being forced into situations where they have to deal with others might have a beneficial effect on them, and will either make them (speaking on an person-by-person basis) better clergy that what currently exists int he hierarchy now, or it will send them running for the hills screaming. either way, it could be a great tool for discerning whether the individual "religiously literate laic" really is called to the clerical state in the first place.

Unfortunately, though, I agree that the tension between educated laity and the "peasants" --- scratch that, let's call them "people who couldn't care less" and "people who care too much" --- will always be there, and I'm not sure if even the step of re-instituting the secular clergy (which is effectively what you suggest) would remedy it.