Monday, November 22, 2010

Maritain on Clericalism

It's a little too long to post in full here, and I don't really have any commentary to add, but I would highly recommend this article recommended to me by a friend of mine who is in seminary. Just some samples:
The present crisis, which is a genuine scandal to the people of God and to their good and faithful priests, demands a number of serious changes in the way the "Personnel" of the Church are chosen and promoted, and the way in which they operate at all the levels of the hierarchical institution. Bishops should be chosen by the Pope as true shepherds of the people of God, after serious consultation with the members of the flock they are to care for -- not as CEOs or legal experts (after all, don't lawyers learn how to skirt the law?) or as financial managers of the institution, whose main concern is damage control and financial stability. The Catholic laity, especially in America, is no longer made up of poor uneducated immigrants; very many of them are far more educated and experienced in various fields than the shepherds who are designated to "serve" them. Their flocks will no longer submit quietly to the law's delay and the insolence of office. Such arrogance was particularly evident in the response of the director of vocations for the diocese of Dublin, who, when he was reminded by reporters, that, at a time when there was a grave shortage of priests, only one seminarian would be ordained from the whole diocese, declared "In the end, the only way to have people sit up and take notice is to let them experience firsthand the problems that result from their own behavior." Or the Curial disdain for the American Church in the reply of the Vatican spokesman who, in answer to reporters' questions about the possible causes of the clerical child abuse scandal, declared that the very fact that all the questions being asked were in English was a good indication of the source of the problem. The "Personnel" of the Church must commit itself to transparency, to the sharing of power and to greater respect for and consultation with the people of God. What ever happened to the sensus fidelium?
The work of the Oratorians has produced many excellent priests over the years, but Maritain pointed out a lack of theological rigor in Berulle's thinking that led him to slip from the notion of the exigencies of the sanctity of the sacerdotal function to the notion of the sanctity of the priestly state of life itself, a state in which the priest would be constituted by the very fact of his ordination.

On the one hand, Berulle was right, Maritain insists, and magnificently so, in his insistence on the holiness toward which the priest ought to strive. . .

"On the other hand, Berulle was mistaken, and seriously so, in exalting the sanctity of the state of life in which the sacrament of Holy Orders places the one who receives it. From affirming the eminent perfection to which the priest is called so that he may exercise his function in a manner that is in complete harmony with what the office demands, to affirming the eminent perfection of the state of life which is conferred on him at the same time as the sacramental powers, there is no more than an imperceptible step for Berulle, and he was happy to take that step."

And the Cardinal did not miss an opportunity to explain that the priesthood itself is a "state of sanctity," Maritain finds this conception rather bizarre, "when one recalls that the indelible mark that the character imprints on the soul of the priest is no other than the power with which he is invested to transubstantiate bread and wine and to absolve, even if he happens himself personally to be unworthy by the loss of grace. "

The sacrament of Holy Orders does not constitute the priest in a state of sanctity any more than baptism constitutes an ordinary Christian in such a state. The state of life of the priest, Maritain maintains, "is the same as that of most ordinary members of God's people" and a clear distinction must be maintained between this state of life and the priestly function.
In other words, the secular priesthood is not in itself a "state of perfection" like consecrated life:

He maintained that the French School went so far in this illusory sublimation that, at least in more recent times, many of those it formed believed that the priest communicates a higher dignity to and actually sanctifies whatever he happens to do in his ordinary life. Some even thought (contrary to Berulle) that any act at all accomplished by a priest -- trimming trees, fixing a watch, indeed even scolding an altar boy (and we might ask in the present crisis, what have many altar boys not been required to submit to?) or eating a meal with friends -- is a sacerdotal act.

"We were to believe that from the moment he does something in the exercise of his functions, the priest, because his ordination, in making him the hand of Christ, constituted him in a loftier state than that of the ordinary Christian, then acts as being of Christ by privileged right and brings to men a ray, sometimes a bit obscured (but in such a case we shed a furtive tear and then quickly pull the veil), a ray which emanates from Christ. . . Sacerdos alter Christus -- this is the maxim. . . for a long time now. . . the way in which [followers of the French School] sublimate the priesthood was considered the guarantee par excellence for maintaining the respect we owe the Church's ministers. (And not only were we supposed to respect them, but to love them as well.)"

Maritain calls this an "illusory sublimation" of the priesthood. He is not using the term "sublimation" in the now-popular Freudian sense of the word. What he means is the illusionary raising of the priesthood and of the reverence due to the priest to a level far higher than is warranted. This illusionary and exaggerated reverence for the priest explains in good measure how a child or young adolescent could become deeply confused at the advances of pedophile and ephebophile priests and make agonizing efforts to convince himself or herself that what the priest was doing was not sinful because of the exaggerated reverence with which they were always taught to regard the person of that priest -- or explains their reluctance to speak of the situation to the authorities or their parents for fear that they would not be believed. It explains too the reluctance of the Personnel of the Church to confront, discipline or remove "one of their own" and their recourse to secrecy and cover-up to protect the reputation of the institutional Church and its Personnel.

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