Catholic School Matters

April 7, 2019

Fighting Clericalism

The whole church needs to confront attitudes of power, privilege, and entitlement that characterize many of the ordained and reinforce a structure that protects them from accountability. Cardinal Cupich

Clericalism has been a popular topic in American Catholic circles over the past year. The crisis in leadership is often framed as a result of clerical attitudes. But I wonder if lay people have challenged their own role in ennabling clericalism to persist? Have we sat back and blamed the priests and bishops instead of stepping up? Or, worse, have we stopped attending or participating? Is it easier to blame the priests and bishops than work for change?

In the Global Sisters Report post from last August (which was republished in the National Catholic Reporter), the author, Nicole Trahan, draws on the lessons from Ezekiel 34:

“Woe to the shepherds of Israel

who have been pasturing themselves!

Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep?”

Trahan continues by examining our views of ordination.

Therein lies the problem as I see it. And I have seen it. When on committees, people defer to the priest because he is a priest — even when others at the table have more expertise in the matter at hand. It happens when priests get special treatment at restaurants, sporting events or other venues by virtue of being ordained. It happens when experts in education and child development are overruled in parish schools by the pastor, based on his preferences. There is power and privilege in this. I cannot help but wonder what kind of impact this sort of treatment has on a person.

Lay people have granted priests this special place. I’m not arguing that priest don’t deserve our respect. But if we grant them exalted positions due to ordination and ignore the perspectives of the laity, then we are to blame. And I see this pattern repeating in parishes and schools. The laity is apt to put all the decisions and tasks on priests and bishops and not claiming their role as “co-responsible” for the Church, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI.

America magazine called for an end to clericalism in an editorial and spotlighted the dangers in a lengthy article. In it, Pope Francis is quoted: “Clericalism in the Catholic Church, Francis tells us, ‘nullifies the personality of Christians’ and ‘leads to the functionalization of the laity, treating them as ‘errand boys [or girls].’” This functionalization is something that we (the laity) can resist and claim as damaging.

In the Crux article “Clericalism: The Culture that Enables Abuse and Insists on Hiding It” another quote from Pope Francis highlights the conflict: “To say ‘no’ to abuse is to say an emphatic ‘no’ to all forms of clericalism.” This quote was from Pope Francis’ August 20th letter to all Catholics. The September Crux article “Laity Must Have Role in Fighting Clericalism” quotes Cardinal Beniamino Stella, prefect of the Congregation of Clergy, who says, “Clericalism and often the reduction of the Church to an elite class, has generated an anomalous way of understanding authority that has devalued baptismal grace and, not infrequently, has contributed to forms of abuse, especially on a person’s conscience.” Interesting to note the phrase “baptismal grace” which supports the notion of the priestly ministry of all.

In “Christus Vivit” the recently-released apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis written to “Young People and to the Entire People of God,” Pope Francis returns to this theme. “Clericalism is a constant temptation on the part of priests who see “the ministry they have received as a power to be exercised, rather than a free and generous service to be offered. It makes us think that we belong to a group that has all the answers and no longer needs to listen or has anything to learn” (98).

These themes were echoed by Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s press conference in Washington, where he promised to “always tell the truth” in order to rebuild trust. His comment, “I think so much of what we're facing now was a misuse of power, an abuse of power, clerical power, power that was intended in too many cases to dominate and destroy lives" also supports this idea that clericalism needs to be challenged.

One could argue that many Catholics have made their choice to reject clericalism by not attending Mass, not financially supporting the Church, and not enrolling their children in Catholic schools. We need to offer a different choice—staying in the Church, claiming our rightful place in the church, and working for change.

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Dr. Tim Uhl

Big picture

Leadership Scenarios

One of your Latino students reported that one particular students kept chanting “Build the Wall” around her. You have received verification from a teacher that it was spoken. The student denies saying it, although he does say, “I support building the wall.” When you call the parents of the student who was accused, they dismiss the charges and say that you are a cupcake and are too sensitive. “We need to build that damn wall,” the father says. How do you proceed?

American Catholic News

Catholic School controversies

  1. Second counselor to lose position in Indianapolis
  2. Unwed pregnant teacher who loses job speaks out
  3. Cleveland-area Catholic school sues city, claiming anti-discrimination bill violates its religious rights

Catholic Schools Closing, Opening & Merging

  1. Detroit-area Catholic school to close. Additional story analyzing the reasons.
  2. Boston-area Catholic schools to merge
  3. Paterson-area Catholic school to close despite its fundraising efforts
  4. St. Charles Borromeo School joins Partnership Network in NYC
  5. Amid pastor turmoil, San Francisco Catholic school to close

Leadership Links

Teaching & Learning


What I'm Up To

Pictured at right is a class project from Butte Central Catholic Elementary--a corn hole game! It's auction season and I dragged my wife to another fundraiser last week, our third of the year. This week, I'll be travelling to Billings for a presentation and will be welcoming Dr. Rachel Moreno from ACE back for another week of instructional coaching at St. Paul's Mission Grade School in Hays. Then I'll travel to Great Falls for principal interviews, to Butte for a Board meeting, and back to Hays for a Board meeting. The week will conclude with a trip back to Great Falls for a chancery meeting.

In my spare time, I'm working on my NCEA presentation on Missionary Leadership (Wednesday, April 24th at at 9am) as well as my ICSL workshop on Moral Leadership (July 14-17 in Indianapolis).

On Wednesday's Catholic School Matters Radio Hour podcast, the focus is on Guam which was recently in the news as the former archbishop's conviction and removal were upheld. Have you ever wondered what our Catholic schools are like on Guam? I begin by interviewing their dedicated young superintendent, Richard Alvia. Then I'll be joined by four great school leaders who will discuss their joys and challenges of leadership on the island, where America's day begins every day. It's a great look at Catholic schools on the margins.

Here is the link to the podcast. Here are videos showing you how to download and subscribe to a podcast on iTunes and how to download and subscribe a podcast on Android.

  • Sunday: Travel to Billings for Stewardship Conference; travel to Hays
  • Monday: Great Falls meetings
  • Tuesday: Office (Helena)
  • Wednesday: Office & travel to Butte
  • Thursday: MGS Board meeting in Hays
  • Friday: Great Falls meetings

Miles next week: 1,422 driving miles

Miles travelled in 2018-19: 27,178 road miles; 68,754 air miles

Last 5 Books

  1. Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World (2002) by Henri Nouwen
  2. The Evolving Self: Problem and Process in Human Development (1982) by Robert Kegan
  3. Learning to Improve: How America's Schools Can Get Better at Getting Better (2017) by Anthony S. Bryk, Louis M. Gomez, Alicia Grunow, Paul G. LeMahieu
  4. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2015) by Yuval Noah Harari
  5. The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming (1992) by Henri J.M. Nouwen

Click this link for a full list of my professional reading

For Montana Administrators & Teachers

Past Issues of Catholic School Matters

March 24, 2019 "Cristo Rey"

March 10, 2019 "Prayer and Leadership"

February 24, 2019 "Culture and Relationships"

February 10, 2019 "Leadership"

February 3, 2019 "NCEA Convention Preview"

January 27, 2019 "Catholic Schools Week"

January 20, 2019 "School Choice"

January 13, 2019 "What's Your Story?"

January 6, 2018 "Happy New Year"

December 2, 2018 "Building Community"

November 18, 2018 "Reframing Enrollment"

November 4, 2018 "Looking at Disaffiliation"

October 21, 2018 "Getting out of the Ditch"

October 7, 2018 "Truth, Mercy, and the Synod"

September 23, 2018 "Native American Experience"

September 16, 2018 "How Are We Forming our Leaders?"

September 9, 2018 "Where is Your Attention?"