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Dialogue Mass - CXIX

 ‘Clericalism’ - a Word Misused by Progressivists

Dr. Carol Byrne, Great Britain
If anyone is wondering why there are never any good “clericalists” around, the reason is that progressivists have given pre-Vatican II priests a bad name for adhering to the traditional teaching of the Church, and then used that as a stick with which to beat them.

Fidelity to Tradition would not, of course, have been a problem if it had not been for the new revolutionary teaching of Vatican II that greatly enhanced the laity vis-à-vis the clergy. Anyone who did not accept that clergy and laity are equal partners in the task of the New Evangelization and Mission of the Church would be ipso facto accused of “clericalism.”

But what exactly was meant by this pejorative term, and to whom did it apply? We would search in vain for a precise definition, but we have a rough rule of thumb in the following list of accusations.

Manifestations of 'clericalism'

A priest is accused by progressivists of being “clericalist” when he does any of the following:
    boy kisses hand of priest

    A terrible act of ‘clericalism’ according to progressivists

  • Wears a cassock;

  • Keeps himself aloof from worldly friendships and pursuits;

  • Maintains boundaries between himself and the laity;

  • Expects to be addressed by his title and surname;

  • Says Mass with his back to the people;

  • Uses Latin in the liturgy;

  • Follows the rules and rubrics with exactitude;

  • Preaches in a didactic tone, as a superior to inferiors;

  • Acts with authority over the people in spiritual matters.
This list, though incomplete, contains enough information for us to glean that the charge of “clericalism” is a form of demonization of traditional priests, i.e., those who have had their spiritual formation in seminaries faithful to the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas and the decrees of the Council of Trent.

The chief rebuke levelled at the traditional clergy was that, by participating in a closer way with the Hierarchy, they had a higher standing in the Church than the rest of the faithful. Anyone refusing to adopt the (essentially Protestant) notion of equality of status between the clergy and laity is tarred with the brush of “clericalism.” This is precisely the position of Opus Dei priest, Msgr. Cormac Burke: “The clerical mentality regards the clergy as higher, with a superior status in the life of the Church; and the laity as lower, in a subordinate position.” (1)

inverting pyramid

A mania to invert the age old pyramid

These words encapsulate the revolutionary attitude that permeates the New Evangelization dreamt up by Vatican II. They are in open rebellion against both the Natural Law and the institution of God for every society, including the Church, which necessarily comprises the high and the low, the superiors and their subjects, the dominant and the subordinate, those who govern and those who obey.

This is the two-tier system described by Pope Pius X in which only the Hierarchy have the right and authority to govern, and in which the laity have the duty “to allow themselves to be led, and like a docile flock, to follow the Pastors.” (2) The Pope quotes St. Cyprian to the effect this higher-lower arrangement was understood by the early Christians to be based on Divine Law.

But what if the Pastors want to revolutionize the Constitution, “invert the triangle,” change the Church from a monarchy into a democracy – as Vatican II progressivists demand – and include the laity in the government of the Church? Should the faithful follow them like a docile flock into contravening the Divine Law?

This was certainly not the intention of Pope Pius X, for it would violate the law of non-contradiction. Rather, it is in the declarations of the progressivists Bishops at Vatican II, as recorded in the Acta Synodalia, that we find ample confirmation that contempt for the Divine Law was clearly manifest among a significant number of influential Prelates and their expert advisors who wanted to subvert the Church’s Constitution.

The resulting Council documents, which were tainted with this subversive tendency, had the effect of leading the faithful into an ongoing and deeply divisive battle between Catholic Tradition and the rival forces of Progressivism in the Church.

Lessons from History

We can see the same Conflict Theory at work in the history of all political upheavals from the banishment of the 5th-century B.C. statesman, Aristides, leader of the aristocratic party in Athens, to all the Marxist-inspired revolutions of modern times, which sought to destroy what they viewed as an intolerably unequal society.

The fate of Aristides, (known to all as “Aristides the Just”), who was banished from Athens c. 482 B.C. simply for being considered “more just” than others, shares one major point of similarity with the post-Vatican II animosity towards the Church’s unequal, two-tier system. According to the Greek historian, Plutarch, Aristides suffered exile at the hands of the Athenian citizens on account of their “envious dislike of his reputation” and because they were “vexed with those who towered above the multitude in name and reputation.”

aristides the just

A man to Aristides: ‘I don't even know Aristides, but I am tired of hearing him everywhere called The Just

So “in a spirit of jealous hate they assembled in the city from all the country round and ostracized Aristides” after smearing his good reputation with accusations of “oppressive prestige and power.” (3)

“Ostracism” was an ancient Greek practice used by Athenian citizens exercising their democratic rights, which allowed them to banish any prominent citizen from the city for 10 years. The name derives from the ostrakon (plural ostraka), a shard of pottery on which Athenians scratched the name of the person they wished to exile, as a way of casting votes.

Plutarch recounts an amusing incident that happened during the ballot; its relevance to modern societies can be easily grasped because it sheds light on the wellsprings of human nature that prompt feelings of envy towards persons of superior virtue or higher standing:

“Now at the time of which I was speaking, as the voters were inscribing their ostraka, it is said that an unlettered and utterly boorish fellow handed his ostrakon to Aristides, whom he took to be one of the ordinary crowd, and asked him to write Aristides on it. Astonished, he asked the man what possible wrong Aristides had done him. ‘None whatever,’ was the answer, ‘I don't even know the fellow, but I am tired of hearing him everywhere called ‘The Just.’” (4)

There is an obvious parallel here with the fate of priests today who are condemned as “clericalist” simply for being clerics and, therefore, of a higher status than their subordinates, the laity. As with the Aristides affair, the same pattern of animosity occurred during the Vatican II reform of the Constitution when the progressivists voted to ostracize Tradition.

There was the same refusal to recognize eminence, as in “You’re no higher than the rest of us” (which resulted in the blurring of the distinction between the priesthood and the laity); the same accusations of oppression under ruling powers (Aristides was accused of the ultimate crime in a democracy – wanting to become a king); the same rabble-rousing techniques to turn the people against their leaders (Aristides was maligned by his political rival, Themistocles, who enjoyed the support of the lower classes against the Athenian nobility); the same hypocritical masking of envy under the banner of “justice” and “equality”; and the same experience of Schadenfreude (5) which in the modern Church took the form of a certain delight in knocking the priest off his pedestal.

From these considerations, it is not difficult to see how the Vatican II-inspired devaluation of the higher status of the priest was of the same vintage as that vice of human nature which was the proximate cause of Our Lord’s Passion: “It was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up.” (Mt 27:18)


Envy motivated the hatred of the Pharisees
for Our Lord Jesus Christ

In the Summa, St. Thomas Aquinas treats envy as a vice opposed to charity (6) because it involves the disposition to feel ill-will at the perceived superiority of another person, leading to destructive acts. During the Council, the accusations of “clericalism” came, as we discovered later, from those who poured scorn on both the hierarchical nature of the Church and the essential difference between the ordained priesthood and the "priesthood" of all the baptized.

It is not surprising, therefore, that after the Council such anti-clerical attitudes resulted in the loss, removal or hampering of those goods that were due to the ordained clergy – their preliminary Minor Orders, their unique relationship with the Eucharist, their exclusive role in the sanctuary, the reverence and deference with which they were treated by the laity. All of these privileges of the clergy became the object of iconoclastic rage.

Whereas this kind of anti-clerical prejudice was once expected only of heretics and secular ideologues opposed to Catholicism, it is now painfully obvious that Catholics themselves are openly involved in the onslaught against the ordained priesthood.

To be continued

  1. Cormac Burke, ‘The freedom and responsibility of the laity’, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, July 1993, pp. 19-20.
  2. Pius X, Vehementer Nos (1906) § 8.
  3. Plutarch, Lives, translation by Bernadotte Perrin, 11 volumes, vol. 2: Themistocles and Camillus. Aristides and Cato Major, Cimon and Lucullus, London: Harvard University Press, William Heinemann Ltd. 1914, pp. 231 233-235.
  4. Ibid., pp. 233, 235.
  5. A mixture of emotions experienced by the envious who derive satisfaction from witnessing the failure or humiliation of others (from the German Schaden meaning “harm, damage, injury.” and Freude meaning “joy”)
  6. Summa Theologica, II-II, 36.2: “we grieve over a man’s good insofar as his good surpasses ours; this is envy properly speaking and is always sinful.”

Posted September 21, 2022

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