For Francis, the opposite of ‘clerical’ is ‘close’

Opposite of Clerical is Close

Almost from day one of his papacy, Pope Francis has made a trope out of railing against “clericalism,” once warning that it “nullifies the personality of Christians” and, on another occasion, praying for a Church completely “free” of clericalism.

So familiar is his anti-clericalism rhetoric, by now there’s little energy devoted to pondering what exactly he means by it.

For those wondering, however, the pope delivered a fairly clear overview in an address to the bishops of Peru.

Typically, the assumption is that “clericalism” refers to a system of power and privilege enjoyed by clergy, the usual manifestations of which are clerics who assume they can boss people around by virtue of being ordained, and also clerics who live in luxurious surroundings purchased by the sacrifices of ordinary people.

Francis does appear to include all that when he derides “clericalism,” though not always quite in the way one might think.

This is a pope, after all, hardly shy about wielding his own personal power when he believes something important is at stake, from firing Vatican personnel to making big-picture decisions on matters such as the admission of divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion.

Pastors not shopkeepers

Often, the aspect of clericalism that seems to frustrate Francis the most actually isn’t power or privilege, but distance – a disengagement from the lives, experiences and perspectives of ordinary people, in favor of largely internal ecclesiastical obsessions.

That’s what he seemed to mean on Saturday, for instance, when he urged priests in Peru to avoid the temptation of becoming “professionals of the sacred.”

In other words, the opposite of “clerical,” in Francis’s mind, isn’t so much “powerless” or even “poor,” but rather “close.”

Get out from behind the desk

In speaking to Peru’s bishops, Francis invoked the example of Saint Turibius of Mogrovejo, a Spanish cleric born to a noble family and a onetime Grand Inquisitor for King Philip II, who was later named the Archbishop of Lima and spent the rest of his life evangelizing Peru and the Americas.

Describing Turibius’s relationship with his priests, Francis used language that amounts to a synthesis of what it means for a church not to be “clerical.”

“He was a pastor who knew his priests,” Francis said, “a pastor who tried to visit them, to accompany them, to encourage them and to admonish them.”

“He reminded his priests that they were pastors and not shopkeepers, and so they had to care for and defend the indios as their children,” the pope said.

“Yet he did not do this from a desk, and so he knew his sheep and they recognized, in his voice, the voice of the good shepherd.” Continue reading

  • Inés San Martín is an Argentinean journalist who covers the Vatican in Rome for Crux.

News category: Features.

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