Maybe you haven’t heard of clericalism! What is it? Is it a good thing or not? For my money, it’s not a good thing at all. What is it? Well, I am a cleric. I’m a Catholic priest, and a member of the clergy. Clericalism is a sickness that can affect the church, and parishes, too. What is it?
It’s the mindset that the priest knows best, that he’s the decision maker, that he’s responsible for everything that happens at the parish, that he’s the one that gets the credit when things go well, and the blame when they don’t!
Do I know best all the time? Pretty clearly, no. Am I the decision maker… well, in Canon Law, I guess ultimately I am. But, for my way of thinking, I normally have to make decisions in consultation with the people of the parish. As a general rule, that’s the way I make decisions. Am I responsible for everything that happens at the parish… well, I guess I am, kind of. I’m the one who signs the checks, and I’m the one the Archdiocese has given the responsibility of running the parish.
At the same time, I’m not really responsible for everything that happens here. There are people at work in the parish, both paid and volunteers, who take care of a thousand details and who work very hard in the parish. Think of the people who volunteer and clean the church, or the people who decorate, or the people who clean the rectory. Think of the catechists who show up faithfully every Sunday. Think of the choirs who grace our worship with beautiful music. Think of the musicians who bring their talents to our church. Think of the people who help with streaming, or the people who built our community garden, or the coffee shop! Think of the people who worked in the rectory remodeling. Think of all the many volunteer hours our parishioners have put into St. Paul.
Do I get the credit when things go well? I shouldn’t! The people who do the work should! Do I get the blame when things go badly? I probably shouldn’t here, either!
Clericalism puts a lot of pressure on the priest, and also kills off parishes. Imagine a parish where the priest made all the decisions, great and small, that go into parish life. Everything from what candles to buy to where to get toilet paper to what music to sing, to what new initiatives the parish needs to grow. That parish would be in trouble, I think. It’s a far healthier parish that has shared leadership.
Can clericalism arise among lay people? I think it can, and it’s a pretty sneaky attack of evil on parishes. What does it look like when this happens?
This is the danger of what I might call “professionalization.” When you start to hire “staff” people, and the volunteers step back. The volunteers feel that maybe they’re not needed any more… you hire a music director and the volunteer choirs stop coming. You hire people to clean the church, and the volunteers stop cleaning. You hire someone to cut the grass and clean up the outside, and the volunteers stop working around the place. You pay for floral arrangements, and the decorators stop decorating, etc. etc. etc.
It’s a very delicate balance, trying to have a healthy parish. We want to have the best possible music, and the best possible Religious Education, and the best possible outreach ministry, and in every area of parish life, be the best parish in the city of Chicago! So, we want qualified people doing great work!
Pretty soon, we’re launching a “talent” stewardship campaign. We really want to engage our talented parishioners as much as we possibly can. We have a list of ministries and tasks a mile long! And we have tons and tons of talent in our parish.
Please give prayerful consideration to your role in the parish.
Do you suffer from clericalism? Do you think “Fr. Mike will do it,” or “one of the paid staff people will do it” (whatever the “it” is). Are you coming to the parish as a kind of customer, where you expect services? Or are you coming to put your talents and gifts at the service of your community and neighbors?
Many of our parishioners are in the second group. Join them, and you will find the joy that comes from giving yourself away in love!