What do we do about clericalism?

I see lots of suggestions for change that are good, but I think there is something more basic that we can do that will strike at the very root of clericalism. This change will not only address clericalism, but it will give a whole new perspective to the ordained priesthood as a sacramental sign rather than as a seat of power. Thus, it will give a whole new perspective to the question of the ordination of women.

I believe that the ordination of women would be the worst way to address clericalism. It is not that women could not be good priests or that they could not improve the present quality of the priesthood. On the contrary, I submit that the ordination of women to the priesthood would so strengthen the status of clergy, that clericalism would become even more deeply rooted in the life of the Church.

What we need is to weaken the exclusive strangle hold that clergy have had (and still have) in making the final decision on every issue in the life of the Church. We can and must pursue a way to dilute by design our present situation where clergy always “have the last word.”

How can the exclusive clerical power of decision making be “diluted”? Very simply. We must plan and fund a massive effort over the next 20 years to develop a church population that is educated in and is well
skilled in the art of decision-making by consensus.

For anyone who is not familiar with the meaning of “decision-making by consensus,” it means that a small group of people comes up with a decision that everyone in the group can live with and embrace. This is not a democratic vote; it is a decision that everyone in the group (without exception) is able to embrace even though it might not have been their first choice. (Heresy and clearly immoral actions will never be embraced by all.)

As with “male privilege” and “white privilege” or any other privilege, all it takes is for the one who has the position of power to decide to give up some of that power. If a pastor or a bishop (who has the power by canon law to “have the last word”) decides to share the “last word” with a consensus group of lay or religious men and women, he can do it now. He does not have to wait for canon law to change. He already has been empowered by canon law.

I do not think that we (most of us clergy, religious and laity) are prepared to switch over to consensus right now. That’s why I talk about a massive effort to prepare ourselves. However, the preparation can and must start now.

Eventually, I expect that the whole church on every level (from Rome to local parishes) will be making every important decision by consensus. There probably are a few parishes that could start now. It seems to me that the levels of the Church that have the greatest human resources to make the transition are Rome and a lot of our dioceses. However, it is more likely that the changes will start on the parish level.

The kind of massive effort I envision would require a change in priorities, but it should reap all kinds of wonderful benefits for the Church and for humanity. We would see an increase in listening skills, in problem-solving skills, in assertion skills as well as many more positive results. All it takes for this to happen is for those who already have the “last-word-power” to decide to share that power.

 © 2020 Rev. John Vogler