Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Penny Loafers Revisited

A month has gone by (here) since an old friend asked me to develop further my contention that the real problem, historical and otherwise in the Church, is not clericalism but anti-clericalism. I'm convinced that is the case, but obviously mine is not a popular opinion or the usual take on the problem (viz. "Holy Father, I beg to differ with you! Respectfully, of course!"). The fact that anti-clericalism is a blind prejudice does not render the argument any easier to carry forward in the face of many and sundry condemnations, almost always of a superficial kind, of clericalism. Stifling the clerical vaunt and thus not exposing our flank to the anti-clerical forces is no more than a strategy, albeit in the mind of some a prudent if not clever strategy. For me the problem comes with the furiosity over starched collars and gaudy cuff-links, as if they were any more damnable as a guy thing than wearing penny loafers to the club without socks.

Attachment to the trappings of office or to its frills and perks is, of course, not without fault and often enough not without sin. The worm, however, which eats away at the innards and profoundly divides with its judgmentalism is beyond a shadow of a doubt anti-clericalism, hatred for those who hold the power of the keys, refusal to accept that any man can bind and loose in the Name of our Lord and Savior.  Anti-clericalism is a smoke-screen set abroad by a diabolical sort of ignorance which stubbornly refuses Christ's Will for how Jesus saves us in and through His Church.

Careerism is another thing. The anti-clerical forces in our world would have us believe that all the careerists in the Catholic Church either live in Rome or wish they did. Few people understand the psychology of Catholic clerical careerism, that only a shrimpy, pre-pubescent altar boy is capable of saying out loud that someday he plans on becoming pope or at least a bishop; the kid is simply playing to a crowd which thinks such to be cute. The kind of raw ambition portrayed in long-running TV series about the ups and downs of being a junior partner or wannabee in a big New York or Philly law firm run by cut-throats who have been there and done that just plain doesn't apply to any corridor of the Apostolic Palace or of Domus Sanctae Marthae that I have ever happened to stumble upon in the course of a visit to superiors. When a rather toxic Mickens over at NCR thunders about rooting out clericalism and careerism in Rome, thus sparing further suffering to a hardworking local bishop somewhere in the antipodes, you know we are dealing with hype destined to feed that ugly visceral worm of anti-clericalism, eating away at what we share in the Church.

My friend will have to be content with less than the definitive analysis of what here is at stake. Too much of the press stages what is tagged as "curial reform" in terms of a witch hunt. Can the central administration of the Church in Rome be improved, rationalized, fine tuned? Of course! But the lesson would seem to be one perhaps to be gleaned from efficiency studies, but more likely from clearer notions concerning how best the Petrine Ministry can serve and build up the Church throughout the world. 

Ten years ago now, on my way to the Caribbean, I very ingenuously posed a question to the top echelon of one of the Pontifical Councils, president, secretary, sub-secretary, all sitting together with me. After a moment of head scratching, the sub-secretary was sent down the hall to fetch the little lady who could answer my question. That is somewhat how bureaucracy works and it is strictly hierarchical, not a glimmer of meritocracy to be seen. Don't snort in disgust about the fruits of careerism and clericalism! Ask rather how the successor of St. Peter should be about strengthening his brethren at the Lord's command in our day and time.    

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