The battle against clericalism: ‘Christ is the head, priests are not’

Archbishop-elect Eric de Moulins-Beaufort of Rheims calls for communion among the faithful in order to overcome clericalism
By Gauthier Vaillant in LaCroix 3 Sept 2018

Archbishop-elect Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, the newly appointed bishop of Rheims and president of the Doctrinal Commission of the Bishops’ Conference of France. (Photo by Stéphane Ouzounoff/Ciric)

Archbishop-elect Eric de Moulins-Beaufort of Rheims, president of the Doctrinal Commission of the Bishops’ Conference of France, believes that the battle against clericalism necessarily depends on fostering communion between the baptized regardless of differences of view. Gauthier Vaillant for La Croix interviewed Archbishop-elect de Moulins-Beaufort.

La Croix: What did you think of Pope Francis’ Letter to the People of God on the issue of abuse in the church?

Éric de Moulins-Beaufort: It is painful to admit that it was necessary for the pope to address this issue once again.

However, I also appreciate the rising awareness of the faults in the Church that the pope has identified.

I am also impressed by his perseverance in working to assist the people of the church to learn how to recognize what cannot be accepted and to see the need to make the necessary ‘software’ changes.

How do you view his use of the term ‘clericalism?’ And do you agree with his diagnosis that it provides fertile ground for abuse of all kinds?

We can now see that power of whatever kind can corrupt and that such corruption may lead to sexual abuse in particular.

The recent (#MeToo) revelations regarding the American movie scene are a good example.

Spiritual power, although it may seem “weak” because it only affects those who choose to obey it, can also be corrupted.

Clericalism is the desire by a group of people – mostly clerics – to regulate social behavior in a childish way.  I deeply believe that Christianity is a religion based on freedom. However, we also have to recognize that the spiritual power within may sometimes become distorted for social reasons. And we need to put an end to this.

Is the French Church also concerned by this issue or is it something that mostly applies in other parts of the world?

In an article that I wrote several months ago [Nouvelle revue théologique, January-March 2018], I observed that the places where the greatest sexual abuses scandals have broken out, including the United States, Ireland or Australia, shared the fact that historically they faced pressure from Protestantism.

As a result, there was a withdrawal into a clerical structure, which then had the opportunity to wield excessive power over the faithful.

I think that France has escaped that to some extent.  Nevertheless, it needs to be recognized that priests in France also have sometimes succeeded in building up around themselves genuine micro-societies made up of faithful obsessed with their charism. And these are situations that quite often end in abuse.

Concretely, what can we do to combat this culture or to protect ourselves from it?

When the pope calls for the commitment of all, it means that we all need to accept that we are members of the same church, beyond any particular allegiances.

Bishops have a special role in working to ensure that the baptized are united on the essential points although obviously people are able to express their faith in different ways.

This is the spirit that St. Paul called for in his Letter to the Philippians.

“Are you humble enough to recognize others as superior to yourselves?”(Phil 2:3)

These words need to be applied to us instead of considering ourselves as the only real Christians.

It is very good that small groups exist. However, it is also necessary to accept to belong to a larger church.

This spiritual task concerns everyone. Provided this is done, I think that the church’s structure of communion will enable it to overcome clericalism.

The risk of clerical abuse will always exist and we have to admit that some members of the faithful are looking for leaders.

However, a good priest is not someone who thinks on behalf of others but rather someone who allows each person to discover his or her own spiritual freedom.

Our head is Christ, not a priest, no matter how formidable.

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