Clericalism and consumerism might seem quite different problems, but it can be argued that they share a common root: power without accountability. Accountability to the people the leaders “serve,” or the planet that the greedy destroy, has been absent. It has an origin in those who take and presume privilege and that others should have blind trust.
Now we are being asked to grow up, take responsibility and search for the way Jesus might respond rather than rely on a legal ruling (or waiting for leadership from) from those who “know best.”
Values, leadership and integrity, By Christine Burke, IBVM, Philippines, in La Croix, April 15, 2019
Clericalism and consumerism might seem quite different problems, but it can be argued that they share a common root: power without accountability. Accountability to the people the leaders “serve,” or the planet that the greedy destroy, has been absent.
In recent months awareness of the abuse crisis within the church and what it implies about values, leadership and integrity have fueled people’s disillusion, anger and dismay.
Pope Francis sees the root of this problem as the clericalism which has allowed those set apart by priestly or episcopal ordination to have privileged status and an entitlement to blind trust.
This misuse of ‘power over’ others is also at the base of his call to a new spirituality of partnership with the whole of creation.
50 years after Vatican II, most of the laity have not lived up to the challenge of accepting that baptism is the sacrament which gives everyone the responsibility to BE church and to bring God’s message to our world. Now we live with the shame that our church has failed so utterly to live out Jesus’ key command.
Our head in the sand refusal to change our perspective also continues in our choices which indicate we still believe the resources of our planet are inexhaustible.
The need for a paradigm shift from a clerically dominated to a participative and missionary church can be named by Pope Francis, but by the very nature of what he is calling us to accomplish, it cannot be enforced by him.
He is trying to decentralize, so he cannot do it by dictat from on high. People struggle to imagine a synodal church, because for so long Catholics have looked to the center to find answers to critical questions.
Now we are being asked to grow up, take responsibility and search for the way Jesus might respond rather than rely on a legal ruling from those who “know best.”
This raises fears at every level: some among the layers of clergy fear they will lose status and power. Their authority has already been stripped away by actions which failed to put the care of the flock first.
Those with some understanding of history and theology recognize that taking away strict controls can expose many to distorted beliefs and practices.
Taking responsibility for life and faith is going to require searching with others to find the best way we can respond to what lies ahead of us.
Expecting discernment in major issues demands new ways to engage Catholics in their faith journey.
After 40 years of feminist and ecological theological reflection, research and serious theological writing, some themes are almost taken for granted among the relatively small group of women and men who have found liberation in this approach to understanding and living their faith.
What underpins these theologies is an awareness of the destructive impact of almost 2000 years of patriarchy- where status and power are held in a small select group of males (or nations, or businesses) who control access to their elite and see the superiority of their caste as God-given and natural.
In such systems, those outside the power group often accept that this is the way of things until, at some point, scales fall from their eyes.
They see that the imbalance they have taken for granted is not required by God and is unjust.
Currently societies around the world are caught in the upheaval that results when this paradigm shifts, as women move to claim equality, and mother nature announces in a variety of ways that we have raped the earth to a point of no return.
Whether we call it clericalism or patriarchy the problem is the same. If these varied voices have been grappling with this issue in serious theological dialogue for over 40 years, what insights can they offer the church at this point? A few of these are mentioned below.
- A critical reading of the biblical text, recognizing its patriarchal cultural setting and naming as destructive those passages which no longer bring God’s saving power of liberation. This also includes a call to recognize a greater presence of women (and thus the non-ordained) in the original texts and historical tradition.
- Allowing the way Jesus upended patriarchal expectations to transform our approach to leadership and to our relationship with nature.
- A community of equal disciples, valuing the many gifts in the community. This does not imply no structures, but honors the gifts given to each one and discerns ways to structure the community so that these can be utilized.
- A reclaiming of the power of Trinitarian theology where equality, difference, mutuality are grounded in love. Such a symbol for God undercuts all modes of dominating power over others or the earth.
- A move to honor the “otherness” of God by recognizing the inappropriateness of naming God in exclusively male terms, recognizing that divine maleness has become an idol supporting patriarchy rather than one icon into the wonder of God.
- A sense of the Holy Spirit as the Wisdom of God present in our daily lives, where we meet Holy Mystery through people, places and ideas.
- A spirituality that dialogues respectfully with other branches of learning and honors the varied sciences as they bring new insights to our understanding of our world and ourselves.
- A spirituality which keeps encouraging people to discernment with others rather than confrontation, to listening rather than talking down, to believing that we are on God’s mission not building the power and glory of the church.
- A sense that change takes a long time… there is not worthwhile “instant renewal”, but if obstructed for too long, the damage can be irreparable.
The church as the people of God needs to act now. A few suggestions:
- Find new ways to structure our leadership and decision making. Some religious Congregations have changed their mode of governance over recent decades to include more participation and a different, more discerning approach to decision making. They have something to offer. Humble listening to how and why they have changed could be transformative of the whole church.
- A shared theological and spiritual formation for leaders, both lay and ordained, that addresses the issues of power, clericalism, male exclusivity, and sexuality, and gives experience of collaborative leadership.
- Women and men equally represented as decision makers in formal meetings or synods at the Vatican and at diocesan or national levels. Leaving all decisions to male bishops carries no credibility.
- Clear criteria for leadership and a transparent process by which new leaders are appointed, and a process for ongoing appraisal as would happen in any key role.
Christine Burke, an Australian IBVM (Loreto) sister with a background in theology, living and teaching in Manila.