There is a smear campaign currently underway against many young priests in the Catholic Church. However, this attack is not coming from the secular media or from dissenting advocacy groups. Instead, it is an attack from within the Church itself, even from fellow priests. What is the false charge being leveled against many of our younger priests? Clericalism.
That legitimate instances of clericalism should be of concern is evident from recent statements by Pope Francis, including his recent Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. Indeed, from the earliest days of his pontificate, the Holy Father has spoken out against careerism and ambition among some of the clergy, particularly within the Curia.
Playing the Clericalism Card
However, what is equally troubling is the opportunistic way in which the Catholic left has recently played the “clericalism card” against a new generation of priests, many of whom were ordained during Pope Benedict’s papacy. Far from being an issue of young priests lording their authority over the faithful, this is nothing more than an anti-traditionalist strategy by those opposing the ongoing “reform of the reform”.
A recent example of this mindset was presented in the Jesuit magazine America, by columnist Daniel P. Horan O.F.M. In his piece entitled, “Lead Us Not Into Clericalism” Fr. Horan makes the following observation:
“Next month I turn 30. While that might seem like an old age to me as I approach the milestone, most people are quick to remind me of how young a friar and priest I still am. That statement of fact is often, but not always, accompanied by some well-meaning remark by a parishioner after Mass or an audience member after a talk suggesting that I’m not like other “young priests” they know.”
Fr. Horan explains what is meant by this:
“What generally follows that sort of comment is an expression of concern about the perceived unapproachable or pretentious character of so many of the newly ordained. They appear to be more concerned about titles, clerical attire, fancy vestments, distance between themselves and their parishioners…(w)hat concerns people, in other words, is clericalism.”
In other words, those young priests who have taken to heart the dignity of their priestly vocation and the beauty of the Catholic faith, instead of being lauded, are actually being attacked as aloof and pretentious. This no doubt from the Catholic crowd who prefers their priest minus a cassock or lace, and their liturgy free of smells, bells and Latin.
Reverence is Not Clericalism
As I have written about before, many of our new priests are rediscovering the beauty and depth of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. As was anticipated, some of the tradition and disciplines of the Vetus Ordo have been introduced by many priests into the Novus Ordo. This then is the hermeneutic of continuity being actualized. This is the recovery of the sacred within the liturgy of the Roman rite.
Indeed, what we find with these young priests today is exactly what Pope Benedict XVI called for in his June 2009 Letter Proclaiming a Year for Priests. In referencing Saint John Mary Vianney, Pope Benedict observed:
“This way of educating the faithful to the Eucharistic presence and to communion proved most effective when they saw him celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass…He was convinced that the fervour of a priest’s life depended entirely upon the Mass: “The reason why a priest is lax is that he does not pay attention to the Mass! My God, how we ought to pity a priest who celebrates as if he were engaged in something routine!”.
It is absolutely essential that we support these young priests as they are thrown to the wolves. Those who have invested decades into diminishing the priesthood and “ordaining” the laity will not go without a fight.
For most of the laity, who suffer not from an anticlerical agenda, but rather from poor formation, it will simply take time. In the meantime, let us hope that people who should know better, like fellow priests, seek to catechize the faithful instead of scandalizing them with false charges of clericalism.
(Photo courtesy of Brent Hohman and Station 12 photography)