Fighting clericalism means empowering laity, cardinal says

Canadian Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, speaks to Catholic News Service in Rome Jan. 19, 2023, about Pope Francis' 10 years as pope. (CNS photo/Robert Duncan)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The Catholic Church must combat clericalism among its ranks by giving authority to a “responsible and reliable” laity, the head of the Vatican’s development dicastery said.

In an article co-written by theology professor Father Christian Barone, Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, wrote that the current Synod of Bishops offers a challenge to “incorporate the witness and action of laypeople in the life and mission of the Church at all levels”.

The article, published on May 18 in the Jesuit publication La Civiltà Cattolica, takes up the central ideas of a speech he delivered on April 21 to the Third Latin American and Caribbean Congress on Catholic Social Teaching held in Bogotá, Colombia. In it, he reflected on the effects of synodality on the development and implementation of Catholic social teaching today.

To develop a more circular model of the Church’s hierarchy, the article said, it is “urgent” the Church “overcome the hurdle of clericalism”, which in some cases leads to abuse of power and sexual abuse.

The cardinal recognised that many members of the clergy are reluctant to embrace the spirit of synodality out of fear that giving more responsibility to the laity could weaken the Church’s structures.

“Even if that were true,” wrote Cardinal Czerny and Father Barone, “the solution would not be to perpetrate a top-down, authoritarian model of government, but to promote and form the laity to a genuine and authentic spirit of belonging and ecclesial participation”.

Addressed to lay and religious researchers, professors and leaders of social movements, the cardinal’s message in Bogotá called for bishops’ conferences to apply synodal principles within their territories to develop social teaching tailored to the needs of their communities.

“Teaching and diffusing social doctrine is essential to the Christian message, ” he said, not just a practical application of dogmatic teachings.

Particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean, which is plagued by socioeconomic inequality and the devastating effects of climate change, Catholics are called to draw upon the “wise tradition of the Church’s social teaching” to bring about change in social, political, environmental and cultural subjects, said Cardinal Czerny.

Photo: Cardinal Michael Czerny (CNS Photo/Robert Duncan)

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  1. Tertia says

    Combating Clericalism is not so simple.
    Laity have a part to play in church, but
    they should not be used to do the work
    of Bishops who are supposed to keep an
    eye on things.
    Clericalism is the direct result of a church
    which has more interest in the sensate than
    in the supernatural, which it is supposed to
    have instead.
    This comes to prayer, which needs asceticism
    before it can develop into mystical prayer. This
    is one reason why Medjugorje styled Catholicism
    has much more to offer than psychology based
    What all clergy need to do is pray more fervently
    and lead spirit filled lives, not too concerned about
    the temporal distractions that actually interfere with
    the Sacramental life.
    If Jesus is Lord in the life of a member of the clergy
    clericalism will not surface. rather a sense of the Divine
    will be obvious.

  2. Dr.Cajetan Coelho says

    Not falling a prey to clericalism is a herculean task. Clericalism is known to be contagious. Even lay people during their unguarded moments can display clericalism in thought, word, and action.

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