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Don't blame clerical power for Catholic Church shortcomings

a group of Roman Catholics rallies in the rain outside the Baltimore Basilica in response to the sexual abuse scandal, demanding action and reform by the church. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun video)

I disagree with Stephen J. Stahley’s recent commentary in The Sun, “Clericalism will undo the Catholic Church” (June 11). He lists tawdry scandals worthy of any tabloid to support his view that clericalism has reached its perfect apogee and congealed over the centuries into a “small group of elderly, celibate, mostly white men.”

I find it more honest to view clericalism (a policy of maintaining or increasing the power of religious hierarchy) in the context of the Catholic Church as the People of God. The power of the hierarchy has been steadily decreasing since Vatican II (much to the chagrin of critics of Pope Francis who has decried clericalism since he became pope). Mature Catholic Christians world wide are assuming roles of leadership as missionary disciples with the encouragement of their bishops. The majority of Catholic leaders in the church, seen as the People of God, are not elderly celibate mostly white men. They are the people who carry out the mission of the church to practice the Beatitudes, the new law of love prescribed by Jesus Christ. They are the lay, religious and clerics who daily work to serve the poor and the needy. They do so with the blessing of the official hierarchical church, but not slavishly bound to it.

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Social science teaches that authority derives from the consent of the governed. Mature Christians are looking ultimately to God and the teachings of the Gospel as their higher power. They honor their individual conscience in matters of faith and morals but seek to inform their conscience by continuing religious education, receiving the sacraments and attending religious services — not only to praise, thank and petition God, but also to listen to God as He speaks to them through the reading of Sacred Scripture, the homily at Mass and the support of the Christian community.

By viewing the church in the context of the people of God, one can see that indeed clericalism is a root cause of the failure of the church to grow in parts of the world, but this is not universally true. My local parish is blessed with the service of an elderly white celebrate priest ordained 60 years ago. He not only faithfully serves his parishioners without scandal but he has labored for over 40 years as director of the local Campaign for Human Development which strives to fund organizations which promote and practice the Beatitudes. He encourages lay leadership and it is the laity who provide Christian education to a diverse group of Baltimore city children, minister to the sick, the grieving and the poor. We serve meals at the Franciscan Center of Baltimore and contribute food to Our Daily Bread and the Northeast Pantry. We provide opportunity for many neighborhood youth to participate in athletics and scouting. We bring the sacraments to the ill and home bound. We lobby for care of the earth and other social justice issues. We find the opportunity and support to do this through the ordained ministry of an elderly white celibate priest.

I suspect that clericalism is not primarily a “sin” of the clergy, but one of the laity who self-righteously use scandal in the church as an excuse to forgo participating or contributing to the missionary work of the church in promoting love of neighbors as an expression of love of God.

Louise Wright, Baltimore

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