Friday, January 31, 2014

Of butterflies and monsters -- part 2

Letter to Ms. Ann Salting continued

Clericalism is as dead as yesterday’s road kill, at least the clericalism to which we are accustomed. By clericalism, I mean an elite class who arrogate to themselves the decisions of other men’s souls. There will always be such classes, I fear, but they change. Today’s servants become masters tomorrow.

I don’t think that the sense of the diocesan priest as a member of class apart is easy to find, at least among diocesan priests. Priests are pretty much a despised class at the present. Not long ago if, after hours, you called our diocesan center here in Frostbite Falls, you heard a recorded message that gave you two numbers: one to call if you suspected your priest of hanky-panky and the other if you suspected your priest of financial skullduggery. There are swarms of lawyers, supervisors, auditors etc. milling about to make sure that nothing untoward is going on in the lives of the clergy. It’s really hard to form a cabalistic elite when you are constantly filling out forms to make sure that you are on the up and up.

Diocesan priests are certainly not a power elite these days. We are answerable to financial auditors, performance review auditors, compliance auditors, vicars, deans, agency heads, and if all else fails, to the local bishop. I am not allowed to physically touch money, except for that which is clearly my own. I am responsible to raise the stuff, but I am never in actual physical proximity to the stuff for which I must regularly beat the bushes. The money is managed by non-ordained people, for which I am grateful, but it has gotten really tough to skim anything off the top these days. 

To form an elite it necessary to gather together to make the proper political connections. Schmooze is an absolute necessity to a clerical system. I remember the good old days of clericalism especially the dinners — jumbo shrimp and an open bar. Sometime during the early 80's things shifted from jumbo shrimp and martini’s to trail mix and diet soda. I knew then that the good old days of clericalism were over. We no longer go to grand gatherings of the clergy. We go to meetings; coffee, cookies and an agenda. And if there is a dinner, one has to leave early because there is always an appointment back at the rectory. Who has time to schmooze? There is always some emergency that is more important than getting together with one’s confreres.

The acquisition of status, power and wealth is the purpose of clericalism. There is certainly not much status and not much power or wealth to acquire anymore, and who has the time to acquire it? There is too much work waiting back at the parish. I don’t want power status or wealth. I just want a good night’s sleep most of the time.

This is not to say that the mushroom of clericalism is dead. It has just begun to emerge in other dark, moist corners. In times past, one could find ambitious clergymen in diocesan bureaucracies. Now the downtown offices are full of non-ordained people some of whom are saints and servants. Priests have a very limited tenure in their assignments. These days the usual maximum for a pastoral assignment is 12 years. Then a pastor must move. It is “better’ for the priest and “better” for the parish. One would not want a priest to get stale, or to create his own little kingdom.

In times past, a pastoral assignment was expected to be for life and Father would usually be taken out of the rectory feet first, to the sorrow of some and the rejoicing of others.  Now, a pastor must submit his resignation at the age of 70. There is a swell party and then Father is shown door and wished good luck. In our diocese there is a generous pension of about a thousand a month. Ah, the power and status of the clergy! 

As I mentioned above, there is a class of people in the diocese who do not have a necessary retirement age. They are the dedicated servants of the diocesan agencies. They usually work just down the hall from the bishop and they are his close collaborators. I am sure that they will learn from the mistakes of the presbyterate and will avoid ambition and careerism. I know that they are incapable of financial or amorous wrongdoing, because they are lay people. 

The Vatican is working to achieve greater transparency and efficiency, the very opposite of clericalism, by hiring top flight professional companies to assist in its work, which companies also I’m sure are incapable of wrongdoing, because they, too, are lay people. The Vatican has tapped the consulting firm of Ernst & Young (motto: building a better working world) to provide business advice. McKinsey & Company will help manage the Osservatore Romano, Vatican Radio, and Vatican Television. The Swiss accounting firm KPMG will help modernize the Vatican’s finances. This should be interesting. 

I love obscure history. Don’t you? Did you know that the first bishop elected pope, that is the bishop of Rome, was Marinus the First? He was elected pope in 882. Formerly, he had been the bishop of Caere, in effect an auxiliary bishop of Rome. This caused huge scandal. Popes were generally taken from among the deacons and sometime the presbyters of Rome. A bishop was never named pope. A bishop never transferred from one diocese to another.
A bishop wears a ring, I have been told, because he is married to his diocese. For a bishop to change diocese was tantamount to adultery, or so the first millennium of Christians believed. Marinus managed to hold on to the job of Pope for about a year and a half. 

After him they chose a saint, St. Adrian, then a priest of Rome. After him, Stephen V seems to have done a decent job for a few years, but then the church sank into a quagmire that made the Borgias look tame. The papacy became the play thing of the powerful families of Italy whose sons had already risen to high clerical office. It soon became the rule to elect a bishop and they elected some doozies. Pope Formosus (891-896) seems to have been a decent enough fellow, but got entangled in politics and then it was a free for all. Formosus was succeeded by Boniface VI who mysteriously managed to live only for about two weeks. He was succeeded by Stephen VI who was friends with the politicians that Formosus had offended, so Formosus’ corpse was dug up, put on trial, stripped of the papal vestments and thrown in the river. I am not making this up. It just gets worse. 

The Lord in His mercy eventually reformed things, but the precedent had been set. A bishop clearly had power not only in the church but in the world and the politics of Europe. The papacy were inextricably bound up with European politics until fairly recently. Considering what was at stake, we Catholics can be very proud of the fact that relatively few popes were corrupt. In our time we have had a string of amazingly holy popes. May it always be so. 

This great shift in the nature of the episcopacy meant that the bishops of Europe had a lot to do with who ruled Europe. There was power, wealth and status to be had, and there were second sons of the nobility who looked at the church as reasonable and lucrative career choice, since they could not inherit the titles that went to their older brothers. In fact, in 1462 my ancestral home town in Lower-Upper Hessia backed the wrong candidate for bishop in a shooting war between Bishop Dieter of Isenberg and Bishop of Adolf of Nassau as to who would be the Archbishop of Mainz. You see, the Archbishop of Mainz got to vote for the Emperor. Both Dieter and Adolf wanted to trade up. There are three cannonballs enshrined in the wall of our village church to commemorate the siege by Bishop Adolf. Now these things are no longer done with cannons. Meetings are the more appropriate battle field. Ah, good times! 

I write all these complaints simply to say that perhaps the presbyterate isn’t the group to worry about at the moment. There are other areas of church governance that  still come with some wealth power and status, and I hope that involving non-religious secular financial institutions in the governance of the church is a good idea. It didn’t work so well in the middle ages, but maybe things are better now. I have to go now. I have a meeting and a dinner, but I can’t stay for the dinner because I have a confirmation class and then a bible class. 

Rev. Know-it-all

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