Address to the Concerned Catholics of Canberra and Goulburn Part 3: Death of clerical culture

14 November 2018
Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv at John Morony Correctional Complex. Image: Diocese of Parramatta.


Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta

Address to the Concerned Catholics of Canberra and Goulburn Forum

11 September 2018



“The Role of the Faithful in a post-Royal Commission Church in Australia”




It is becoming increasingly evident that clerical sexual abuse crisis is a symptom of a dysfunctional, corrosive and destructive culture in the Church. Pope Francis often denounces clericalism, which he sees as being endemic to many aspects and levels of the institutional Church such as the Roman Curia, Diocesan structures, seminaries et cetera. (For example, he compares ill-prepared young priests to little monsters and speaks of the pathology of power as one of 15 diseases of clericalism.)

Ultimately, it is not just a question of individual manifestations of clericalism.

Indeed, there were and have been great priests who lived and ministered heroically even within the constraints of the old mould.

Still, it is a question of clericalism inherent in the very culture of the Church, which we must look at very honestly. In his letter following the Chilean scandal, Pope Francis wrote: “It would be irresponsible not to go deep in looking for the roots and structures that allowed these evil acts to happen and simply to go on.”

The culture of clerical hegemony has been solidly entrenched in the Catholic Church ever since it took centre stage in the Roman Empire. It is a by-product of the model of Church, which sees itself as self-sufficient, superior to and separate from the outside world. Its security, reputation and internal relationships are the centre of attention. The Church in this model becomes the Church of the ordained at the expense of the baptised.

As a result, the ordained becomes an exalted and elitist club that protects the interests and privileges of its members. This explains the obfuscation and cover-up which is so endemic to this club mentality. It is a far cry from the model of the Humble Servant that Jesus exemplified and this celibate clerical club provides the ideal condition for the disease of clericalism to fester.

In my opinion, we really need to once and for all jettison the clericalist model of Church with its by-product of the exclusive clerical club. It has served us well beyond its use by date. The Church as understood and articulated by the Second Vatican Council sees itself as a pilgrim People of God, incarnate in the world. It is a new paradigm – one that is based on mutuality not exclusion, love not fear, service not clericalism, engagement with the world not flight from or hostility against it, incarnate grace not dualism. It is the Church going out of itself as opposed to closing in on itself.

The time has come for us to embrace and implement unambiguously and decisively the vision of the pilgrim Church, that the Second Vatican Council entrusted to us. The time has come for the Church to be truly the Church of the baptised and together with the ordained, all the People of God can create a new culture of humility, accountability and service.

The model of the Church based on clerical hegemony has run its course. Insofar as it is deeply embedded in patriarchal and monarchical structures, it is incapable of helping us to meet the needs of the world and culture in which we live. We have long moved out of the Ancien Regime and the age of absolute monarchs. We are on this side of the secular state and the rise of democracy.

Yet it seems that the deeply entrenched patriarchal and monarchical structures of the Church have failed to correspond with our lived experience.

In fact, important as it is to consider the question of women ordained ministries in the Church (for which the Study Commission on Women’s Diaconate was set up), it is far worse to persist with structures that fail to convey the message of the Gospel to the deep yearnings of men and women of today.

Adding women into the archaic structures that need fundamental reforms may be likened to pouring new wine into old wineskins.

For the Church to flourish, it is crucial that we come to terms with the flaws of clericalism and move beyond its patriarchal and monarchical matrix.

The Pope famously said that we need a new theology of women. I would like to postulate that what we need even more is to find fresh ways of being Church and fresh ways of ministry and service for both men and women disciples.

Part 4 will be published tomorrow.

To read Part 2 of Bishop Vincent’s address, click here.


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