This false esteem points to a misunderstanding of our roles in the Church.
One of the dangers that Pope Francis regularly singles out as most threatening the Church is “clericalism.”
Clericalism could be defined as a false or sycophantic respect and esteem for clergy. It lends to the persons of priests, in view of their clerical office, an excessive deference and acquiescence. In a clericalist culture, the clergy often stand above and aloof to their flocks, to which distance the faithful can respond in a childish spirt of obedience and false reverence.
Francis points out that clericalism can be a sin for both clergy and laity: for clergy, if they demand to be treated as superior to the laity; and for laity, if they resign themselves to the status quo—“Let Father do everything”—and shirk the responsibilities proper to their own vocation as baptized Christians.
Here are five of the many times that Pope Francis has spoken out against clericalism. Emphases are our own.
What is “clericalism?”
“There is that spirit of clericalism in the Church, that we feel: clerics feel superior; clerics distance themselves from the people. Clerics always say: ‘this should be done like this, like this, like this, and you – go away!’” It happens “when the cleric doesn’t have time to listen to those who are suffering, the poor, the sick, the imprisoned: the evil of clericalism is a really awful thing; it is a new edition of this ancient evil [of the religious ‘authorities’ lording it over others].” But “the victim is the same: the poor and humble people, who await the Lord.” ~ Homily in Casa Santa Marta, December 13, 2016
A clear awareness of this responsibility of the laity, grounded in their baptism and confirmation, does not appear in the same way in all places. In some cases, it is because lay persons have not been given the formation needed to take on important responsibilities. In others, it is because in their particular Churches room has not been made for them to speak and to act, due to an excessive clericalism which keeps them away from decision-making. ~ Apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium
But I often think of Jesus knocking on the door, but from inside, because we [do not] let him go out, because we often, without witness, hold him prisoner to our formalities, our closures, our selfishness, our clerical way of life. And clericalism, which is not just clerics, is an attitude that affects all of us: clericalism is a perversion of the Church. Jesus teaches us this path of exit from ourselves, the path of witness. And this is the scandal – because we are sinners! – that we do not go out of ourselves to give testimony. ~ Meeting with young Italians, August 11, 2018
The lack of consciousness of belonging to God’s faithful people as servants, and not masters, can lead us to one of the temptations that is most damaging to the missionary outreach that we are called to promote: clericalism, which ends up as a caricature of the vocation we have received. A failure to realize that the mission belongs to the entire Church, and not to the individual priest or bishop, limits the horizon, and even worse, stifles all the initiatives that the Spirit may be awakening in our midst. Let us be clear about this. The laypersons are not our peons, or our employees. They don’t have to parrot back whatever we say. “Clericalism, far from giving impetus to various contributions and proposals, gradually extinguishes the prophetic flame to which the entire Church is called to bear witness. Clericalism forgets that the visibility and the sacramentality of the Church belong to all the faithful people of God (cf. Lumen Gentium, 9-14), not only to the few chosen and enlightened.” ~ Meeting with the bishops of Chile during apostolic trip to Chile, January 16, 2018
If we hope for a new and living chapter of faith in this [Latin American] continent, we will not get it without women. Please, do not let them be reduced to servants of our ingrained clericalism. For they are on the front lines of the Latin American Church, in their setting out with Jesus, in their persevering amid the sufferings of their people, in their clinging to the hope that conquers death, and in their joyful way of proclaiming to the world that Christ is alive and risen. I would like to repeat something I recently said to the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. It is imperative to overcome the clericalism that treats the Christifideles laici as children and impoverishes the identity of ordained ministers. ~ Meeting with executive committee of CELAM during apostolic journey to Colombia, September 7, 2017