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Third alumni forum focused on clericalism and safeguarding

Alumni Coordinator Br. Tony Shanahan gives us a recap of the third alumni forum, held on 7 May 2022.

The third in this year’s series of alumni forums took the difficult subject of Clericalism as its focus. Despite the challenge of technical problems with the Zoom link that kept some would-be participants from joining the meeting, those who were able to gather began a conversation that was interesting and enriching.

Why is this a “difficult” subject? For several reasons:

  • Some form of clericalism has been part of the Catholic church that all of us have grown up with; it has been part of the air we have breathed; it is so much a part of our ways of thinking and acting and reacting that we don’t always recognize it for what it is.
  • It is also a difficult subject because it is sensitive and arouses strong feelings in some people. It can seem to make the clergy the “villains”, the “bad guys”, when it is actually talking about an attitude or a mindset, not people. Many clergy are not “clericalist” in their attitudes, whereas many laity are strong agents of clericalism.

One quotation that was shared in the Zoom captures some of this reality:

(Pope) 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. (K. Hattrup, "5 of the many times Pope Francis has railed against clericalism", Aleteia, 23 August 2018)

There were some sobering experiences and reflections shared, such as the reaction of priests in one place when told that the diocese had appointed a female HR officer:  A woman supervising priests? Never!!

Another participant talked about the “spiritual wounds” that are inflicted on victims and on others as well, e.g. family and friends of victims, when clericalism leads to lack of effective action and self-protection by the church.

On the one hand, comments about the lack of real commitment to safeguarding by hierarchy, clergy and laity in some places, despite the public show of policies and offices and phone numbers to call, were a “reality check” and an invitation to re-commit ourselves to the task.

On the other hand, there were also some encouraging reports about initiatives and activities that are making progress and are well supported.

Because of the extent of the subject, and also because technical problems limited the number able to take part in this forum, there is the possibility that we will revisit the topic in the near future.