The priesthood cannot be liberated from the shadow of clericalism that besets the Church without a radical change in the way men are prepared for ordination
A friend in a rural Irish parish recently recalled how a new parish priest soon got rid of Eucharistic ministers and banned women from the sanctuary. An elderly priest set in his ways? “No,” our friend replied. “He’s in his thirties and was ordained five years ago.”
Some recently ordained men still think of the priesthood as an elite caste. This usually goes hand in hand with an authoritarian and legalistic frame of mind, a preoccupation with doctrinal precision and liturgical orthodoxy. Such attitudes are fostered in seminaries that encourage clericalism and patriarchy.
Pope Francis regularly castigates “the sins of clericalism, careerism and authoritarianism”. New guidelines for the training of priests issued by the Vatican in 2016, The Gift of the Priestly Vocation, attempt to dismantle these attitudes. A priest, for Francis, is a merciful shepherd, someone close to his people. The new guidelines stress the art of “pastoral discernment”: a wise listening to, and accompaniment of, people in their different and difficult life situations.