My Most Negative Reaction to a Homily Ever . . .

Is Clericalism Dead?

By Fr. William Moser:

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of a priest of my diocese, I experienced the strongest and most negative reaction to a homily I can ever remember. I have heard lots of homilies, and lots of homilies that produced discomfort of one sort or another. So, what did this homilist say that caused me such concern? The priest-homilist had just deplored the evils of clericalism. Well, very good, you might think. O yes, very good, but not only did he fail to identify the true faults of clericalism – which, I admit, is a common problem – he announced that clericalism is virtually dead, a thing of the past by saying, and I will never forget this: “Thank God those days are over.”

My friends, those days are not over – far from it – if they will ever be over. This priest’s statement is grossly naïve at best and completely shallow at worst. I think, in fact, clericalism is far worse today than ever before. Therefore, I hope to help in an understanding of the nature of true clericalism and what is the only way to avoid it.

Clericalism is far from dead. Clericalism will probably be around as long as there are men and women. I say men and women deliberately because clericalism is not solely a fault among priests. It is a pervasive problem that affects priests, religious, and the lay faithful.


Is Clericalism Dead? by Fr. William Moser



So, What is Clericalism?

Clericalism means using one’s priestly office for some worldly advantage. It means being more concerned with the perks that come with the priestly state of life than being concerned with the responsibilities to be fulfilled. For instance, a priest or bishop who enjoys his title and vesture more than he likes to hear confessions or give counsel to the faithful is most certainly prone to clericalism.

This vice of clericalism is more commonly seen in a priest or bishop who fails to preach the full magisterium of the Church so as not to lose the good opinion of the people to whom he speaks. Jesus’ example is the cure. Jesus forthrightly faced the displeasure of His townsmen rather than hold back on the truth He preached. He faced the death of the cross in order to witness to the truth. A clericalist would have “prudently” avoided that calamity.


5 Ways the Laity Encourages Clericalism

Clericalism may seem to predominate among priests, but I think when one looks at things more carefully, it is far more common among the laity than it should be. Lay people even encourage clericalism. This can be seen in the easy applause and affirmation for the priest who tickles our ears and the disdain shown for the priest who faithfully preaches the truth. Lay people encourage this fault of clericalism when they threaten to withhold money or talent or their presence if certain things are said or not said from the pulpit; when they commend the priest who presents bad doctrine or who recommends bad or loose pastoral practices like giving holy communion to people who are living in sinful situations that are gravely wrong or scandalous.

Clericalists, be they lay people, religious, or priests, encourage those who defiantly place themselves above the divinely instituted and solemn authority of the Church Christ founded.

Clericalism is not dead; it has just been given new names and new forms. Clericalism makes itself appear, by dressing down, to be less so. But it only seems so, and is always false. For example, a priest who dresses down, that is, dresses in a layman’s outfit, is not necessarily less clerical than the priest who wears his clerical garb; he may even be more clerical. If he is known to be a priest but fails to live up to his priestly vocation and keeps the perks of his office, he is definitely a clericalist. If he abuses his priestly office with a lifestyle that is lavish or scandalous, he is definitely a clericalist.

A clerical priest is one who, whether in clerics or not, uses his position to maintain a comfortable lifestyle while avoiding his duties which often make him uncomfortable. Worse, he is always a priest who seeks the applause of the world and tickles the ears of the congregation. All the while he is not concerned about the faith of his congregation dying.


What is the Most Common Form of Clericalism among Priests?

Failing to preach the truth. Priests who avoid preaching the hard truths because they displease their parishioner are giving into clericalism.


What is the cure for clericalism? Jesus! Jesus never played to His audience. Jesus was always priestly. Jesus was willing to offer the sacrifice of the Holy Cross rather than give in to the demands of the crowd. Therefore, a priest who follows Jesus’ example is always willing to sacrifice himself rather than sacrifice the faithful for himself; that is, a true priest tells the truth and lives the truth and is not afraid to wear the sign of his state in life – whether cassock or clerical suit – in order, always and everywhere, to be available to people and to promote the truth.

So, really, being “anti-clerical” means being priestly because being priestly means being self-sacrificing, which is everything a clericalist is not.

Those who believe clericalism is dead because priests don’t dress up or who play to their audience haven’t really considered things too deeply. Clericalism will be alive as long as we have to battle wounded human nature, and, that my friends, will be with us until the end of time. The antidote to the dreadful illness of clericalism is the imitation of Jesus Christ, the eternal high priest.

P.S. – Would you do Courageous Priest a favor and share this info with your friends on Facebook, Twitter or Email right now? We truly appreciate it. Or leave a comment, we would love to hear what you think.

8 comments to My Most Negative Reaction to a Homily Ever . . .

  • Elizabeth M.

    Catherine Adago,
    President Trump tried to give preferential treatment to the Christians in the Middle East as practically none have been marked for immigration. Even Pope Francis left them behind preferring to bring in the Muslim families.
    Elizabeth M.

  • Laura Goggins

    What a great article, Father. I hadn’t understood the meaning of clericalism and now I see it can apply not only to priests, but anyone who prefers the outer prestige or trappings of their ministry, calling or job to it’s essential responsibilities and fails to fulfill those essential responsibilities. They prefer the praise or respect of men to the good opinion of God. Let’s all pray that priests will gain the wisdom, courage and strength to overcome this disease of the soul!



  • Tony C

    I believe that clericalism is an unwillingness (conscious or unconscious) to live in the truth – God’s truth and the humbling truth about ourselves as wholly dependent on God for everything. Its adherents use their position or “expertise” as justification for treating others as beneath them, less important, less dignified and having little worthwhile to say. But that’s not how the Holy Spirit always blows through the body of Christ. I see clericalism among administrators, academics, doctors, lawyers, bankers, clergy and any group of people who feel they are experts in their field. But the Gospel clearly says, “wisdom is proved right by her children.” (Lk 7:35) Consider the clericalism of nuns who treated Bernadette Soubirous so awfully in her own convent because she was a semi-illiterate peasant girl and not an “expert” like them: a refusal to accept that the Spirit blows where it pleases (Jn 3) Pope Francis has stated that there are many grandmothers with better theological understanding than clergy – because they have been humble, and can hear what the Spirit says to them. That’s how Pope Francis wants us all to be, so that we can see one another with equal dignity in Christ, and hear what the Spirit has to say in the Church’s teaching and in one another.

  • Sixtus

    Example of Clericalism is when Priests do not feel they have to practice what they preach in their homilies. Another example is avoidance and unavailability to parishioners for Confession or counciling .

  • With all of the horrible things going on in the world, especially the torture and persecutions of Christians in the middle east, we are really discussing this ridiculous term? I thought Clericalism was silly when it was first brought up by Pope Francis. Sorry but I did. First of all no one knew what he was talking about. I think it’s about time we gave most priests a big break. On the whole these are hardworking faithful people, who just like us are not perfect. I liked it when Pope Emeritus Benedict wore traditional garments and hats. No, he was not bragging, he was making a connection with tradition and trying to teach us the meaning that these garments represented. To turn this into an ego trip is just dumb.Let’s stop wasting time with this new excuse to be critical. Let’s start asking questions like why we are not offering asylum to Christians in the Middle East? Why are we not demanding to know why our president is not only silent on this issue, but actually uses prayer events and Easter to degrade Christianity. That would make a really good homily or letter to your parish priest.

  • tg

    Thank you Father. What you say is true.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>