Francis challenges clericalism

Michael Kelly SJ

Pope Francis and the comic genius Groucho Marx could agree on one of Groucho's famous one liners, writes Miichael Kelly at 'I would never join a club that would have me as a member'.

- Michael Kelly SJ

Though the Pope may never have heard the line, he would know what Groucho meant. Groucho's humour had an instinctive suspicion of any establishment.

Perhaps because he is the son of Italian migrants in Argentina, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, felt what it was like to be outside the establishment of his native land. Whether he did or didn't feel an outsider in Argentina, he brings all the marks of an outsider to his life in the Vatican - from being shocked by the papal apartments where he was expected but declined to live, to dispensing with the formality that goes with the papacy, conceived as a role and status in line with that of European monarchs.

Since arriving at the Vatican, Pope Francis has never missed an opportunity to emphasise that office in the Church is not designed for the enjoyment and enhancement of the office holder but so that better and more universal service may be offered to the people the office holder is to serve. In doing away with a great deal of the Vatican's pomp and ceremony, Pope Francis also has abolished some titles in the Vatican such as 'monsignor.' That title, of course, is the tip of the iceberg.

The ecclesiastical titles - Eminence, Excellency, My Lord, Your Grace and related aristocratic appellations - are an invention from the Italian states of the 17th century, when the Church sought to match the self-aggrandizing aristocracy, who used such terms to inflate their significance. Princes, dukes, counts and countesses all started referring to each other - and insisting everyone else referred to them - with ever more florid and self-enhancing references. The Church followed suit.

Pope Francis has sought to eliminate this culture of self-promotion and entitlement by attacking it at its source. His denunciations of clericalism are frequent, heartfelt and blunt. He describes it as a disease that consumes and kills the Gospel.

What is it? At one level it is the disease at work in any bureaucracy or organisation anywhere in the world. Careerists set a target for themselves - some desired promotion or title and the associated privileges. They do anything to climb the ladder and get the prize. They remain silent in the face of hypocrisy, injustice, even crimes. And they do so to secure for themselves where they are with a view to where they might go. They maintain relentless and unswerving loyalty to whomever they must to secure where they are. They pay obeisance to 'makers' and 'patrons' so that they can continue to enjoy preferment.

There is an even more sinister side to clericalism than these obviously odious features. What clericalism also is about is protecting priests, at any level of the hierarchy and at all costs.

What Pope Francis and Groucho Marx had in common (

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