Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Anticlerical clericalism?

A while ago I read an article that made this astounding claim "A form of 'pious' anticlericalism exists among the people who view the priest as a spiritual leader on the one hand and a man like every other man on the other".

It may be that I am blind to what is directly in front of my face, but I have encountered less anticlericalism, pious or otherwise, in the Portuguese community in which I was raised than in the non-Portuguese community I have encountered. I know that there are towns, particularly in mainland Portugal (Fatima comes to mind) where priests have been treated badly by the townspeople for many many years even to the point where they have had rocks thrown at them by children (and adults too) and at least during certain periods of recent history were afraid to wear clerical attire in public, but this is uncommon in most areas. So, yes, there are pockets of anticlericalism which reach back to the early and mid 1800's, but for the most part these attitudes are not any more prevalent than anywhere else in the world.

So, what support does the author use to explain the anticlericalism which she claims exists: she says that "the people who view the priest as a spiritual leader on the one hand and a man like every other man on the other". That is amazing and groundbreaking information! Of course he is viewed as a spiritual leader as well as man like any other. That IS what he IS! I imagine that if one is accustomed to the stereotype that Catholics see the priest as a perfect man who can do no wrong, then hearing Portuguese Catholics criticize their priests might be jarring, but the reality is that we know they aren't perfect and we don't have any problem letting them know that we know it. Some criticisms will be valid, while others will not be, but in the it leads to a healthy relationship between priest and parishioners. The priest is loved, but not put on a pedestal. He is respected, but seen as a sinner like everyone else. He is revered, but not idolized. At the same time, should he need anything from his people, whether personally or for the parish his parishioners will never fail to come to his aid. The priest also knows that he has a large number of people he can turn to for advice.

While I have seen this go overboard on occasion with parishioners who think they have a right to push the priest out of the way and do whatever they want (Don't we see that in plenty of American parishes), but I have never seen the lunacy in Portuguese parishes that I have seen in American parishes. What I have mostly encountered is a healthy balance between clericalism and anticlericalism which leads to a realistic view of the Church heirarchy.

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