Post-Clerical Catholicism

Frequent commenter Jimmy Mac sent me a link to Bill McGarvey’s piece in America, following on the heels of Dan Horan’s column on clericalism:

What struck me was how disconnected I felt from the entire conversation surrounding clericalism. It felt as if an intramural discussion was taking place in an arena whose attendance numbers continue to dwindle. Who were these people with such passionate, high expectations or bitter disappointments regarding their parish priests? The sad reality for me and countless others I know who remain connected to Catholicism is that, for better or worse, our expectations of the clergy are much more modest. The bar is set pretty low.

How does that ring for priests of any generation? Young guys who identify more with a faraway pope than with the people they serve. Older guys who still remember days when a priest entered a parish on a golden line, and you had to muck things up considerably before tarnishing set in.

In my handful of parish assignments, once or twice I’ve followed someone who demolished a music program or a liturgical ministry. In one parish, the pastor didn’t even want to put “liturgy” in my job title because it had such poor associations–and that for someone who was there but one year. In more places than not, the bar is set low for musicians, too.

More testimony from the front lines:

“For my family and friends who want to raise their kids Catholic,” a woman who works in church circles told me, “clericalism isn’t even on their radar. Gen-Xers and millennials don’t have the deference for clergy—or the expectations—our parents did.” She told me her own expectations were low. People feel it’s a nice bonus to have simply a reasonably healthy and balanced priest with some pastoral gifts.

“It continues to surprise me,” a recently ordained Carmelite told me. “If you are real, relatable and make an effort to be relevant to parishioners’ lives, you are a rock star.”

Another priest (said), “People seem to be so hungry for something more. If you can offer them anything that connects their personal lives to the Gospel, they are incredibly appreciative.”

Is it any wonder that numbers of believers are looking elsewhere for spiritual, then religious sustenance? It also seems to me that communities, especially a small group, can provide something for that personal connection to the Gospel.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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One Response to Post-Clerical Catholicism

  1. Melody says:

    “People feel it’s a nice bonus to have simply a reasonably healthy and balanced priest with some pastoral gifts.” Works for me. They don’t have to be St. John Chrysostom, just walk the walk and don’t disrespect people. I think it’s a mistake to expect a priest to fill all the spiritual gaps. Part of that is our job.

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