The key to finding an answer to what Pope Francis calls the evils of clericalism is to pay attention to the participation of all the baptised in the Church in collaborative ministry between priests and the laity.

This is what Fr Neil Darragh suggested in his talk at the Auckland Priests
Assembly in Waipuna Hotel on September 10.

“One of the most interesting things … when you start talking about clericalism is how many people (I mean priests) do want to talk about it, how many people think it’s a bad thing, and how many people don’t think it applies to themselves. We don’t see that clericalism applies to ourselves,” he said.

He said clericalism is often not something that priests do but rather situations priests find themselves living in.

“Most of us live in situations where clericalism is accepted. In other words, the lay people that we most associate with are into it as well. They take it (clericalism) from us,” he said.

Fr Darragh noted that entitlement, a word often applied to young people
today, can also be applied to priests.

“Priests often think we are not governed by the same rules as the laity are
in terms of ethics,” he said.

Priests often think they do not need to get themselves involved in the big
ethical issues in society today, such as reducing inequality and protecting the environment.

“[We] say we’re busy about the church, sacraments and all, and [we’re] looking after the sick. We can’t get into these big issues. Somebody else can do that,” Fr Darragh said. “That’s priests claiming entitlement.”

At the talk, Fr Darragh asked the participants to do a reflection on whether clericalism is present in their parish.

He gave them a “Clericalism: Parish Self-Test” paper that included statements such as “in our parish, the priest (or deacon) is the only one who gives homily at Sunday Eucharists”.

The more statements the priests ticked, the more it showed there is clericalism in their parish.

The statements in the paper illustrated the dependence of the parish on the
priest such that there can be no liturgy when the priest is not available, nor is there training for “lay presiders” who can lead liturgies such as funerals or house blessings in the parish.

“Lay ministers cannot do their jobs spontaneously. They have to be chosen
and trained,” Fr Darragh said. “A priest is responsible for capacity building within his parish.”

Fr Darragh also said the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional
Responses to Child Sexual Abuse had recommendations for the Australian
Catholic Church which we need to consider in our own dioceses.

These recommendations include transparency, accountability, consultation
and the participation of lay men and women; improvement of processes
for selecting, screening and training of candidates for the clergy and religious life; and implementation of professional development, pastoral supervision and performance appraisals for priests and religious.


  1. Quick points:
    (1) treatment of a problem requires correct diagnosis.
    Clericalism is an undefined euphemism so are you even sure what the “problem” is, let alone diagnosis of the causes?
    Looking around during my lifetime I see a lot of bustling laity activity and pretty laid-back, chilling, hands-off clergy.
    The average pew-sitter possibly experiences more clericalism (?) from “official” laity than the ordained/professed/consecrated.

    (2) It’s aspirational to desire involvement “in the big ethical issues in society today” (abortion anybody? Hello?) and to be “responsible for capacity building” but not everyone is cut out for that. Are you priests of God or business managers? Compare to teachers – also university graduates but how many aspire to be middle and upper management, leaders of adults? In education this leads to more “programs” and “initiatives” and “conferences”. Easy to mistake activity for enriching progress. What is “progress” anyway? What’s the goal?

    (3) remember, if Catholics cease to look and sound like Catholics (laity-led this and laity-led that…) there’s no reason for we laity in the market place of ideas to wander down the street to the coffee-chugging and rockin’ Evangelical church or socially woke NGO or just stay in bed and watch rugby re-runs.