Reforming the clerical culture

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The BridgeDialogues brings together laity
and clergy to tackle scourge of clericalism

Pope Francis has repeatedly called out the clerical culture’s danger to the Catholic Church and its faithful, for example, calling clericalism “our ugliest perversion.” Now Voice of the Faithful, the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, and FutureChurch have developed the BridgeDialogues: Laity & Clergy re-Imagining Church Togethera set of templates to help Catholics recognize and prevent this perversion that blocks laity from achieving their full potential in the Church.

Clericalism has been defined in various ways. In a 2011 report criticizing the Church’s “Study of the Causes and Context of the Sexual Abuse Crisis,” VOTF defined clericalism as “an overriding set of beliefs and behaviors in which the clergy view themselves as different, separate, and exempt from the norms, rules and consequences that apply to everyone else in society.” As the Pope has said, “Clerics feel they are superior, they are far from the people,” and clericalism “can be fostered by priests or by lay people” where the laity show clergy excessive deference because they assume the clergy are morally superior.

The BridgeDialogues is a collaborative effort of the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, FutureChurch, and Voice of the Faithful. The Clericalism package offers:

  • Prompts for opening up discussions addressing clericalism, including topics such as the subtle ways that language and pastoral relationships can feed clericalism
  • Examples of how you experience clericalism barriers and what you can do about them
  • Tips for how you can guard against clericalism in your own behaviors, while removing the barriers others may use to hold you on “your side” of the lay/clergy divide

The BridgeDialogues’ many resources are available through the links below: 

Introduction to the BridgeDialogues: Description of the dialogue method and purpose

The BridgeDialogues Model: Instructions for preparing and conducting a BridgeDialogue

Template 1: Introduction to Clericalism and Discussion Questions — 6-page overview of clericalism and its components

Template 2: Prof. Massimo Fagioli on Clericalism (see Vimeo page for link to video), transcript and Discussion Questions — Historical overview and present outlook on clericalism

Template 3: Quotations from Pope Francis and Questions each quote raises

Template 4: Confronting the Systemic Dysfunction of Clericalism (a whte paper) and Discussion Questions — Key document on how we experience clericalism, with questions to guide a discussion about the issues the paper cites

Additional Readings on clericalism