Did Jesus want the clergy we now have?

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“It is necessary to prepare a Church of the future, that is less ‘clerical’ but more ‘evangelical’”, argues José María Castillo for Spanish Religious news portal, Religión Digital.  

It is a sufficiently well-known fact that Pope Francis is finding that he has numerous enemies. Much of this resistance comes from people that are not usually thought to be among the traditional enemies of the church­. Precisely, and surprisingly, this comes from important sectors of the clergy. These resistances inevitably extend to a few lay people, who distance themselves from the Church or distrust Pope Francis and his teachings.

Whatever it is about this matter, there is no doubt that Pope Francis’ relations with the clergy have not always been fluid and simple. This pope has criticised not few of the behaviours of clergymen, without paying any attention to their positions, dignities and behaviours. Among these “men of the Church” he has uncovered murky, even scandalous issues. Would it not be better to hide – or try to hide – certain behaviours that, when made public, scandalise people and harm believers and non-believers?

There is no doubt that this Pope wants to change many things. As the pope himself said a few days ago, “this is serious”.  It needs to go as far as it needs to go. Until its final consequences.

And, what would be the last of these consequences?  Well, getting to the point, without fear, I think the time has come to face a question that possibly scares us. Are we sure that God wants a clergy like the one we have in the Church now?

The word “clergy” does not appear in the New Testament. That term was probably introduced by some Christian writers in the third century. The word clergy comes from the Greek kleros which means “lot” in the sense of “inheritance”. Hence, “clergy” was understood to be a group of people, particularly a group of people that were “privileged”, or exempt from tax burdens and other obligations, granted to the Church, especially from the year 313, on the occasion of the so-called conversion of the Emperor Constantine (Peter Brown, Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD, Princeton University Press, 2012). In particular, the “privileged” were the leaders of the Church. Briefly stated, the “clergy” became distinguished because they were privileged. This has been the case since the fourth century. And so it continues.

However, if there is anything undoubtedly clear in the Gospels, it is that Jesus did not want privileges nor the privileged among his community of “followers” and disciples. It was to this that Jesus clearly opposed when two of his disciples, James and John, wanted to be the first (Mark 10:35-46, Matthew 20:20-28). And, above all, when, in the Last Supper, Jesus imposed on his apostles the example of life they had to lead: to wash the feet of others (John 13, 12-15). What it must have been like to tell them that they had to go through life, not just as privileged, but as “slaves” in the service of others?

With the passing of time things have changed. Between the fourth and sixth centuries bishops and clerics reached positions of privilege, they had enormous wealth and status and became known as  the great gentlemen of the West. By saying this, I do not wish to suggest or imply that the clergy of today are “great lords”. They are not. But it does happen, not infrequently, that one finds “men of the Church” who in reality seek more “to settle” in this world than to “follow Jesus”, with all its consequences.

Can it be said that Jesus wanted a Church divided and separated into two categories of Christians, one of “clerics” with powers and dignities and another of “submissive” and “profane” laypeople? This is of course, how the religion, its temples and its liturgies have been solidly maintained. But, with this division, have we lived and are we living the Gospel better? Are we better “followers of Jesus” now?

The “clergy”, as it is and operates now, was not an invention of Jesus. Human egoism invented it. Also, it does not belong to the “Divine and Catholic Faith” that the Church has to be divided in this way. In the Church there may be ministers of the Lord, witnesses of the Gospel and persons responsible for Christian communities, who fulfil such functions without them needing to be the “privileged” and “consecrated”, as they have been since late Antiquity.

Could we not introduce changes, that the faithful are able to begin to assimilate, to prepare a Church of the future, that is less “clerical” but more “evangelical”? Or is it that we do better with Religion than with the Gospel?

* Published in Religión Digital, a Spanish online religious news portal. The article is written in Spanish by theologian José María Castillo and is translated here to English by Ricardo da Silva SJ.

Images: Wikimedia Commons

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* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.
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Did Jesus want the clergy we now have?

 

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