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The Clerical Old Boy Network: A Modest Proposal

By Fr. Paul Mankowski, S.J. ( articles ) | Jun 27, 2003

This from a Dallas Morning News article on the clerical culture:

Most bishops grew up in an era in which priests learned to unquestioningly trust and look after the interests of brother priests. They formed a fraternity of faith whose human weaknesses were fodder for club gossip but no one else. When adversity struck, they staunchly defended the brotherhood with a Three Musketeers zeal: All for one and one for all. They were the holy ones, the vessels of Christ on earth, and nothing could be allowed to tarnish their image.

This does not reflect my own experience as a clergyman. I've been more impressed by the opposite tendency: how often two priests can live in the same house and share the same table and shower and washing machines, each working to build a church the other is working to destroy. That said, it remains true that, with doctrinal unity no longer a factor in ecclesial cohesion, a pedestrian frat-house affability partially fills the void.

Many Catholics -- lay and clergy alike -- said the dismantling of clericalism is necessary to overcome the leadership failures that contributed to the scandals. But no blueprint exists on how to undo a culture that took centuries to create and permeates the church.

Well, in default of a blueprint, let me put forward this modest proposal: bishops' and priests' pensions, retirement benefits, and health insurance should come from the same fund used to pay the victims of child abuse (settlements, court-awarded damages and counseling fees) and used to pay legal fees for accused clergy. That way clerical calls for healing and reconciliation would not be empty rhetoric, but each clergyman would show concretely that where thy treasure is, there thy heart is also. If the costs attendant on clerical sexual abuse led to bankruptcy, the first to suffer would be the group chiefly responsible for the harm and chiefly responsible for the cure. Moreover, if the prospect of retirement included the possibility of bagging groceries at Stop-&-Shop to pay the rent, it might also lead to a "renewed" notion of priestly fraternity and episcopal collegiality, whereby we clergymen were less bashful about calling our brethren to accountability, and that before the situation ended up in the criminal courts building.

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