Keep the Faith, Change the Church.

Clericalism: Reality and Concerns

Note: Voice of the Faithful addresses the problems of clericalism through two key efforts: the BridgeDialogues project, and distribution of our joint report on Clericalism with the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests (AUSCP).

The BridgeDialogues are a collaboration of VOTF, AUSCP, and FutureChurch aimed at bridging the gap between clergy and laity so that all of us, together, can address the problems of our Church. The first set of models for dialogue focus on clericalism. Use this link to download all the resources

The joint report by VOTF and the Association of Catholic Priests (AUSCP), titled "Confronting the Systemic Dysfunction of Clericalism," was formally presented at the AUSCP 2019 Assembly in St. Louis, where it was affirmed by those in attendance. Prof. Richard Gaillardetz, Joseph Professor of Catholic Systematic Theology at Boston College, has called the document "very informative, even visionary." And Cardinal Blase Cupich, Archdiocese of Chicago, described the paper as "nothing less than a catalogue of horrors, chronicling imperial pronouncements, putdowns, claims of privilege, entitlements, and exemptions from accountability. But also chronicling how it is a culture that is so pervasive that many of the laity have come to accept it as normal. And yes, even have cooperated in maintaining it.”

You may obtain printed copies for distribution by emailing or writing to the VOTF Office, P.O. Box 920408, Needham MA 02492. (A donation to cover printing and postage would be appreciated.)

In previous actions, Voice of the Faithful criticized the John Jay Institute's "Study of the Causes and Context of the Sexual Abuse Crisis" for describing clericalism but not naming it, much less citing it, as a principal cause for clergy sex abuse and the subsequent cover-ups. "Clericalism," our report noted, "is 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."

Pope Francis has made clericalism a major target of the reforms he seeks, beginning with some of his earliest actions and continuing today. So too, Voice of the Faithful will continue to challenge clericalism as an impediment to the healing and reform essential to the Catholic Church today.

We urge you to read and reflect on these documents and to find ways to add your voice to those of many others who are calling for reform in the Catholic Church, especially for reform of the clericalism that affects many in the clergy and hierarchy.


Confronting the Systemic Dysfunction of Clericalism -- 

BridgeDialogues, a collaborative effort of the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests(link is external), FutureChurch(link is external), and Voice of the Faithful. The BridgeDialogues Clericalism package includes instructions on hosting dialogues and four models for the types of sessions you may hold, as well as:

  • 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

Clerical Culture Among Roman Catholic Diocesan Clergy -- overview of VOTF analysis, with bibliography

This introduction to clericalism draws from two books on clericalism written by priests from the United States: Clericalism: The Death of Priesthood by Fr. George B. Wilson, S.J.; and Clerical Culture: Contradiction and Transformation by Fr. Michael L. Papesh. We encourage you to purchase these books, and especially recommend the one by Fr. Papesh, a pastoral diocesan priest who lives within the clerical culture but is aware of the contradictions between the culture and service to the gospels and to the mission of the Church to which priests are called

Outline and handout from AUSCP Colloquium on Clericalism (2016)

Related Resources

A Brief History of Celibacy -- a condensed summary, with bibliography

Mandatory Celibacy: Time to Discuss Its Flaws -- an essay by Edward J. Greenan 

Additional information is available through VOTF's Conversations About Celibacy effort and our petition to ordain married Catholic men as priests.

The Pastoral Provision for Ordaining Married Men

Also previously, VOTF delivered to all U.S. diocesan heads ("ordinaries") a proposal for the ordination of married men in the Catholic Church in the U.S. This proposal calls for the use of a new Pastoral Provision, which mirrors the Pastoral Provision created by the bishops for the ordination of Anglican and Episcopalian priests into the Roman Catholic priesthood, to be applied to married Catholic Men.

SEE OUR ACTION PLAN under Conversations on Celibacy.

Please join us in studying the issue of clericalism.