White Father, a psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of sexual abuse, Father Stéphane Joulain provides training in education and prevention. He deciphers this clericalism, denounced by the Pope, which has led the dioceses of Pennsylvania to hide crimes committed by priests for years.
Is clericalism, which Pope Francis has been attacking since the beginning of his pontificate, the cause of the bankruptcy of the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania?
Father Stéphane Joulain: Yes, it is one of its components. Like all social groups, priests share a common culture, with its codes, its values. Clericalism begins when this clerical culture drifts into corporatism: when priests grant themselves privileges, and when the protection of the interests of their group takes precedence over that of the physical and psychological integrity of children.
What the Pope denounces are those priests who put their power and authority to their advantage, who recognize themselves as a kind of superiority as pastors. However, for the Pope, it is the opposite: authority and power are entrusted by the Church to its pastors only so that they put themselves at the service of the community.
Doesn’t the problem also come from the laity and the authority they recognize in priests?
S. J. : In fact, clericalism can only be established if it is imposed by priests and accepted by the laity. Traditionally, priests enjoy a form of respectability linked to the conviction, maintained among the faithful, that they work for their holiness. But this respect only applies to priests as a whole, not individually. To consider that, because one has been ordained, one is entitled to a form of reverence is an error, and some of them do not hesitate to abuse it…
How can we fully understand the sacrament of the order which is said to “configure” the priest to Christ?
S. J. : The “ontological” transformation of the person through the sacrament of order is a formula to be handled with caution. First, because this transformation is not biological: the desires that were present before remain present afterward. It is not a question, for priests, of denying their humanity. Through the sacrament of order, the priest opens himself to the presence of Christ to become in turn a sign of his presence; not another Christ. And to understand this “specificity” of the priest, it is enough to return to the Gospel: “I have not come to be served but to serve”, says Jesus (Mathew 20, 28).
How to fight against clericalism?
S. J. : As always, prevention, punishment and education must be combined. The first preventive step is to frame the power of clerics, to hold them accountable for how they use their authority. A power that is not framed becomes dictatorial, and the risk is even greater when it is of divine origin. The convocation of the Chilean bishops to Rome, the Pope’s acceptance of the resignation of some of them but also of Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, are strong signs that this authority entrusted to them by the Church does not make them untouchable.
As for sanctions, it is obvious that a bishop must react as soon as he is alerted and not simply wait or move the priest. Finally, future priests must be educated in the proper management of their sexuality and authority. Ideally, all this should also be based on theological work, in ecclesiology – how does the Church perceive herself: as a perfect body or as a human community trying to be faithful to the call of her Lord? – in moral theology, etc.