Home/Rod Dreher/The Paralyzing Power of Clericalism

The Paralyzing Power of Clericalism

A man in his 20s wakes up in bed one night to find a priest, his spiritual advisor, holding his genitals:

Basically, I was caught between two things. I wanted to jump off and rip his head off, and unless I could do that, I could do nothing. I thought about it and I might have been okay to do it, but my dad told me once a guy hit a priest and his arm was frozen forever. Now, Father U, regardless, whether he’s a killer, a rapist, a mass murderer, whatever, he’s still a priest. And I’m afraid to hit someone who was, although he’s that kind of man, he is an alter Christi [“another Christ”].

That’s from the 2003 deposition of a former Roman Catholic seminarian wo was just one of the young men who accused the Society of St. John priest Carlos Urritogoity of molestation. Fr. U., having been driven out of the Diocese of Scranton in the US, is now running an orphanage in Paraguay, where his bishop, relying in part on the judgment of Fr. Benedict Groeschel, says Father — now Monsignor — Urritigoity is innocent, the victim of an American witch hunt.

I came across that passage while going over some documents the other day, and I can’t quite get it out of my head. I’ll be honest with you: it made me glad for my Protestant upbringing. As much respect as I had for priests after I became Catholic, it never would have occurred to me to think that a priest who grabbed my genitals was due anything but having his block knocked off. I think that short passage finally made me understand why no little Catholic boys’ uncles took molester priests out back and whaled the tar out of them. That psychological paralysis that comes with being convinced that a priest is a magic man, untouchable.

In the past, when I’ve been in France, I’ve been shocked and appalled to read about anticlerical rage among the people in ages past. It was hideous, and satanic. Yet it didn’t come from nowhere. Father Arseny, an Orthodox priest thrown by the Bolsheviks into the gulag, got into an argument with fellow inmates about who was responsible for bringing the curse of communism onto Russia:

“You say that the Communists have arrested the believers, closed churches, trampled on faith. Yes, it does look that way, on the surface, but let us look into this more deeply, let us glance at the past. Among us Russian people many have lost the faith, lost respect for our past, we lost much of what was precious and good. Who is at fault? The authorities? No, we are at fault ourselves, we are only reaping what we ourselves have sown.

“Let us remember the bad examples set by the intelligentsia, the nobility, the merchants, and the civil servants. We in the priesthood were the worst of them all.

“Children of priests became atheists, and revolutionaries, simply because they had seen in their families lies and a lack of true faith. Long before the revolution priests had already lost the real right to be the shepherds of their people, of their conscience. Priesthood became a profession. Many priests were atheists and alcoholics.

“From among all the monasteries of our land, only five or six were real beacons of Christianity. … Others became communities with almost no faith in them. What could the people learn from such monasteries? What kind of example was set?

“We did not raise our people right, we did not give them the basis of strong faith. Remember all this! Remember! This is why the people were so quick to forget all of us, their own priests; they mainly forgot their faith and participated in the destruction of churches, sometimes even leading the way in their destruction.

“Understanding all of this, I cannot point a finger at our authorities, because the seeds of faithlessness fell on the soil which we ourselves had prepared. And from there comes the rest: our camp, our sufferings, the wrongful deaths of innocent people. …”

…”the seeds of faithlessness fell on the soil which we ourselves had prepared.”

Father Urritigoity and his enablers — bishops, priests, and laymen — are a reason why so many of the faithful have fallen away. In Protestant churches, it’s pastors like Sherman Allen, and the people who, in their way, treated him like an alter Christi, God’s own anointed. In the Orthodox church, we have our own examples.

There is nothing that I can see in the Christian faith that exalts the clergy above the moral law. They don’t cease to be men under judgment by virtue of their ordination. Anywhere you see that kind of thing, there you see a perversion of the Christian faith, a perversion that opens the doors to other perversions. As we have seen.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

leave a comment

Latest Articles