During a frustrating argument with a Roman Catholic cardinal, Napoleon Bonaparte supposedly burst out: “Your eminence, are you not aware that I have the power to destroy the Catholic Church?” The cardinal, the anecdote goes, responded ruefully: “Your majesty, we, the Catholic clergy, have done our best to destroy the church for the last 1,800 years. We have not succeeded, and neither will you.”
I had heard the anecdote before, but without a special focus on the clergy itself. This perspective signals several truths:
1.) Clericalism (which I define as "excessive and robotic deference to the collar") is not required for Catholics--in fact, I would submit that clericalism is utterly alien to the mature Catholic who measures all things, including and most especially the clergy, by the personality of Jesus Christ;
2.) The enemies of the Church, whether inside the Church or outside of the Church (there are both kinds), should take no comfort in the catastrophe because the Church will always survive--if they still choose to take comfort, anyway, in the catastrophe, it is false comfort;
3.) To have the true perspective that the Church will survive is not to imply complacency or to minimize at all the urgency of raking out and rejecting the muck regardless of the embarrassment--what would be most embarrassing would be to hesitate, even for a moment, to engage in the necessary muckraking for fear of what others would think; and
4.) We know that God will draw good even out of all this unnecessary, avoidable, and gratuitous evil (Romans 8:28); eliminating the culture of clericalism and denial is a key to renewal in the Gospel because true freedom always lies in the Truth who is Jesus and not in our fallen human nature which is marked by irrational denial, by excessive, blind deference to authority figures, and by excessive concern with what others may think of us.
We are wrapping up Lent, the season of hopeful renewal, during the days of this Holy Week. For many of us, the message of this season of forward-looking renewal is to give up--not just chocolates or a favorite TV show, but rather to give up forever immature clericalism, irrational denial, and paralyzing fear of embarrassment so that we may experience more profoundly the bold freedom of the empty tomb both during and after Easter. To the entire catastrophe, let us say: "Never again." And may our audience of whatever background or stance see an example of dealing bravely with great evil and surpassing and overcoming such evil with abundant good (see Romans 5:20b, among other passages). It is an example that all urgently need, whether Catholic or not, whether Christian or not, whether theist or atheist.