GEORGE B. WILSON, S.J.. Clericalism: The Death of Priesthood. Collegeville, Minnesota. Liturgical Press. 2008. pp. 140. $16.95 Paperback. ISBN 978-0-8146-2945-1.
Reviewed by Anthony J. POGORELC, The Catholic University of America, WASHINGTON D.C. 20064

This is a book that should be read and discussed by Catholics in the pews, priests, and those who aspire to be priests. Those who strive for church reform, such as members of organizations like Voice of the Faithful, will find it especially helpful. It is clearly written and asks people to consider their own operative assumptions about their roles in the church through a series of boxes that appear throughout the text. The book concludes with some discussion questions, which make it a good book for discussion groups.

The author, Jesuit Father George Wilson is both an ecclesiologist and an organizational facilitator; for 34 years he has served on the staff of the Management Design Institute. The book promotes a new way of thinking about the roles and relationships of members of the church, trying to cultivate interdependence. This work began as an attempt to respond to the sexual misconduct scandal.

Wilson begins by reflecting on the terminology used to designate roles in the church, and then proposes some alternatives ways of thinking and speaking about them. He notes that the term priest comes out of a religious context and points to the transcendent. The term clergy is sociological and can be used in a variety of institutions. It designates a socially recognizable segment of a population. The term clergy can be applied to professional groups such as lawyers, doctors and others.

Drawing on scripture, Wilson stresses that through baptism all Christians become priests. In the New Testament, Christ is the one priest and the members of the church, Christ’s body, share in Christ’s priesthood as a community. The goal of this book is to recover this vision of church membership; in this context ordained priests are called to serve and support the common priesthood.

Chapter One is a more general reflection on culture. A culture teaches its members to reproduce the behaviors of significant figures and is resistant to change. The creation of clergies is part the differentiation that comes from organizational development. It has both benefits and potential for harm. Clergies can promote the ideology of clericalism, which constructs elites, not based on merit, and separates them from the rest of the community. In Chapter Two he stresses that priesthood comes before and is more significant than membership in a clergy. Ordination (Chapter Three) confers a new role on one who is already a priest through baptism, bringing him into the group of clergy who are meant to serve the community but not to stand over and against it.

In Chapter Four Wilson takes a dramaturgical approach to discussing the sexual abuse tragedy, looking at it as five acts which he entitles: 1. Abusive Actions, 2. Secrets Don’t Hold, 3.Mobilization and Public Disclosure, 4. The Charter, 5. Implementation. He considers the complex relationships of the religious, legal and media clergies in this story. Wilson asserts Catholics need to deal with the scandal because truth makes us free. Analyzing its complexities will contribute to an understanding the dynamics of clericalism, which is its root. He considers the scandal’s individual dimensions (micro) as well as its organizational dimensions (meso).

Chapter Five, “Transformation: Re-priesting a Clericalized Church” discusses ways to shape the church for the future. He focuses on ways to prevent the situations that produced the scandal and ways to promote organizational structures that cultivate a culture of dialogue. Stressing that cultural transformation is a shared responsibility, that takes time, requires new behaviors, and involves conflict, he quotes Rabbi Heschel who said: “Some are guilty, but all are responsible.” Unlearning old practices is more difficult than learning new ones; identifying the best practices of some and widening their implementation can lead to the enhancement of all. Church leaders must get over their fears of insights from other disciplines.

Wilson outlines specific expectations of the ordained and laity to cultivate a spirit of interdependence in church. Ordained priests cannot credibly proclaim the Word without being transformed by it and cannot effectively lead the liturgy without praying it with the community. True leaders build and maintain relationships with the whole body, not only segments of it. Laity needs to claim their role as equal members of the church, rejecting behaviors that reinforce clericalism while at the same time not placing all expectations for change on the clergy. Chapter Six offers some good stories of how this is done. Today’s laity is the most educated laity in history, but it needs to make sure it keeps up with theological education. The church does not need consumers of religion but active participants in the faith community. I highly recommend Wilson’s book because it offers a balanced approach for dealing with the scandal and offers concrete suggestions for moving forward.

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