Garry Wills, whose new book against the priesthood has just come out, might find a strange ally in Pope Francis. In so far as the new Pope seems determined to tackle the untouchable, remote power of clericalism, he is exactly what the church needs to rid itself of abuses embedded in seeing priests as a caste apart, beholden to no-one. From an old, somewhat inspiring interview:
BERGOGLIO: Their clericalization is a problem. The priests clericalize the laity and the laity beg us to be clericalized… It really is sinful abetment. And to think that baptism alone could suffice. I’m thinking of those Christian communities in Japan that remained without priests for more than two hundred years. When the missionaries returned they found them all baptized, all validly married for the Church and all their dead had had a Catholic funeral. The faith had remained intact through the gifts of grace that had gladdened the life of a laity who had received only baptism and had also lived their apostolic mission in virtue of baptism alone. One must not be afraid of depending only on His tenderness… Do you know the biblical episode of the prophet Jonah?
Q: I don’t remember it. Tell us.
BERGOGLIO: Jonah had everything clear. He had clear ideas about God, very clear ideas about good and evil. On what God does and on what He wants, on who was faithful to the Covenant and who instead was outside the Covenant. He had the recipe for being a good prophet. God broke into his life like a torrent.
He sent him to Nineveh. Nineveh was the symbol of all the separated, the lost, of all the peripheries of humanity. Of all those who are outside, forlorn. Jonah saw that the task set on him was only to tell all those people that the arms of God were still open, that the patience of God was there and waiting, to heal them with His forgiveness and nourish them with His tenderness. Only for that had God sent him. He sent him to Nineveh, but he instead ran off in the opposite direction, toward Tarsis.
Q: Running away from a difficult mission…
BERGOGLIO: No. What he was fleeing was not so much Nineveh as the boundless love of God for those people. It was that that didn’t come into his plans. God had come once… “and I’ll see to the rest”: that’s what Jonah told himself. He wanted to do things his way, he wanted to steer it all. His stubbornness shut him in his own structures of evaluation, in his pre-ordained methods, in his righteous opinions. He had fenced his soul off with the barbed wire of those certainties that instead of giving freedom with God and opening horizons of greater service to others had finished by deafening his heart. How the isolated conscience hardens the heart! Jonah no longer knew that God leads His people with the heart of a Father.
(Photo: Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio takes the Line A of the undergournd prior to the celebration of the traditional Tedeum mass at the Metropolitan Cathedral on May 25, 2008 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. By Emiliano Lasalvia/LatinContent/Getty Images.)