Comments: Opinion - 7 April 2018

It is with some trepidation that I disagree with an academic of the standing of Jeremy Morris. He is, however, absolutely right to suggest that the real issue is institutionalism, not clericalism, and that we will sadly see terrible failings exposed in very different organisations. But I think he then makes two major mistakes in his reasoning.

1. Within the Church of England, institutionalism cannot be separated from clericalism.

2. Whether one calls the issue institutionalism or clericalism is irrelevant: major cultural change is still needed.

The truth is that the Church is inherently hierarchical. The senior figures believe they know best - we have seen it in the bishops' approach to gender and sexual orientation. With titles and pre/post nominals - and palaces! - there is a strong class structure and deference. Those who demonstrate independence of mind are often overlooked for promotion. And we have institutionalised discrimination against women and LGBTI people and cannot see why that is a problem.
The emphasis on a difference between lay and ordained and the clash of the various traditions ensures that we get strong tribes which are likely to protect one another.

So, whatever words one uses, there are structural cultural and organisational failings. Maybe, at some deep academic level, blaming 'clericalism' is strictly inaccurate, but I think the common understanding is to describe the cultural weaknesses as clericalism. Whatever vocabulary one uses though, the priority is a radical transformation of culture and Jeremy gives no sense that he embraces that - indeed, he almost seems to be arguing to keep the status quo.

Posted by Kate at Saturday, 7 April 2018 at 2:28pm BST

Kate, I agree. I've read Jeremy Morris' blog twice now, some days apart, and on both readings I'm left with the feeling the Church he knows is rather different to the one I know. Which is not surprising, really - the Church IS a different place to academic white males than it is to many females, survivors, BME, and various other groups. And that's a big part of our problem.

Posted by Janet Fife at Sunday, 8 April 2018 at 11:50am BST

I would venture to suggest that the problem is not clericalism, but rather the opposite. From my experience many of the problems we encounter come because those who should be responding pastorally feel they cannot, as they hand over the response to professional advisors in the relevant field - be they safeguarding advisors, lawyers or insurers. I would hazard that one of our problems is a lack of confidence among those in positions of authority that causes them to defer to the expertise of others - often with results that are narrow and can be less than desirable. This can lead to responses that lack being informed by a pastoral approach, in deference to expertise they know they do not have.
(There is, of course, the other case where people have responded when they do not have the required competence or knowledge and have only compounded things - which is a separate, though vital discussion)
My conclusion would be that clericalism is not the problem, but inappropriate use (or lack of use) of clerical authority is a clear problem, as may be a lack of hierarchy and authority.
In my secular experience, one clear element of safeguarding was that there should be clear structures of authority and accountability - the opposite of what we have in the Church of England, which is a very flat hierarchy with little (or no) authority, other than soft power.

Posted by NJW at Sunday, 8 April 2018 at 4:52pm BST

Regarding Jeremy Morris and clericalism, he is correct when he writes: "we’ll see these things emerging in social work and social care, in medicine, in education, in the police, in local government, and in politics ... ." Yes the church shares with other institutions a perverse exceptionalism that empowers the culprits and puts the institution ahead of victims. However Morris' pointing away from clericalism and Archbishop Welby's pointing toward it, both are mistaken for the same reason i.e. clericalism is not a completely unique phenomena. For example classical clericalism ( which Morris pronounces dead in the C of E) cannot be understood without studying medieval notions of lordship and class privilege. Clericalism is like whack a mole. One form recedes while another form arises.

Missing from Morris' analysis is an attendance to the recent rise of clericalism among the episcopate Communion wide and how this impacts the churches of the Communion notwithstanding the increased role of laity in governance. The cloistered meetings of Primates, the attack on Anglican Consultative Council, the threats of 'dire consequences' leveled at synodically governed churches, the naive biblicism, the increasing unwillingness of bishops to break with the pack, the marginalizing of international Anglican Women's organizations, it is all of a piece. Interestingly, it is the most senior of bishops that were in the IICSA hot seat, no?

Unlike Morris I am not convinced that a sense of clerical superiority and hubris are not at work in what he describes in his paragraph five for example.

One must be willing to say that the gospel is no longer the intellectual property of bishops, institutions, academics, and vested interests. Things look very different from the outside.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Sunday, 8 April 2018 at 7:05pm BST

"Kate, I agree. I've read Jeremy Morris' blog twice now, some days apart, and on both readings I'm left with the feeling the Church he knows is rather different to the one I know. Which is not surprising, really - the Church IS a different place to academic white males than it is to many females, survivors, BME, and various other groups. And that's a big part of our problem." - Janet Fife

Add straight and cis.

S and I can't just visit any church, even for communion, and expect unconditional welcome. If the minister doesn't feel that individually, or as a couple, we shouldn't be there, the chances are high that a portion of the congregation - with the full blessing of the church - will feel that way.

And could a woman who has changed gender and lives with another woman be accepted as Archbishop of Canterbury? Manifestly not. Each of those three characteristics would make it impossible. Yes, for people like Jeremy Morris, the church is a world of acceptance and opportunity, but for me it is a minefield of rejection and sorrow. As you say, our view of the church is very different.

Posted by Kate at Sunday, 8 April 2018 at 7:44pm BST

NJW, we have seen in the IICSA hearings and in various reviews that the bishops did feel able to extend pastoral care. Trouble is, they extended it to the clergy abusers, and not to the victims. That's clericalism. Or ditch the word and just call it sinful, or scandalous, or corrupt. As long as you recognise it.

Posted by Janet Fife at Monday, 9 April 2018 at 9:55am BST

I find Jeremy Morris' article interesting. And, yes, we do find this not only among clergy, but in all the "helping professions." Some are better at what, in the US, is referred to as "required reporting;" but all professions have those who fail at this.

In my training we refer often to one's "authority issue" - and everyone has one, whether it comes out more clearly when one is in authority or when one is under authority. It's functionally less about the institutional structures (although those are not irrelevant) than it is about power differences in relationships, and how one chooses to behave about those.

Which brings me back to my thoughts about clericalism, based on my 30+ years in ministry. It exists, but I'm never sure who is more attached to it, clerics or lay persons. There are those clerics who wish to assume more authority than their offices have, or at least need. There are those lay persons who wish to attribute more authority than clerics might have or need or want. When the two come together, the problems are not doubled but squared.

So, if Morris hasn't noted that the problem is already in other professions, he's behind the news. It's about power in relationships, something we face but don't think about (much less talk about) nearly often enough.

Posted by Marshall Scott at Monday, 9 April 2018 at 4:47pm BST

Re:Marshall Scott, good post. "I'm never sure who is more attached to it [clericalism], clerics or lay persons." Spot on.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 9 April 2018 at 6:16pm BST

Janet, I agree entirely - that is what I meant to mean about the misuse of authority, which has at times been sinful, scandalous or corrupt (or all three) - directed in the opposite direction to where justice and love require.
Perhaps it was lost in the language of clericalism, but my underlying point is that with proper lines of authority and responsibility this sin should be obvious - which is not about clericalism, but about having proper hierarchy (with no hiding places), inhabited by people of integrity.
I would also stress that my understanding is that not all the bad practice has been in the hands of clerics per se (though they have colluded), but some (by influence at least) from others - which I think was present most obviously in the Peter Ball case, and in other ways by the evidence that expert advice was provided by those such as insurers who (naturally) have other motivations.

Posted by NJW at Monday, 9 April 2018 at 6:52pm BST

One aspect of Jeremy Morris's piece that is being conveniently overlooked in this discussion is the recognition that the Church of England is an episcopally-ordered church, with a distinctive three-fold ordained ministry. It is part of our collective character, and our claim to be Catholic, to call people out of the laos into one of the three distinctive orders of ministry. If we want a different starting point, then I guess we head for the Quakers or somewhere like the Vineyard network (which can often be more authoritarian and less accountable, in practice).

That is why I think Jeremy Morris's point about the character of the institution (irrespective of his age, gender or ethnicity) is much more convincing - and I find it interesting that Welby, who does not really 'get' the C of E as an institution, has resorted to a knee-jerk reaction about clericalism - which is extremely unconvincing when you consider how he has repeatedly used his position to 'big foot' situations outside the boundaries of his authority.

Posted by Will Richards at Tuesday, 10 April 2018 at 1:01pm BST

Re Will Richards, your point about Anglicanism and the ministry of oversight is correct on the face of it.

However, the ministry of oversight can be exercised collaboratively with presbyters, deacons, and the whole people of God. Episcopacy does not have to be 'clericalism' as destiny; but it certainly requires that the whole people of God be especially vigilant that it does not become such--something which has happened, is happening, and that appeals to three fold ministry does not excuse.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 10 April 2018 at 5:39pm BST

"... the Church of England is an episcopally-ordered church, with a distinctive three-fold ordained ministry. It is part of our collective character, and our claim to be Catholic, to call people out of the laos into one of the three distinctive orders of ministry"

It is, but it needn't be hierarchical, nor need it be laced with privilege and it most certainly doesn't need titles.

Posted by Kate at Wednesday, 11 April 2018 at 4:12am BST

Kate I agree about privilege, possibly less so about titles but know where you are coming from on that. But as a matter of interest do you know any society, organisation, community or historic church tradition that has not ordered itself around some form of hierarchy of shared and delegated authority? And has endured, flourished and sustained its life? I have been part of a variety of Christian communities over the years. None have flourished or survived without such structuring. It would help to have examples of the alternatives you are urging. I am genuinely interested.

Posted by David Runcorn at Wednesday, 11 April 2018 at 9:24am BST

Kate, if it isn't hierarchical, what is it? How is accountability and oversight expressed? Collaboration, of course. I have no problems with that, and there is much evidence that this is refreshing the mission of the Church. But the buck has to stop somewhere. There can only be one Diocesan bishop. There can only be one priest to whom that bishop delegates authority and responsibility for the life of a parish within the legal framework we have inherited. Or are we aiming for some kind of egalitarian chaos, where no-one but everyone is in charge? Given all that we now know, that sounds like an abuser's paradise to me.

If you want to change how authority and responsibility is exercised, you have to start with the nature of the institution first, and ask fundamental questions about how it is structured and ordered. This is what the Dissenters did in the 17th and 18th centuries, and this led them to discern an alternative way of being the church outside the Church of England.

As for titles, Jesus has rather a lot (Saviour, Christ, High Priest, Prophet, Shepherd, Counsellor, Captain, King - to name but a few from Scripture) which may tell us something rather significant.

Posted by Will Richards at Wednesday, 11 April 2018 at 1:42pm BST

Re: Will Richards, "Or are we aiming for some kind of egalitarian chaos...." We are a long long way from that. Let's reel in the red herring, no?

But I thought your earlier comment about Archbishop Welby agreeable. " ...he [Welby] has repeatedly used his position to 'big foot' situations outside the boundaries of his authority."

I don't know much about the guy's approach beyond his media/public persona; but he strikes me as kind of like the centurion in Matthew 8:9. "I say to one man go and he goeth..." type thing.

His finger pointing about clericalism seems ironic. It may be a case of classic projection i.e. every management team needs a team leader, and that would be moi ( :

Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 11 April 2018 at 6:43pm BST

Will, Jesus does have a lot of titles, but he didn't go around using them. 'I, Saviour, High Priest, Christ, Prophet, Shepherd, King of Kings, say to you...' He referred to himself as 'the Son of man'. 'I'm one of you.'

Posted by Janet Fife at Sunday, 15 April 2018 at 9:13am BST
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