March 24, 2020
Interview by Charles C. Camosy of Clare McGrath-Merkle
Camosy: You’ve done a lot of work on the theology of the priesthood. Can you give us the short version of your central view or a couple central ideas that could give Crux readers some insight into how you are thinking about this topic?
McGrath-Merkle: My work has been focused mainly on the theology of the priesthood and its possible role, if any, in the crisis of sexual abuse and cover-up. The causes of the crisis are, of course, varied, but I have wanted to try to understand how this theology might have somehow contributed to a clerical identity prone to the abuse of power.
The understanding I’ve come to is that what we think of as the official theology of the priesthood is actually a 400-year-old revolutionary one, linked to clerical formation spirituality. Its underlying spiritual theology has influenced the training of seminarians up until Vatican II and has had a major resurgence since the 90’s. Interestingly, it hasn’t been of much interest to most systematic theologians.
This theology was proposed in the early 17th century by a little-known cardinal-Pierre de Bérulle, the founder of the French School of Spirituality, and is a rather psychologically and spiritually unhealthy one. Leading up to my research on the possible historical roots of the crisis as found in this theology, I explored some current serious psychosocial maladaptions in priestly identity in a 2010 article.
Arguably, Bérulle’s innovations have contributed to an unhealthy priestly identity and culture over centuries, principally through both an over-identification with Christ and an exaggerated sacrificial spirituality.
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