Is there a hierarchy in the Church?

Our Lord Jesus Christ founded, not only a religion (a collection of beliefs and practices), but a Church in the strict sense, i.e. a visible society (Mt. 16:18, 18:17; Acts 9:31, 20:28; Col. 1:24; I Tim. 3:5, 3:15, etc.). According to the classic definition, a society is “a permanent assembly of individuals under a common authority working towards a common goal.” Societies come in all shapes and sizes with widely varying goals and widely varying structures, but all of them fit this basic definition. The notions of “society” and “authority” are, therefore, inseparable, and one easily perceives why. Without some power to co-ordinate the members of a society—and even to coerce if necessary—any sustained common action toward a common goal would not be possible, and the society as a society would die.

But Our Lord built His Church upon a “rock” so that it would endure (Mt. 7:25) and remain as He had founded it. The flock of God will always need shepherds until Our Lord, the “Prince of shepherds” comes again (I Peter 5:2-4). The hierarchy of the Church consists of these shepherds, delegated by the Prince and vested with a share of His power. As the 1917 Code of Canon Law teaches (c. 108 §3): “By divine institution, the sacred hierarchy with respect of orders consists of bishops, priests, and ministers; by reason of jurisdiction, [it consists of] the supreme pontificate and the subordinate episcopate.

Why is the Church’s hierarchy connected with the Sacrament of Holy Orders?

The word “hierarchy” is derived from two Greek words which could be translated as “sacred ruling power” (Summa Theologica, I, Q. 108, Art. 1). This “sacred ruling power” is found only in the Catholic Church—the religious society possessing the power to lead men to sacred realities, i.e. union with God. As St. Thomas says (On the Sentences, Bk. 2, Dist. 9, Art. 1): “Just as the purpose of a temporal government is to dispose the community in order that they might be able to reach, in peace, the good sought by their leader, the purpose of a sacred government is to assimilate its subjects to God.

But the actual union of souls with God, for which the Church’s hierarchy was instituted, is only achieved by sanctifying grace. Therefore, even if it is necessary for the flock to be taught, guided, and even corrected by the shepherds in order to safely reach the heavenly pasture, the sheep could never actually achieve union with God unless the shepherds also possessed the power to sanctify them. This is why, even if the power to govern and the power to sanctify are two distinct powers, nevertheless, they are meant to be exercised by the same hierarchy. Without this power to sanctify, which is granted by the sacrament of Holy Orders, the shepherds would not truly possess a “sacred ruling power” at all—a power which is sacred because it is sanctifying.

Orders are not an impediment to matrimony in the Eastern Church. Hence, should not Latin priests also be allowed to marry?

This objection is literally that given by St. Thomas Aquinas (Supplement, Q. 53, Art. 3), and here is how he answers it. “This objection is based on a false statement since order is everywhere an impediment to the contracting of marriage, although it has not everywhere a vow annexed to it.”

In fact, St. Thomas deals with the celibacy or marriage of the priests with two articles: Whether order is an impediment to matrimony, which receives a positive answer, saying that no priest on earth can become married, in the Eastern as well as the Latin Church. And the second article asks whether sacred order can be received after matrimony, with the affirmative answer for the Eastern Church particularly.

At this juncture, these answers may raise more questions. How come the Eastern Church has another discipline than the Western or Latin Church? This is because in the West, right from the third century, the Church forbade clerics in major orders from marrying or using marriage, adding the vow of celibacy to sacred orders. This explains why Latin clerics who had been married could not make use of their marital rights any­more. In the Eastern Church, however, such rigorous discipline was not enforced nor was there a sacred vow of celibacy attached to the sacrament of order.

Yet, again, one may ask for clarification as to why a priest cannot marry whereas a married man can become a priest in certain areas. Is there no equal possibility or impossibility on both sides? The answer is obviously negative. Basically, we may say that matrimony is a human contract; order is a consecration by God through the Church. The difference is that marriage is caused by human consent, whereas order has a sacramental cause appointed by God. Hence matrimony may be impeded by a previous order but, on the other hand, order cannot be impeded by marriage because the power of the sacraments is unchangeable, whereas human acts can be impeded.

Finally, to dispel remaining doubts about the superiority of celibacy, the Eastern Church itself has it in great esteem. No married priest can be promoted to the episcopacy and, moreover, the religious are held in much honor, and this may very well be because they are also unmarried.

Why did the Roman Catholic Church experience a sexual abuse crisis?

There are no simple answers, according to a five-year study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which studied thousands of cases, including a 1970s-era study on the psychology of priests.1

A major reason for the rise in abuse was the 1960s. “There’s a sexual revolution, there’s an increased amount of drug use, there’s an increase in crime, there’s an increase in things like premarital sex, in divorce…, there’s change. And the men who are in the priesthood are affected by these social factors.” Worthy of notice in the report is that Catholic seminaries had done a poor job of preparing priests “to live a life of chaste celibacy.” This can be explained for two reasons which to us are self-evident:

- “The sexual problems among priests are the result of the disintegration of the spiritual culture of the Church that was buttressed by ascetical discipline. Without a vigorous spiritual culture, the psychology of the priest wanders from the path of holiness and is held hostage by social forces…overwhelmingly sexual.”2

- Celibacy demands a great sacrifice that lacks meaning when it is no longer understood that the Catholic Church is the only Church of Jesus Christ. Since other churches seem to be on about the same level as the Catholic Church, why is only the Catholic clergy celibate? This sacrifice truly requires an absolute cause. Ecumenism does away with the Catholic supremacy, but the Church does not do away with the sacrifice of its ministers. Under such conditions it is very difficult for celibacy to be respected and maintained. Destruction of the objective faith regarding the doctrine takes away subjective faith in commitment.

Hence, this report, which is quite fair on the whole, makes one slight mistake: it ‘forgets’ to mention the impact of Vatican II on the equation of the crisis in the priesthood. If there is a crisis of priestly celibacy, this is due to the insecurity in the faith. This is because celibacy demands a great sacrifice which makes no sense when one does not understand that the Catholic Church is the only Church of Christ. The more she is put on a same footing as other ‘churches,’ the more one may wonder: why is the Catholic priesthood celibate? In truth, this sacrifice demands an absolute ideal. Hence, in the present conditions of outrageous ecumenism, it is no wonder that priestly celibacy is under continuous attack.

Archbishop Cupich of Chicago, not long ago, spoke of the need for priests to focus on their baptismal vows rather than on their ordinations. Is this what we mean by clericalism?

Perhaps abuse of power is something we need to be aware of today, although it is being used today to destroy the Church herself. Father Calmel, O.P., (†1975) wrote an enlightening article in Itinéraires,3 of which we give some extracts worth our meditation.

“I am trying to look at what are the specific temptations reserved to the clerics. They are not literary or military glory. It is clericalism. Just as sins against paternal duties can be committed only by a father, so also the sin of clericalism can be perpetrated only by those in the clerical state. And if it was scandalous or revolutionary to denounce the sins of clerics, we should burn the first chapters of the Apocalypse of St. John which condemn vigorously the sins of the Asian bishops at the close of the first century. No cleric of the 20th century enjoys the privilege of impeccability. He enjoys specific powers but may use them against God’s wishes.”

“Clericalism is the struggle for power with the means proper to the cleric, as minister of grace having authority over consciences. It is human pride using clerical tools and masks which are inherent to the clerical state. Just before He invested His Apostles with the clerical powers, Our Lord warned them to divest themselves of pride and ambition. Nowhere is it said that their authority received from Christ was abolished if it was not exercised in the spirit of the Gospel. What is true—and history confirms this—is that such an abusive authority creates a false situation and may seem unbearable, leading to schism and heresy. Yet, those faithful who suffer from the yoke of clericalism should take occasion to get closer to Christ’s Church, which does not cease to sanctify them through His ministers, and this despite their misery.”

“We remark two forms of clericalism. The cleric suffering from clericalism in its classic form abuses his authority in order to defend an order of things which favors religion and offers him peace and success. Years ago, certain parish priests, with little scruples about the choice of means, put abusive pressures to insure the success of the anti-revolutionary candidate during the electoral campaign. This clericalism is quite understandable, although it is unjustified.”

“But we are seeing the day of another form of clericalism. Clericalism has not disappeared; it has been inverted. Often enough, the abuse of clerical authority is working hard at establishing an order of things utterly opposed to the religion of which they are ministers. Not only do they use their power and prestige to combat a Christian institution like a Catholic school, but even the very principle of Christian institutions, in the name of ‘spiritual witness,’ of ‘liberty and openness.’ To achieve this absurd goal, they use all the means at their clerical disposal: religious intimidation, anathemas with or without motives, excommunication at all levels. How did we get there? Pride, might you say? Yes, but pride does not explain everything; it alone cannot explain the negation of the natural laws of society.”

And here, Fr. Calmel blames the invasive Teilhardism with its weird evolutionist philosophico-theology. He is writing in the tragic 1960s. No doubt he repeated the same anathemas against those who persecuted his beloved Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the only bishop whom he saw rise against the modernist tsunami.



1 http://www.npr.org/2011/05/18/136436728/catholic-bishops-release-sex-abuse-report.

2 After Asceticism (Bloomington, IN: The Linacre Institute, 2006), p. 170.

3 No. 63, pp. 3-25.