Clericalism is destructive and provokes the reaction of an irrational and even murderous anticlericalism. In attempting to get the laity to pay some attention to what priests are telling them (not a bad idea), the Church has made some wild claims about the clergy.
Innocent III claimed that scripture called priests gods: “‘Diis no detrahes,’ [Ex. 22:28] sacerdotes intelligens, qui propter excellentiam ordinis et offici dignitatem nomine nuncupator” (You shall not revile gods, meaning priests, who are called by the name of gods because of the excellency of the order and the dignity of the office).
This sort of rhetoric gave the clergy a severe case of the notions. St. Alphonse de Ligouri, a doctor of the Church, taught that “in obedience to the words of his priests – HOC EST CORPUS MEUM – God Himself descends on the altar, that He comes wherever they call Him, and as often as they call Him, and places Himself in their hands, even though they should be His enemies. And after having come, He remains, entirely at their disposal.” In 1907 the Rev. Pierre Chaignon told his fellow priests that they were like Mary “for the Word of God made flesh puts Himself under our control as He had put himself under hers and obeys us as He deigned to obey her.” In 1974 in The Faith of Millions: the Credentials of the Catholic Religion (Our Sunday Visitor) the Rev. John O’Brien claimed “The priest speaks and lo! Christ, the eternal and omnipotent God bows his head in humble obedience to the priest’s command.” Such incredible pretensions could go to a priest’s head.The Rev. Edward Donelan of the Santa Fe diocese was the ultimate clericalist. Someone who heard his Holy Thursday sermon reported that Donelan preached:
that a priest carries a terrible burden and responsibility in that they, from and above all other men, have been chosen by God as His priests; that during the consecration, the priest had the authority, and the terrible responsibility, to command God to be present at the altar; that God, because He had allowed this man to be a priest after the order of Melchizedek, must obey the priests and transubstantiate the bread and wine; and that we, the miscreant parishioners, must do everything we can to support our priests as they face this experience daily. Some of that sounds like good Catholic doctrine. Some of it sounds dangerous.”
It was very dangerous. Donelan thought that if he could control God, he could certainly control the bodies of the boys at his reform school, La Casa de los Muchachos. He sexually abused the boys until one ran away to escape the abuse and froze to death in the New Mexico Mountains.
As Montes warned, divinizing a priest has catastrophic consequences. I also believe there is the matter of the First Commandment.
One can accept the Catholic theology of the ministerial priesthood – yes, the priest is ontologically different from the laymen, because he receives a sacramental character which, like the baptismal character. Changes his soul permanently and therefore cannot be repeated. But the far greater sacrament of baptism does not have all the effects that clericalists claim for the lesser sacrament of orders. When a priest performs a sacrament, it is Christ who performs it – Augustine made that clear, in his controversy with the Donatists. And the church, like any organization, needs a government and good order and reasonable obedience. But Catholics seem to have a thirst of idols, and the clergy, including the popes, are too willing to be made into idols.