The Occult Compensation of Clericalism

Studying moral theology is a good payment for one’s sins, but occasionally you might stumble upon a real zinger. Today’s case in point: the ethical principle of “occult compensation“.

Now, that is a really great term, as it could mean any weird thing. Payments to Hogwarts perhaps?

No, in theological parlance “occult” does not refer to magic but to anything hidden. And “compensation” means just that. Here’s the definition from the old Catholic Encyclopedia:

An extra-legal manner of recovering from loss or damage; the taking, by stealth and on one’s private authority, of the value or equivalent of one’s goods from a person who refuses to meet the demands of justice.

Considered strictly from the standpoint of commutative justice, although this proceeding may have on the surface all the appearance of theft, it is in reality the farthest removed from such. As defined, it implies a debtor who is able, but unwilling, to restore what he holds unjustly and a creditor who has an opportunity to recover possession of what is his own certain due. Since the effect as well as the purpose is solely to make a wrong cease, the transfer brought about by this method of self-protection is manifestly in keeping with equity and right. Thus occult compensation is based on the right of self-defence.

In other words, it’s quite morally acceptable to take compensation by stealth from someone who owes you if there’s no other way.

By such standards, victims would be perfectly in our rights to loot every Catholic Church on the planet, but that’s another discussion. What I’m wondering is how it applies to the clergy.

Reading “The Merchants in the Temple“, that expose of Pope Francis’ struggle against the traditional financial corruption in the Vatican by Gianluigi Nuzzi , it quickly becomes obvious that everybody there thinks they deserve the palaces for next to nothing, the discounts on everything from fine clothes to gas to computers. The overwhelming attitude seems to be among the Curia and its minions that that they’re not stealing from the laity, they’re simply taking what is due them.

So the question arises: is clericalism actually an expression of occult compensation taken by the clergy?

After all, these men have (supposedly) given up the basic human right to intimate love and a family in order to serve God. And as such priests are actually owed a living by the Church – it’s part of the covenant they make at ordination. That’s one reason they don’t simply bounce the bad ones out.

Perhaps priests rationalize everything they do no matter how heinous as just but hidden compensation for the “tremendous” sacrifice they’ve made.

Perhaps if celibacy was not required of most Western priests, if for instance, they were treated more as paid employees like Protestant ministers, maybe then clericalism would finally die.

And that, I fear, is the reason that the Catholic Church will never allow married priests – or if they do, they will be decidedly second-class – because they will never give up the sweet perks that the Roman collar merits, in their view.