by Phyllis Zagano NCR

I think we owe a debt of gratitude to former West Virginia bishop Michael Bransfield, pilloried by The Washington Post for his reportedly lavish and lascivious ways. The Post wrote from an unredacted report written by lay investigators.

Bransfield’s creative accounting let us see exactly who benefited from his largess. His history of unchecked behavior demonstrates who knew what and when. Most importantly, his objectively sad story sheds light on ingrained episcopal practices around the world.

Plus, it saves us the trouble of reading medieval history.

I bear no ill will and wish no harm to Michael Bransfield. I am convinced he is a product of a system that corrupted him. One wonders if that system alone drove him to drink.

That system is the clericalism Pope Francis talks about. It is the system in which only priest clerics judge clerics, only priest clerics wield authority, and only priest clerics promote clerics to higher offices.

It is the system of priestly clericalism, seeded in the early church, nurtured by the Middle Ages, and full-blown by the 11th century.

It is the system that killed the diaconate.

Ever wonder whatever happened to deacons, once the stewards of the church’s money? For the longest time, deacons and archdeacons managed church funds, providing for needs of the people of God. In the third century, St. Lawrence the Deacon presented the poor to the Roman prefect who demanded the church’s treasures. He had it right.

Over the centuries, deacons grew very powerful. The cadre of priests did not like that at all, especially since bishops were often chosen from among the deacons.

Why choose a deacon as bishop? Deacons were the clerics whose jobs today are called diocesan vicar general, judicial vicar, and finance officer, among others. It made ultimate sense to elect the person who had already been running the diocese as its next overseer. Many popes were deacons and never priests.

And then there was Pope Gregory VII. Born the son of a blacksmith in Tuscany in 1015, he rose to become archdeacon and the cardinal deacon of Santa Maria in Domnica in Rome. Elected pope by acclamation in 1073, he insisted on being ordained a priest eight days before his consecration as bishop of Rome.

Gregory VII thereby solidified the “cursus honorum,” the “course of honor” that essentially restricted diaconal ordination only to men destined for priesthood.

The Gregorian Reform, so-called in his honor, changed other things. Gregory outlawed the practice of simony, especially the buying of church offices.

He also began in earnest the centralization of church power in Rome. One wonders if centralization helped cause more, not less, simony.

Detail of “Standing Bishop,” silver with silver gilt, by the German workshop of Hans von Reutlingen, circa 1510 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Which brings us back to clericalism, the hothouse for abuses of every description that shuts its doors to any outside views, even from other clerics, like deacons

Despite 16th-century decisions of the Council of Trent, it was not until the Second Vatican Council that the diaconate was renewed as a permanent office. Today, more than 50 years later, deacons the world over are still finding their places within the clerical system.
What deacons do not do is buy their way up the ladder, for there is none to climb. Deacons are ministers. Most do not get stole fees for administering sacraments. Unless they hold a diocesan or parochial job, deacons support themselves.

That is the difference. For the most part, diocesan priests are wholly dependent on their bishops, who may in turn be indebted to their metropolitan archbishops, who may in turn be indebted to the nuncio, and so it goes. The concurrent gauzy web of lateral relationships is not so apparent, but it is there, making the vaulted notion of “transparency” impossible.

Which brings us back to Michael Bransfield. I am saddened that he has been exposed and vilified, I really am. But his story pokes a hole in the clerical veil pulled over the eyes of so many other clerics (deacons, priests and bishops) and laypeople who want to see the church as a church for people, not as a corporation that enriches CEOs while giving pennies to its stockholders.

If we can respectfully continue to part that clerical veil, we might enjoy a church that does not corrupt its most talented and capable clerics.

[Phyllis Zagano is senior research associate-in-residence at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. She will speak Friday, Sept. 13, 2019, at the Bishop Keane Institute of Immaculate Conception Church in Hampton, Virginia and Tuesday, September 24, 2019 at the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College. Her books include Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future, recently published in France and Canada as Des femmes diacres and in Portugal as Mulheres diáconos: Passado, presente, futuro. Study guides are available for free download at]



A reflective article by Phyllis Zagano. Clericalism has become a barrier for priests to truly seek God, the clericalism of the careerist priest particularly. We now know the faulty blindness of clericalism. It seems it’s become intrinsically linked to the way of Church Institutionalised Priesthood over centuries. I know, as do many, many priests, the pitfalls of a clericalism mind set and we endeavour to act out of a vision that is simpler, more closer to the gospel of Christ, living out our ministry, not out of centuries old expectations, but out of a “Spirit” led way of and in Christ. As I’ve grown through priesthood over 40 years I have discovered my own faithful way of living God’s expectation of me as a human being and priest. I abhor the all male, chauvinistic, misygonist and almost tribalist power elements of the Institutional Church. I may not undo any of this, but I can reevaluate my sense of vision and reality about the “simplicity” of Christ like service, which is what I seek to do, albeit imperfectly at times, a service which honour all God’s people and which is inclusive of all. Incidentally I find Bishop Barron to be a very inspiring, challenging, prayerful and spiritually resourceful man. I like the ideal he places before priests…if only we could imbibe the reality of his words!!!


I’ll comment more in depth when I ‘ve stopped guffawing at Barron’s deeply, profoundly disturbing, clericslist, trash.😅


12.53: Magna, stay in bed for the day. We don’t require your offensive, boring, uninspiring and disturbed rantings about a way of life, priesthood, denied to you, as you have no real experience of what you’re talking about. We can all too easily predict your venom, lies and poison. So, stay in bed – recovering!!!!


You sound hysterical, 8.52.

Does the truth here really trouble you so profoundly?

Haven’t you reflected on the banner line of this blog?

‘The truth will set you free even if the truth is revolting.’

And where Christ-betraying Roman Catholic priests are concerned, truth is nothing but revolting. 😷


Clericalism despite Pope Francis utterings is thriving in the Irish Catholic Church. Down and connor is a prime example. There are many many ungodly men within its ranks who, having been ordained as priests, practice quite a degree of clericalism. They think they are the elite of the elite. They hanker on to the past when a priest had “status”. One has to ask if this is solely their fault. Yes and No. Down and Connor has been run by ultra conservative firms men for the past 4 decades. Men who love the status of being bishop yet they exhibit little Christianity. Their world is a closed shop, a secretive society. As overseers of their diocese their first priority is to protect the brand. Whilst they undergo financial audits, one must remember that they deal largely in cash (parishoners cash) and funds are surreptitiously often siphoned off before the accounting process. Scandals, misdeeds are covered up with culprits moved around. The old boys network continues. This way of leadership is witnessed by priests on the ground and strongly influences their behaviour. They know that they will get away with things no employee elsewhere will get away with. This reinforces their sense of being an elite. And yet there is such a thing called individual conscience. If they truly were to be of Christ they would be humble. However this is a word they do not recognise. There is also the issue of programming. Throughout their training they have been programmed to consider themselves as elite. It has been pumped into them. Yes clericalism is alive and well and continues unabated. Whilst bishops of the ilk of the bishop of bling exist, Down and Connor has no chance. There’s more transparency in s blacked out room than there is in that outfit


3.15am: A very convoluted piece of writing! Do not place all clergy into thecsame barrel of clericalism. We are well aware of the wrongs, abuses, failings and dangers of a clericalism.mind set..There are many of us who despise such an approach to service and ministry: clericalism is not part of a life as envisioned by Christ for all, not just for priests. Each caring, concerned and genuine priest seeks to imitate CHRIST and keeping his way of service is the ideal we strive to live. In my everyday life I’m focused on the tasks, works, service, caring and spiritual and pastoral welfare of parishioners. I never liked the ‘clericalism’ approach. Thankfully, most priests endeavour to stay free of its poison and narrow exclusivity. Regarding Bishop Barron, he puts a huge ideal before a priests. He is inspiring for me. Having attended a retreat given by him I am enriched by his insights, writings and resourcefulness in prayer, scripture and spirituality. And, furthermore, he deserves respect and not the threatened abusive poison promised by Magna at 12.53!!! Disgusting, unacceptable nonsense from Mags…..



Whoo-hoo hullabaloo!

Did you read that magnificent post at 9.19? It expresses a narrative… an ecclesial truth… that is not only inconvenient to such blatantly obvious clericalist mindsets as yours, but one that you all would love to bury, along with all the other scandals that are crucifying the Body of Christ.

You people hate truth. It troubles you so much you prefer the darkness of priestly cover-up, obfuscation, and deceit.

Have you even the remotest knowledge of how much Roman Catholic priests as a sub-species is despised today?


Fr Not Like the Others remains in denial.
It’s like staying in the mafia because they’re kind to the spouses lol. And the sheer ridiculousness of claiming not to like clericalism while comfortably remaining… A cleric!


Anonymous aka MC at 3:15am!!!!
What a load of rubbish as usual, Down and Connor has for 4 decades been run by ultra conservatives, if only it had been. There has been no conservatives never mind ultra ones, for the past 4 decades it has been run by extreme modernist lefty looney’s . Just look what they’ve done to our churches under the guise of what they call “reordering” more like desecration, most of. them are unrecognizable as Catholic Churches. Just look at their liturgies they are as Catholic as auld Paisley’s Martyr Memorial. I think you’ve blacked out, if you can’t see what that outfit has done.
Evivva Maria!


Pat, isn’t Bishop Barron just stating that the priesthood is an extension of our baptismal vows where we are all made prophet, priest and kings? The image of being a Jacob’s ladder is a beautifal one, it tells the priest that they have to be there where people are, but should be focused on heaven too. Surely you would want priests to live their life to that standard, or are you just so blinded by hatred that you are only interested in those who don’t live up to that calling?


Only interested in those who don’t live up to that calling? Who don’t connect Heaven and Earth? 😂
Are you a fool, or a fraud? There is only one who can connect Heaven and Earth… and he did so 2000 years ago.
Your comment reeks of the clericalism that is crucifying the Church.
If only that self-important Strumpetmonger, Barron, had allowed an abused lay person to speak honestly to priesthood, we shouldn’t have had our ears assaulted by that sentimental, self-aggrandising eulogy on priesthood. There wasn’t one mention in it of priestly servanthood (which Christ himself insisted on); there was only the glorification of the priest as quasi-Saviour.
Start as you mean to go on. These newly ordained priests will have left that building with their ears ringing and heads buzzing from Barron’s lionising words.
Another generation of clericalist Christ-betrayers has been uncaged to prey on the world. 😱


The state of Phyllis Zagano, though. Old as tea, naturally, she’s devoted her life to getting women deacons, really a Trojan horse for women priests.
Why doesn’t she join the Episcopalians, who have everything she desires, rather than staying as a dissatisfied Catholic?



She remains a Catholic because it annoys the hell out of people like you.

(Just sayin’, like. 😆)


Jacob’s Ladder ? Yes, a ladder for most priests to climb the greasy clerical pole. + Vin comes to mind. Whenever did he do work that really got his hands dirty as he reached down to help the poor ? Mmmmm ? I must check his CV !
Bishop Barron’s self satisfied, onerous tone, and the complaisant looking clergy around him, at this wankfest of clerical self congratulation, immortalised in this vide, is sick making.
And still it goes on. The reason it goes on is because people like Barron have an interest in creating in their own image and likeness priests who will perpetuate the clerical world, just as he has done after having been passed on this culture from those who ordained him. There is huge self-interest here at all levels, wrapped
up in some faux theology of priestly specialness and apartness and sacramental signing with an indelible Christ like character….etc. etc. etc. There is no way that this lot is going to break this unbroken line.
It is up to us to challenge it. Only then will there be real change. At present it is rare to see the laity challenging the clergy on all sorts of things. But, help is at hand. The state secular authorities in so many jurisdictions have the Church, bishops and priests in their sights, not just on matters of abuse, but also corruption, tax evasion etc. Watch that space. It will bring these clericalists to heel. And then we can begin to have priests who are truly at the service of the people and the poor, rather than using Jacob’s Ladder to raise themselves above the rest of us and luxuriate in the clerical trough.


Spot on hi. It’s like the daleks on Dr Who. Stifling on the inside and not trusted thought of as a weirdo on thoutside but


My older brother, now deceased and a priest in D&C often said that the diocese was a cesspit run by a Garron Tower mafia.


9:08. I do not doubt that there are those amongst your rank who do not follow clericalism. However you cannot deny that clericalism and secrecy is endemic within your organisation and yet you continue to pledge allegiance and serve an organisation that is steeped in this mire. Have you confronted your bishop(if you are a D and C priest) about his opulent lifestyle, the cover ups and lack of transparency within his diocese and how it runs contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ? If not then you are an enabler of these said practices. Do you enjoy his hospitality and expensive wines whilst thousands of his parishoners rely on food banks. Clericalism and a lack of transparency is now so deep rooted within your organisation that it will be impossible for it to change. The truth of the matter is that your organisation as a whole does not actively want change. We have spoken without feet by no longer attending your churches, not because we don’t have a love for the holy sacrifice of the mass but because we are sick of the lies, the elitism and the cover ups. My own experience is that most priests and religious do not stay away from the poison of clericalism but actively embrace it. How can we trust your organisation anymore. The veil of the temple was torn in two. Why then does your organisation continue to try and stitch it together so that it can hide behind it?


Another magnificent post.
It should reverberate through every priestly conscience, and WOULD do so… were such a phenomenon not as mythical as Noah’s Ark.
Individual members of the clericalist priestly caste think that the words they offer in ‘challenge’ to Roman Catholic clericalism are credentials proving that they themselves remain uninfected by this insidious disease. They are like the more senior Strumpetmongers who offer the world verbal baubles of apology for generations of priestly child rape, sodomy, and cover-up… and then sit on their laurels, full of glowing self-contentedness and self-congratulation: YES, I’VE DONE MY BIT.
If only I had a broom wide enough, I’d sweep them all off the planet to join the rest of the space-age junk in outer space.
(Just a lovely thought, like. 😀)


Well said Anon@ 11:28.
As children they learned to respect the hand rocking the cradle.
As adults, they don’t bite the hand that feeds them.


Just back from saying Mass and a leisurely cooked breakfast afterwards paid for by kindly parishioners. Had my usual £50 donation because they like their Curate. Going to have a snifter now after reading and laughing at this garbage. Then on to a leisurely lunch with friends and drinks galore all paid for so won’t have to spend anything. No calls to make, nothing of great importance. Back after lunch for a good kip. Feet up for the rest of the evening and answerphone on. Tomorrow have a few elderly fans to visit which means more cash in hand then another long lunch with loads of booze. Then it’s back to plan a forthcoming trip to Sitges with the lads. Heaven.


11.46 What planet are you on as you are off your rocker.

These days have well gone and will never return.

Clergy are not in one parish now they can have two or three and the laity are not that kind many many parishes are in debt.

Bishop Browne now has Eight parishes without clergy as it is all teams now.

Some people give two Euro’s a week and think they are doing well.

Sadly under this Pontificate he is opening the doors to everyone with The Ordinate and the ex Anglicans and of course they are trying to accommodate the SSPX and St. Peter’s however in my Fathers house there are many rooms.

However lets get our house in order first .


I read your blog every day. Some days are much more interesting than others. I think Magna needs help!
However, let me share a little story with your readers about Down and Connor.
I was ordained for Down and Connor, served a number of years and then came out feeling it wasn’t for me. I was lucky in the parishes that I worked in that my colleagues were hard working, decent and dedicated priests. There was great fun, craic and camaraderie.
I started off in a large city parish. After a few weeks I came in for lunch and the other guys were standing around in the kitchen chatting when one of them announced that he had seen a priest from a County Down parish getting off a bus on a nearby road. The boss immediately said ‘Of course, it’s Tuesday. He comes up to xxxxxxxxxConvent for his weekly ride at Sister xxxxxxxx’ He went on ‘That’s been going on for years. They’re both from xxxxxxxx and he was giving her one since they were teenagers’
I was astonished. The other guys just laughed at it and then one of the other curates began to quiz the rest as to whether they had heard than another priest ( in a different parish) was still ‘doing a line’ with a particular teacher in St Xxxxxxxxxc school.
I later asked one of my colleagues about the gossip. He laughed telling me it was all true and that I “ ain’t seen nothing yet!’
That was my first experience as a young priest discovering some of the sexual shenanigans of D&C clergy.
An eye opener!


An eye-opener indeed…the ‘fact’ that these men were shagging women.
And you’re right: I do need help. (Where did I dump that half-bottle last night before passing out? Life’s little mysteries, eh?😕)


You have hit the nail right on the head for me and many of my family and friends. I can’t speak about any other diocese as my only experience is in Belfast but many of my family and friends, once weekly and sometimes daily mass goers have caught on to these senior priests and the snobbish and elite behaviour.
Well said.


12.42: If you read my comment properly you’ll discover I made no proclamation of being better than anyone else. Far from it: I am well aware of my sins and failings and on my need for God’s grace. There is such a thing called “conscience” and I act by it. As you grow through the years you also learn, relearn, become more aware of what it means to truly follow Christ. You also become deeply aware of how far short of the ideal you fall. Thus, you reevaluate the most truthful and best way to live priesthood consonant with Christ. We are always learning. My point earlier, if you read correctly, is that when you see the horribleness of clericalism you must reenvision your life as Christ would want. I will remain a priest for the rest of my life and continue trying to imitate CHRIST ALONE.. Surely, that’s commendable and possible? For me it is. Your cynicism is crass. God bless our good priests…..



Only a Roman Catholic Christ-betrayer would reduce searing honesty about him, and his fellows, to crass cynicism. Psychologists might call it ‘a coping mechanism’, whereas I’d call it ‘a lie’. (I do so love to tell it like it is, like.😆)

How can you preach truth while being so averse to it? Is your life as a priest so defined by self-contradiction that it is now unnoticeable? This is why others must point it out to you, but what’s the point if you, and your fellows, won’t listen? The point, as Edmund Burke pithily declared, is that if attention is not drawn to it, the evil will thrive.

Every single ‘reform’ in Roman Catholicism regarding child-protection, and the rest, has been driven, not by priestly conscience, but largely through outsiders: news media, law-enforcement, the courts, prisons. Imagine, priest: it took Mammon to teach God a lesson.

You said you act by conscience. Do you? Do you really? And yet you forswore Christ for a bishop the day you were ordained. And if you disobey him, especially publicly, he can retaliate by suspending you from ministry, by stopping your pay-cheque, by having you evicted from your home, and the rest. The stakes for observing personal conscience here are high, aren’t they priest? And yet you would have us all believe that you act by conscience despite such risk.

Ok. When did you publicly, and openly (and outside the relative safety of a homily), protest the criminality of Roman Catholic bishops over their concealment of serious sexual crimes against children and teenagers? When did you last publicly protest the lavish lifstyles, opulence, and splendour of bishops. Even you must know that this contradicts not just the Gospel, but Canon Law, which, at 282 and 286, instructs that priests must live simply, not in a way that smacks of worldliness. (And you do so have to avoid scandal, don’t you?)

When did you last publicly, and openly, protest ANY of the obvious evils in your church, priest?😕


Thank you, Magna. This is why I respect you. They have absolutely no answer to your analysis. Sometimes I wish they had, but they don’t


Yes, thank you Magna. I am the commenter Fr I’ve got a conscience was (ha) replying to but you have said it so well. Coping mechanism is right, and they are very dangerous because they persuade these people everything is OK. Literally every clerical abuser has had endless defenders who persuaded themselves it couldn’t happen around them because they had a conscience and a ‘moral compass’ – that’s the funniest thing they say, any moral sense at all would tell them to get out.


Magna, perhaps 12.57 will at least do what he claims, that is re evaluate and re envision his stance after studying your enlightening response.


My offer of fraternal help is still open, my dear Canon.

I am willing to bear a burden (share a yoke, like😕) for your reclamation.


I have a few bottles under the sink. I’ll leave them for you with the receptionist at the ‘sauna, or are you staying at the bail hostel?


My wife and I often dine out on weekdays and on Sundays. We never cease to be amazed by the number of clergy we meet who are always stuffing their faces. Who pays for it all and the alcohol they pour down their necks – I think we all know the answer to that. Even when they are not dressed as clergy we can both spot them a mile away and they always pile into the most top of the range cars. My wife sometimes makes notes. Recently during a Sunday lunch at the Hillgrove in Monaghan there were a whole gaggle of them gorging themselves. My wife observed much red wine being drunk and I noticed how friendly the young Male staff were with them, laughing and cackling like hens so they were. Obviously regulars but we noted a total over familiarity. Living the high life these priests and having an air of superiority about them. Thankfully we don’t put anymore money on the plate because it’s used to keep them in their lavish lifestyles. One looked like a rude pig.


3.47pm What a gombeen you are and a hen pecked ninny. Why are you out spying on priests? What does that say about your sad little lives? You probably are the type to sit around supermarket car parks and watch who is parking in disabled bays without a blue badge. You are obviously so hen pecked by your hag of a wife you fool. We know your type. Get a life.


@5:30 Ooh, Father’s upset!
What’s the matter, dear, worried your own little binges (whether on food, drink, golf, drugs, or boys) will be exposed?


Bishop Pat I find the criticisms and name calling of the couple who dine out rather unfair. They actually make me chuckle and I’ve missed them on here lately, glad to see they are back. I think the nastiness towards them may stem from clergy who don’t want this couple observing what they eat and drink. Maybe you should recommend places you or your readers may know where clergy dine and hang out. Maybe it’s just me but they gave me a good laugh today.


Ohhh, you and your wife sound such interesting people, spending your time looking at the other guests when out dining ! Why not try taking to each other and enjoying each other’s company for a change rather than looking around at your fellow diners ? By the way, are you both the size of houses…..? All that dining out. Just asking.


7.30pm 😂😂😂
Although they’re probably skinny as rakes as they sound as tight as a nun’s tweaker so will be on tap water and a starter.



Me, too, Bishop Pat. Especially the fact that they so p**s off the ever wining-and-dining out, clerical beau monde.

I hope that this couple reports more often.


When I first came across this blog, I took it seriously and thought it was important, but with each day I look at it I realise it is the same old tired voices talking the same old crap. They are not the voice of reason, they are more like (to quote St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians) a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.


12:45 Bellarmine,, if you think the one cold shower Opus Dei brigade, are any better, you’ll be sorely disappointed.


The Rcc doesn’t do transparency! Clericalism is a culture, including, attitudes, values, beliefs, assumptions etc.
Seminary system has to change, otherwise expect more of the same, if fewer entrants.


Anonymous at 7:30pm

I’m happy to tell you you’re wrong, thanks to Pope Benedict XVI The Mass I want is freely available along with all the traditional Devotions we knew all our lives I have many friends who think the same as me, all of us still holding on to the Catholic Faith of our childhood which we will be true to until death. I don’t think you realize how large the traditional Catholic movement is so I’m happy to tell you I’m not alone, I’m sure you will be pleased to hear that.
Evivva Maria!


6.54: You should learn to articulate a little more coherently, intelligently and cleverly. You’re comment is typical of the bandwagon creeps who follow the Magnas of this world and cannot think for themselves. They rehash and repeat the usual soundbytes, but with little originality or intelligence. Think for yourself, man!!


Lol of course I do and as a result I agree with the opinions expressed by Magna above. After all, I haven’t vowed to obey a bishop, have I.


8:49; Yeah. The clergy could do with a bit of original thinking, for themselves! ( Just stating the obvious, like) 😂


Bella. I have just read your posts. My post at 3:15am was not from Magna. It just confirms my thoughts on your previous postings. You are wired to the moon. Grow up and see what is in front of your nose. As long as there are enablers like you about, the rc cesspit will continue


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