The priest is a Catholic leader who has received a call from God, completed a period of training, and then been ordained in a sacrament. His role, unlike the monk, is to go outside the cloister, live among the people, and minister to them directly. Priests are not to act on their own power, but instead are empowered by a special grace of the Holy Spirit. Everything the priest does comes from the authority bestowed upon him in his ordination. These activities include presiding at Mass, providing absolution for sinners, anointing the sick, giving blessings, performing rites such as marriages, baptisms, and funerary last rites. Priests are part of an extensive hierarchy of men who govern the international Catholic church, ranking beneath bishops, cardinals, and the Pope.
Priests are often a subjects of suspicion in the Gothic, and sometimes make the wickedest of monsters. There are many reasons the Gothic writers could rely on scary Catholic priests to ensnare the good English reader:
- Their roles in exorcisms and transubstantiation were deeply bothersome to the protestants in England, some of whom viewed them as occult practices.
- The secrecy of the confessional meant the Priest held too much power for English tastes; he knew more than he should, and therefore was a threat to anyone who meant to keep something hidden (which in the Gothic is a lot of people.)
- Because of the Terror in France, many Catholic priests emigrated to England, and simply by having a larger presence in an increasingly crowded place became a menace.
- The priest was suspect because so many people thought his vow of chastity was a sham to cover up his secret licentiousness.
- Gothic texts tended toward many broader Anti-Catholic projects, in which the Priest could play a role.
- By his very nature, the priest is a Papist, and the English were deeply concerned that the Pope would try to undermine the protestant rulership of England.
There are some examples of priests in the Gothic who are simple peripheral characters without any evil overtones, but even in those roles, they represent the omni-present interest of the Pope and his authority, which in the context of the Gothic is definitely a cause for grave mistrust.
Courtesy of Wendy Fall, Marquette University
See also: Anti-Catholicism
Wright, Angela. Britain, France and the Gothic, 1764-1820 : The Import of Terror Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2013. Print.