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Nothing to Hide by Russell Shaw

Joined: 10 Sep 2006
Posts: 115
Location: National Staff
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Shaw is the former Communications Director for the U.S. Bishops, and he discusses the abuse of secrecy in the Church, the scandals it caused, and the serious problem of mistrust for the credibility of the Church today. He’s not writing about legitimate confidentiality (like the seal of confession or personal counseling) but rather on the “stifling misuse of secrecy” that has harmed the Church and its members. He writes :as a conservative Catholic who is committed to the welfare of his Church and convinced that the abuse of secrecy is bad for it.”

Shaw, right in the Introduction, points out that too often it is argued that the Church is a Communion, not a political democracy, so openness and accountability do not count for too much. But the exact opposite is true, openness and accountability are even more important in the Church than they are in a democracy.

CLERICALISM: He defines Clericalism, at the root of so much secrecy, as “an elitist mindset”, together with corresponding structures and patterns of behavior that takes for granted that clerics are “intrinsically superior” and deserve automatic deference. The laity can also be guilty of the clericalist mindset.

Shaw says that “abuse of secrecy is part of a larger failure—stonewalling, happy talk, deception, failure to consult, the de facto suppression of public opinion, the rejection of accountability, the repudiation of shared responsibility on clericalist grounds. Shaw discusses “Ecclesiastical Spin.” Implicitly, these “distortions and denials of reality confer legitimacy upon abusive and destructive practices that should be rooted out, not papered over.” They undermine truthfulness and openness. …”the question with which prudence must wrestle is not how to keep the Church secretive and closed, but how to make her as open as possible. It is wrong to cultivate secrecy for the sake of clericalist paternalism, the convenience of the powerful, the concealment of the faults of persons that are a threat to others, the manipulation of the lay faithful.”

COMMUNICATIONS: Failures of internal communication are serious matters in any institution….In the case of the Church, they strike at the Church herself. People who find out they’ve been “lied to in an important matter” (e.g. mismanagement and lies on the priest * abuse scandal)…”are resentful, disappointed, and suspicious. They feel wronged’ … manipulated, unable to act as they would have wanted to act had they known….”

Writing letters to the bishop or the pastor is a legitimate exercise of the right of public opinion in the Church; sometimes it may even get results. But all too often even the most intelligent, polite, and well-reasoned letters are ignored by people in positions of authority who evidently feel they are not answerable to the people of the Church….The problem here is not just rudeness, although the behavior described certainly is rude. Much more important, rudeness like this contradicts the ideal of interpersonal relationships grounded in Christ; it is an offense against church communion.

Part of the problem is the sheer lack of publicity and exposure…..Pastors must learn to improve communications with their parishioners. “the burden of proof should rest with those who advocate secrecy in any particular case.” “The abuse of secrecy in external communications often has poisoned the Church’s relationship with the media and defaced her image in the eyes of the world.”

SECRECY IN GROUPS: The author quotes Bok and adds his own thoughts on the danger of secrecy in groups.…”Secrecy is dangerous, especially as a tool in the hands of persons who have power over others…secrecy carries some risk of corruption and of irrationality; [with] greater than ordinary power over others…. if this power is exercised in secret, with no accountability to those whom it affects, the invitation to abuse is great.…Long-term group practices of secrecy…are especially likely to breed corruption. …tendency to view the world in terms of insiders and outsiders… “The presumption in favor of secrecy (where the privacy of individuals is concerned) becomes a presumption against secrecy when it is the secrecy of groups….. the burden of justifying secrecy rests with the groups, as does the duty to show what kinds of safeguards it means to put in place to prevent abuses from occurring. a group’s deliberations about adopting a policy of secrecy should be conducted publicly as a way of forestalling abuse… Bok observes, “Even where persuasive reasons for collective practices of secrecy can be stated, accountability is indispensable….No such safeguards have accompanied the many secret police systems that have plagued humanity.” Secrecy is the bane of accountability…

FINANCES: “…public opinion in the Church is so important… it requires an open, ongoing, two-way flow of information, not top-down, one-way communications in combination with official secrecy about matters pastors find it convenient to keep to themselves.” Shaw writes: “…accountability…is particularly relevant [in matters of] money and the spiritual life. It is axiomatic in a society committed to the fundamental equality in dignity and rights of its members that those who solicit money for good causes make an implicit – and sometimes explicit—promise to the donors to use their gifts for the purposes indicated and to give a public accounting showing this was done. “

It is questionable whether most Church leaders grasp the depth of the disillusionment among people Catholic households …[they] reported contributing financially to their parishes both before and after the [* abuse] scandal; but the percentage giving to diocesan appeals “fell from a pre-scandal 38 percent to a post-scandal 29 percent.” …by the fall of 2005 “fully 74percent said the scandal had damaged the credibility of Church leaders when they speak on social and political issues” (even two-thirds of the Catholics who attend Mass weekly felt that way).

ACCOUNTABILITY: It is often said that people in positions of authority in the Church are accountable to those who appointed them to office but not to those they were appointed to serve. But that confuses legitimacy with accountability. …Shaw writes: “it would be wildly wide of the mark to suppose that their legitimacy as officeholders somehow cancels their obligation and answerability to the people they are appointed to serve.”

• Make openness to journalists and observers the rule at general meetings
• Adopt and observe a policy of openness in conducting the business of all dioceses and parishes…
• Make a fresh start with diocesan and parish pastoral councils and finance councils, giving these bodies a real say in policy making…..minutes a matter of public record
• Practice consistent, exceptionless honesty
• Adopt and implement meaningful freedom-of-information policies
• Face up to the destructive impact that clericalism continues to have on Catholic life

CONCLUSION: “Communication is difficult, even in the Church, but the consequences of not communicating, to say nothing of lies, equivocation, self-serving and manipulative secrecy, non-accountability - -the sad litany of communication faults—are worse: loss of trust, anger, alienation, unraveling of lived communion. Failures of communication must be overcome, not multiplied by concealment and dissimulation.”
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Nothing to Hide by Russell Shaw
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