A Culture of Secrecy in the Contemporary Church


Transparency and Trust are Inextricably Connected

 

If we can move from a secretive ecclesiastical organizational style to one that encourages open access to information, participation, and decision-making, a higher level of trust and effective collaboration will exist throughout the entire community of faith…..

 

I guess we may never know for certain what exactly Cardinal George said about  Sister Carol Keehan, behind the closed doors of  an “executive session,” at the Spring meeting of the USCCB. And that of course is a big part of the leadership problem in our contemporary ecclesiastical leadership: the reversion to episcopal secrecy.

Over the past twenty years, we have seen an accelerated retreat to a nineteenth century Catholic ethos that sanctifies secrecy in the church.

The shift from transparency to secrecy in the USCCB is a good example. Our bishops were rather transparent in their annual meetings for the 20 years under the strongly pastoral Jadot bishops, roughly from 1973 to 1992. On Tuesday nights, during their November meetings, the bishops even hosted a “meet-and-greet” for the media just so they could listen to what journalists were saying and thinking. That all began to change as more canon lawyer,  managerial, ultramontane bishops began to replace the more theologically and pastorally minded ones. Secrecy set in, in grand style, once the secrecy-genertated-and-maintained sex abuse crisis began to explode in the new millennium.

Presently, at best, more than half of the USCCB ‘s annual meetings are held  behind closed doors.

Secerecy breeds distrust and suspicion. It keeps large segments of the church in the dark and maintains the power and control of the informed. It maintains a two-class church system. It promotes a church leadership style that can only thrive when  the “faithful” are seen as unquestioningly obedient children. Secerecy stunts healthy human development and adult faith and responsibility in the church.

Ironically, in business and politics today we see a great call for transparency and trustworthiness at the very same time that our bishops are retreating into their secretive conference rooms.

Ironically again, in the digital age greater organizational transparency is rapidly becoming a requirement for effective leadership in all segments of contemporary life…..

It is time to re-open the ecclesiastical doors. If we speak, and earnestly seek, the truth: we have nothing to hide.

 

 

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