As a child, I can distinctly remember my father reminding us not to do anything that would embarrass the family name. There were far too many times when ethnic jokes and slurs were directed towards the Poles, (and the Irish, the Germans, the Italians, the Jews, people of color, etc.) in everyday society. We grew up in the days of Archie Bunker and All in the Family. Meathead was a familiar epithet. We were raised in a manner that avoided airing any personal/family laundry in public. Don’t give people any reason to make fun of or criticize you! Outward appearance and image were very, very important.
Does this mean that we didn’t have our family problems? Of course not. We just didn’t speak of them in public or do anything that would give people a bad impression of our family. This approach never addressed—but rather hid—the various struggles that we (and most every other family) had to deal with on a regular basis. Contrast this with these days of social media and it is hard to believe that people of earlier generations had been so much more private and even secretive. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat (and whatever else comes along), seem to tell it all to anybody—and EVERYBODY—who wants to listen.
With this type of past conditioning towards silence and secrecy, I guess I can somewhat understand why the Church hierarchy would never want to do anything that would cause scandal to the laity or to society in general. This attitude was true in many facets of culture besides the Church. Things regularly got pushed under the rug, were hidden, not spoken about openly. Any change to this modus operandi would necessarily involve a transparency that was not at all common in past generations. The whitewashed tombs (see Mt. 23:27) that Jesus referred to when addressing the Pharisees is more than applicable to various institutions with their past hidden sins and crimes. Appearance isn’t everything.
While we should want to avoid giving people scandal, I am pretty sure that secrecy is not the best approach to solving certain problems or eliminating societal evils. It is imperative that various types of sexual crimes not be hidden or covered-up to protect the perpetrator or preserve a pristine image. I can completely understand why victims might not want to come forward and might choose secrecy or silence. However, protecting sexual deviants, covering for criminal behavior or putting reputation over the permanent damage done to individual lives only perpetuates the harm and never addresses the evil.
This may sound harsh but if any of the Church hierarchy tried to hide, to protect reputations, and not deal with some of the crimes/sins of its clergy in the past, the matter has only returned with an absolute vengeance today. Maybe if priests, bishops, or cardinals directly faced the public shame at that time and the truly guilty parties went to prison (instead of being transferred) for any crimes committed, we would not be in this mess today. Maybe.
At any rate, we have reached the incredible scandal of a former apostolic nuncio accusing cardinals and even the pope of wrongdoing. We need the truth. We need transparency. What we don’t need is more secrecy and silence. Any lies, cover-ups and all deceit must end.
The reputation of the Church has already been horrendously damaged.
Fr. Ed Namiotka,
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