Looks like it's washing day again.
All sorts of ecclesial dirty laundry has tumbled into view recently. Most notable has been news of the anti-Semitism and wacky conspiracy theories among some traditionalist Catholic clerics, and posthumous revelations of the double-life of the founder of a vigorous and rigorous religious order.
As such revelations always do, they have occasioned a tsunami of critics who see fresh evidence of inherent defects in the Catholic Church, its policy of celibate priesthood, and even religious belief itself.
The damage to souls from these revelations and accusations is incalculable. That is, after all, the original meaning of "scandal" -- it will lead others to sin and maybe even loss of faith.
In situations like this, it is de rigeur for Catholic editorialists, ourselves included, to point out the bright side: that transparency is, after all, the best policy, and that even if we now experience short-term pain, it will be worth the long-term, and greater, gain.
That's true as far as it goes. But transparency is a word from the political and corporate worlds that doesn't fit that perfectly in a Church context.
Where it does apply neatly are in things like parish council meetings and even deliberations of the U.S. bishops' conference. Here, transparency is a necessary element of the communication needed to build up the communion of believers that is at the heart of the Church's identity, as OSV contributing editor Russell Shaw points out in his recent book, "Nothing to Hide" (Ignatius, $13.95).
But where are the limits of transparency? Do we really want the members of the OSV editorial board to list their sins in these pages each week? Or read everyone else's in the parish bulletin?
In a recent op-ed in USA Today, a journalist -- who left Catholicism for the Orthodox Church because of his disgust at what he discovered during reporting on the clerical sex abuse scandal -- argues that for the sake of religious faith, there are some things believers should be happy not knowing about their coreligionists or church administration. He has resolved, for the sake of his family and personal peace, not to employ his journalistic training in investigating scandal in his new church home.
His goal is understandable. Our Sunday Visitor is equally wary about the potential destructiveness of pursuing, even for the best motives, stories of scandal.
But, knowing that we are a Church of sinners, we must not only promote more holiness, but also fight the temptation to secrecy that dates back to Adam's fig leaf. Secrecy, though often invoked to shield the innocent, results too frequently in protecting and enabling the wicked.
Examples of this abound throughout history, and even in the newest Church scandals. In the case of the duplicitous religious founder of the Legion of Christ, well-known U.S. Catholic thinker George Weigel has called for a "full, public disclosure of [his] perfidies" and "a root-and-branch examination of possible complicity in those perfidies" within the order. He said that audit must come before any charting of the order's future.
The desire to veil the misdeeds of Church leaders ultimately shows a lack of faith in Christ. The Church is not man-made; it is the Holy Spirit's to shepherd and protect. It is our job to cooperate in its -- and our own -- continuing renewal.