Secrecy, Communication and Communion in the Catholic Church
Author: Russell Shaw
Shaw, widely known Catholic writer, speaker and former communications director for the U S Bishops, discusses the abuse of secrecy in the Church, the scandals it has caused and the serious problem of mistrust that exists in the credibility of the Church. Not concerned with the legitimate secrecy that is necessary to protect confidentiality and people’s reputations, Shaw is rather concerned here with the stifling, deadening misuse of secrecy that has done immense harm to communion and community in the Church in America.
Shaw shows the secrecy issue is a theological as well as practical problem that raises such questions as: What kind of Church do we want our Church to be, open or closed? What kind of Church should it be? And how much secrecy is compatible with having such a Church? As Pope Benedict XVI has stated, “The consequence is clear: we cannot communicate with the Lord if we do not communicate with one another.”
The Church is a communion, not a political democracy, and thus openness and accountability are even more crucial for the life of the Church than they are in a democracy. In a talk he gave many years before he became the current Pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had this to say about the reality of ecclesial communion: “Fellowship in the Body of Christ and receiving the Body of Christ means fellowship with one another. This of its very nature includes mutual acceptance, giving and receiving on both sides, and readiness to share one’s goods . . . In this sense, the social question is given quite a central place in the theological heart of the concept of communion.”
This is a beautiful vision of the Church. Shaw’s aim in his book is to make a contribution to realizing this vision in the concrete circumstances of the present day, by helping to end the culture of secrecy, especially within American Catholicism, and replacing the destructive culture with an open, accountable community of faith.
his career, Russell Shaw has served admirably Mother Church through his balanced,
reasonable, informed, accessible, and forthright writings. Understanding that
there are legitimate applications for the use of secrecy in both everyday religious
life and secular society, he now addresses the unfortunate and long standing
consequences of unnecessary secrecy and the lack of open and effective communication
within the Catholic Church. Inhibiting the promotion of truth, knowledge, and
accountability and increasing the chances of corruption, the author notes how
unnecessary secrecy in the Church also weakens community/"communio;"
maintains a second class status for the laity, furthers its "clericalization"
and lessens its influence in worldly affairs; creates suspicion both internally
and in the outside world; and impedes the speedy and effective just resolution
of any number of crises affecting the religious institution today, most conspicuously,
the recent sexual scandal. Let's hope the Bishops and other Church insiders
recognize this important message of reform on the part of someone so committed
to the Catholic faith.
- Joseph A. Varacalli, author, The Catholic Experience in America
Shaw has long been a unique -- and uniquely valuable -- voice in American Catholicism.
He was for many years the US Bishops' official spokesman, and he has the perspective
and insights of an "insider". But Shaw is not an apologist for the
hierarchy. He is at once a devout and loyal (and orthodox) member of the faithful,
and a sharp critic of the cult of secrecy which so many bishops have cultivated.
In this sobering but much-needed book, Shaw shows how some shepherds abused
secrecy, and in doing so compounded the sex misconduct crisis with a broader
crisis of trust in clerical leadership. But this is not a book about sex-abuse.
It is rather about what it means to be the Church, about the collaboration of
the non-ordained faithful in carrying out the Church's mission, and about how
secrecy prevents the communication which is necessary to that collaboration.
Shaw fully recognizes that the Catholic Church is no democracy and that confidentiality
-- up to a point -- is essential to the Church's business. That is why this
book is a measured yet cogent treatment of one of the great problem's facing
the American Church today.
- Professor Gerard Bradley, University of Notre Dame
Shaw makes a persuasive case that it is time, at long last, to implement the
teaching of the Second Vatican Council on the rights and responsibilities of
the laity in the life of the Church. His call deserves the support also of clerics
who recognize the unhappy consequences of clericalism."
- Rev. Richard John Neuhaus , editor in chief, First Things
the premier Catholic communications professional in the United States, Russ
Shaw is a longtime critic of clericalism, excessive secrecy, 'happy talk' and
spin control in Catholic culture. He's also an articulate and engaging writer
with an unparalleled record of service to the Church. Nothing to Hide is a provocative,
important book that explores the boundary between appropriate confidentiality
in the Church, and the kind of secrecy that cripples Christian community life.
It's a must-read."
+Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Denver
Author: Russell Shaw
More by this author...
Length: 160 pages
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