Christendom College

Catholic Journalist Shaw Exposes Problem of Secrecy in Church

November 5, 2008

shaw“The abuse of secrecy has played a part in some of the most serious problems of the Church, and it goes on doing that at all levels from parishes to the national level and beyond,” Russell Shaw said in his talk entitled “Secrecy vs. Communio in the Catholic Church” given to the students and faculty of Christendom College on November 3.

“It is withholding information that begets ignorance,” Shaw said, “and the only way to correct it is by sharing information and supplying explanations as needed.”

Shaw is author or coauthor of 20 books and a contributor to and/or editor of several others. His most recent book Nothing To Hide: Secrecy, Communication, and Communion in the Catholic Church. Shaw has published thousands of magazine and newspaper articles, columns, and reviews in U.S. and foreign periodicals. He is a contributing editor of Our Sunday Visitor national Catholic newspaper, a columnist for Catholic ExchangeInside Catholic, and several diocesan newspapers, including the Arlington Catholic Herald.

“The scandal of clergy sex abuses—an official concealment—in other words, cover-up—is an especially painful instance, but there are many others,” Shaw said. “For example the financial scandals in Church related programs and institutions that now and then erupt, the excessive secrecy prevailing in the way pastors and bishops are selected, and in the way that religious institutes, which depend on public support, conduct their internal affairs.”

shaw2Shaw explained that clericalism is a key factor in the abuse of secrecy in the Church. Both the laity and clerics alike contribute to clericalism, which has its roots in a deficient theology of vocation.  The culture of clericalism encourages people to think that priests and religious are the only people who should be in charge and then attributes to them a benevolent paternalism. The laity are then seen as a permanent ecclesial underclass. This stifles the channels of communications and allows unneeded secrecy to flourish.

“The Catholic Church has a right to practice secrecy, in fact a grave duty to do that, when secrecy is necessary to protect important human goods especially the good name and privacy of individuals,” Shaw clarified.

He pointed out that the Church will always have the Sacraments, the fullness of God’s Revelation, the means of salvation, and will remain a communio—a communion of faith. However, on the human level, our communion as Church is impaired by the practice of unnecessary secrecy.

“That—nothing else—is the target of my criticism,” he said. “To be sure communion in the Church is a spiritual reality that far transcends ordinary human community and communication—that goes without saying. But grace does build on nature, and ordinary human standards of community and communication must be observed for the sake of ecclesial communion itself.

“As Pope Benedict XVI remarked a few years ago, ‘we cannot communicate with the Lord, if we do not communicate with one another,’” Shaw concluded. “I rest my case.”

1This insightful lecture can be heard at Christendom on iTunes U.