Friday, April 29, 2011

Anne Burke Continues to Speak Out: Laity Have Right to Expect Truth from Catholic Leaders

And, as a counterpoint to the commentary on the John Paul II beatification to which I've just pointed, I'd like to take note as well of a valuable statement Anne Burke published this week about the ongoing abuse crisis in the Catholic church.  This op-ed piece is in U.S. Catholic.

Burke continues the theme she highlighted in her new year's statement on the obligation of Catholic laypersons to demand truth from the pastoral leaders of the Catholic church.  In both statements, Burke notes that her formation in Catholic schools, from childhood forward, taught her to value truth-telling as an indispensable virtue for any society that expects to function at all--as a society.  Since truth-telling is a precondition for any and all social relationships, because, in its absence, trust cannot grow.  And where trust cannot grow, nothing can flourish.

The biggest damage--the incalculable harm--that the pastoral leaders have done to the Catholic church in how they have responded to the abuse crisis is, Burke thinks, the damage caused by their violation of the truth.  Which has undermined trust within the church--in a radical way that strikes to the communal foundations of Catholicism.  

Here's Burke:  

I believe that truthfulness has been a virtue in trouble for a long time in the Catholic Church. Who could ever see this coming? Not me. I was an obedient Catholic school girl, a true believer. It is not easy for us to unlearn being Catholic. I, for one, don’t want to.

But I expect truthfulness at all costs from our leadership. If that cannot be supplied then we must go back to the drawing board. Do we not have the right to truthfulness?

Perhaps a Council on Truthfulness might help to expand the importance of this critical virtue. Perhaps it could be a meeting for both bishops and faithful in which they could share ideas and dreams for the church. Perhaps we could let the power of the virtue of truthfulness help redefine the proportions of holiness in the church. Liberal or conservative, truthfulness is a gift to all.

The notion of church defended by John Paul II, around which he built his papacy, was not, to say the least, strong on the obligation of bishops and priests to tell the truth to the laity--particularly when the laity challenge them to do so.  It stressed, instead, another obligation: the obligation of the laity to obey.

And the results of that ecclesiology have been disastrous within the Catholic church, and remain disastrous as John Paul II is being beatified.  Anne Burke has walked through the fire to claim her right to speak about these issues.  When she speaks of the damage that a lack of truthfulness has done to our church, she knows whereof she speaks.  She is speaking out of her painful experience as head of the national review board, who experienced stonewalling, deception, evasion of truth from one bishop after another in her period heading that board.

As John Paul II is beatified, those who really care about the future of the church ought to be thinking about what Anne Burke is saying, it seems to me.  Even in the midst of the diversionary fanfare and the lavish image-management spectacle designed to make us imagine all is right with Rome.  Especially in the midst of the fanfare and the spectacle.

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