The Silence of the Shepherds

They say silence is golden but today is more like tarnish.

John Thavis reported this about the U.S. Cardinals and their regular press conference briefings this morning via Jim Martin on Facebook.

U.S. cardinals abruptly canceled their planned briefing today, and no further briefings were scheduled.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, who had coordinated the U.S. press encounters, said in an email: “Concern was expressed in the General Congregation about leaks of confidential proceedings reportedin Italian newspapers. As a precaution, the cardinals have agreed not to do interviews.”

In other words, because some anonymous cardinals fed Italian reporters a few details about their discussions, a gag order now applies to all the cardinals.

The U.S. briefings, which typically featured two American cardinals fielding questions in 30-minute sessions, had become a welcome daily ritual for journalists in Rome who are trying to cover the pre-conclave meetings that began this week.

It should be noted that the U.S. cardinals, like all the rest, have taken an oath to maintain secrecy regarding conclave matters. But they have given reporters at least an outline of the discussions, if not precise content, and have been willing to answer general questions on issues not directly related to the conclave.

When, oh when, will this guys realize that not saying anything doesn’t help, nor does it endear you to the general public. It makes you look like you’re hiding something, or in this case, like someone said something they shouldn’t have and now you’re asking them to stop talking.

Silence has led the church down many wrong roads. The sexual abuse crisis at its heart was tragic on its own because children were abused, but the cover up by Bishops and other church officials made it ten times worse and the church has been dragged down (and appropriately so) by it for more than a decade now.

Silence about financial impropriety and perhaps more has led to what we call now the VatiLeaks scandal, which came from an internal investigation that was covered up to the point where the Pope’s butler was used as a pawn to get secret files revealed to the public. Silence caused this scandal and it could have easily been avoided by telling the truth and taking appropriate disciplinary actions.

Silence is what keeps gay men in the priesthood from showing that they are appropriately integrated in their sexuality and instead covers up those who are sexually immature, who claim heterosexuality when in fact, they have a closeted gay sexual preference and end up becoming predators because of it. It’s an endless cycle of self abuse that leads to the abuse of others.

And it starts because of silence and fear.

Silence prevents dialogue between Catholics who speak up for ending abortion because that translates to others as being “against women” instead of “against murder.” Same is true for those who hope to care for women beyond the birth of their child instead of settling for winning the moral high ground because they simply changed a law with no back up plan.

Sr. Walsh smartly realized that for the American Bishops to be relevant in the minds and hearts of the general public it was time for them to come clean and actually tell people what they were thinking about the next Pope. They’re not trying to tell us who they are specifically voting for, nor about anything inside the walls of the conclave. Rather they are opening the doors to what is all-too-often held in secret for no good reason.

The American public is no longer buying what the Cardinals and the Bishops are selling. At least the latest poll in the field says so:

From the NY Times:

With cardinals now in Rome preparing to elect Benedict’s successor, the poll indicated that the church’s hierarchy had lost the confidence and allegiance of many American Catholics, an intensification of a long-term trend. They like their priests and nuns, but many feel that the bishops and cardinals do not understand their lives.

Telling the press the truth often gets the public back on your side. It gives you legitimacy in their eyes and brings the public to a better understanding of your mindset even when they may disagree with your premise. Telling the truth and laying it all on the table gets these men back the one thing they have lost: respect.

But instead, now we sit and wait in silence. Which is an appropriate venue for our prayer, but for nothing else. Eventually, we come out of our prayer postures and need to proclaim the truth of our convictions to let people know who we are and what goes into the rhythms of our church’s decisions and hear what our leaders think about the church’s present, never mind the future and what kind of leader they think will be most helpful to the people of God. Those early words from our American Bishops were outstanding stories that helped people understand things.

The time is now for breaking silence, not maintaining it. Agreeing on the gag order is a wrong-headed move. And someone needs to convince the Cardinals of that. Perhaps they should start with the retired Cardinals who won’t be in the conclave and effectively have nothing to lose! (Cmon Cardinal McCarrick!)

Cardinals, you were almost there. Props to Sr. Mary Ann Walsh for the effort! Somehow it was a smart woman who was leading us down the right road and who the Cardinals should be listening to and working with her who has given them the opportunity to very simply tell the world our story.

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  1. And this is why I like Cardinal Dolan so much. He hasn’t let the “gag order” stop him from giving updates on The Catholic Channel on Sirius XM or from posting on his on blog, as you mentioned in another post.

    You gotta love a cardinal who’s a bit of a rebel! 🙂


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