Is Transparency a Cure-All?

A very powerful article from Massimo Faggioli appears today on the website of Commonweal magazine, under the title of this post. The sub-title is, perhaps, more revelatory: “The Abuse Crisis and the Risks of Ecclesial Revolution”.

While acknowledging the undeniable need for ecclesial reform, Faggioli sounds a warning that the solution might produce unintended consequences:

The problem is that the “ecclesiological iconoclasm” produced by the sex-abuse scandal, together with other abuses of power and financial scandals, could end up making the church function more like a corporation. This is a particularly powerful temptation for the church in the developed countries, where the corporation has become the model for every other kind of institution, including the state. It is one of the risks of the “transparency society” that Korean-born German philosopher Byung-Chul Han has written about. Such a society, he writes, “abolishes all rituals and ceremonies because they do not admit operationalization.” More fundamentally, in this urgent effort of reform, Catholics must develop a new sense of trust to go with new systems of control. In the absence of trust, control becomes oppressive, even totalitarian. Moreover, the logic of total transparency is at odds with the mystery and interiority of authentic religious experience.

Most Catholics, including those who write about the church, are now experiencing something like spiritual burnout in the wake of the revelations about Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The filth is demoralizing. Obviously, the church still needs to be reformed, and clerical power needs to be checked. Still, I worry that the more iconoclastic demands for transparency and accountability could lead to a new “stripping of the altars.” As Pope Francis has frequently reminded us, the church is not just an NGO.

The danger of corporatisation – and it is one that is real and present – is to be watched for, and when identified, avoided at all costs lest the Church cease being the Church.