The high cost of lost integrity

by Robert McClory

View Author Profile

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts to Letters to the Editor. Learn more

In commenting on my article concerning the nonreception of church teaching ("When is dissent not just dissent?" Nov. 17), Jim McCrea made some valid points well worth considering: "How many of us know priests and lay people, active in parishes and dioceses, who compromise their core beliefs so as to carry on the good work they are doing within church structures? Whether the issue is Eucharistic inclusivity, option for the poor, a thinking laity, married clergy, women's ordination, homosexuality, contraception, our Church fosters a culture of keeping quiet so as to keep going. Sometimes the pressure from above is overt, but we are all subject to that subtlest form of institutional intimidation which everyone registers without it having to be articulated.

"We watch the few who persist in standing against it being marginalized or pushed out altogether; their whole lives can be taken apart. Many, both young and lifelong churchgoers, can no longer accept it and are walking away. Meanwhile those who slip into capitulating to it progressively deform their spiritual integrity.

"Of course, the Protestant tradition and secular society have long picked up the tenor of hypocrisy about Catholicism. After Vatican II, though, many of us felt we were on the way to being freed from it. But the volume now seems to be ratcheting up again. How can we commit to the Church we love without dancing to this particular tune?"

I believe a great number of priests and other church employees share Jim's discomfort in this atmosphere of 21st century Catholicism. It is not a healthy environment conducive to robust, confident breathing. In order to do their service to the church, they must hold their tongue on a variety of matters they consider important for the future of the church. And when asked what they think in public, they dissemble or just lie. If it's not hypocrisy, it is, as Jim states, a diminishment of their integrity so vital to authentic ministry.

I thought about this while studying the 2011 survey of Catholics, covered in detail in the Oct 28-Nov. 10 NCR. The several reports by the survey staff were overall upbeat in their reaction to the findings, noting the absence of any grave changes since these surveys began in 1987.

"American Catholics continue to maintain a moderate to high degree of commitment to the church," Michelle Dillon said. She explained that Catholic orthodoxy is itself "heavily encrusted with doctrinal shifts, institutional changes and theological nuance, characteristics befitting Catholicism's long history and constituting a pluralistic tradition that allows for more thoughtful individual autonomy than some might assume."

I would like to believe this healthy Catholic pluralism Michelle speaks about was the norm. But the findings she reports on show an ever-increasing skepticism and unwillingness of Catholics to place their trust in those who expound on Catholic orthodoxy.

For example, the survey reveals that only 30 percent of Catholics claim "Vatican authority" is "very important" to them. Across the board, fewer than 50 percent of those surveyed indicate that being a Catholic is "among the most important influences in their life." And among the youngest group, the millennials, a scant 34 percent place it among the most important. With regard to Mass attendance, 47 percent acknowledge they attend "less than monthly" -- a response that covers a lot of territory, from those who go to Mass every six weeks or so, to those who go only on Christmas and Easter, to those who never attend Mass at all. There is an undeniable erosion of commitment and trust here that ought to stir the bishops from their preoccupation with in-house concerns including claims that they are victims of anti-Catholic bigotry on the part of government.

I may be wrong but I submit a direct link exists between these survey findings showing the withdrawal of trust people place in church leadership and the inability of church leaders to be open, candid and transparent about their convictions. You may include here a great number of priests, religion teachers, laity working in Catholic hospitals, universities and other institutions, pastors, chancery officials and those bishops who understand what's going on. They remain outwardly discrete and noncommittal lest honest candor cost them their jobs. And everyone sees through this thin disguise. The result is often not sympathy for their plight but sad disillusionment among many Catholics and angry cynicism among others.

Latest News


1x per dayDaily Newsletters
1x per weekWeekly Newsletters
2x WeeklyBiweekly Newsletters