Question: Anitha Mohan
“You cannot hide what is wrong and move on as if nothing had happened to defend your good name at all costs: charity must always be lived in truth, in transparency, in that parrhesia that purifies the Church and keeps it going on.” These are the words of Pope Francis to the Permanent Synod of the Ukrainian Catholic Church on Friday, July 5, 2019. Will you explain the significance of this statement?
Answer: Jacob Parappally MSFS
Openness to truth is dangerous. One who stands for truth will be persecuted and crucified. It is obvious that power and positions of worldly nature thrives on with half-truths, apparent truths and even blatant untruth. Only openness or transparency in relationships can bring about communion. The mystery of the Church is that it is the Body of Christ and image of the absolute communion of the Trinity. Created in the image and likeness of the Trinity or the Absolute Communion every Christian has the vocation to actualize it in the most profound and possible manner in the community of the Church. Therefore, it is obvious that the Church as a mystery of communion and an organized body to actualize its nature of being a communion cannot afford to do anything that reduces the quality of its communion or destroys communion itself. Lack of transparency or lack of courage to be truthful in its life and functioning as an organized body can make the Church an anti-witness to Christ and undermine the credibility of its teaching. Indeed, upholding of truth without fear or favour, and proclaiming it with boldness and openness (parrhesia) can purify the Church of its tendency to hide inconvenient truths for fear of scandal and other unfavourable consequences for its credibility and authority.
Commitment to Truth makes the Church Missionary
In his address to the Permanent Synod of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in July, 2019, Pope Francis expresses his concerns about preserving and nurturing the Divine vocation of the Church to be the sacrament of Christ who is truth itself. It is the responsibility of every Christian believer, especially, the authorities of the Church who are called and consecrated to live and proclaim truth who sometimes hide it or reveal truth partially or even abandon truth in the name of avoiding scandal! In the history of the world we find that the Church is accused of not siding with truth. Sometimes it is attacked for untruth or siding with those who are known to be unscrupulous in their manipulation of facts for their private interests at the cost of the credibility of the Church. Though the mystery of the Church is beyond human comprehension, what is revealed about the Church is that it is a community of all who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and God and express their surrender to Him through their faith and baptism. Since it is not primarily an institution or a structure but a community of believers there may be among them Christian believers in general and their leaders in particular who succumb to the temptation of committing sinful and criminal activities.
Following the law of the land any Christian who engages in criminal activities would be punished appropriately. Certainly, the sinful and criminal activity of one believer affects the entire Church as all the members form one body. As Paul puts it, the pain of one member of the body affects the entire body. But any crime of a Christian affects negatively the Church’s communitarian witness to the values of the gospel and thus affects the mission of the Church. If the Christian believer who commits a crime or any sinful activity is an ordained leader of the community and if it has not become somehow public the tendency of both the faithful and the higher authorities of the Church is to hush it up for fear of scandal. Not only in the case of the individual but institutional or structural sins and crimes too are often hushed up for the sake of a possible scandal. Pope Francis is pointing his finger at this wrong when he says, “You cannot hide what is wrong and move on as if nothing had happened to defend your good name at all costs.” To preserve the so called ‘good name’ of the Church, any means are employed. Most of those means are unjustifiable and wrong. The Church should never adhere to the principle that states ‘the end justifies the means!’ Means must be as pure and true as the end.
One can narrate a number of good purposes for which inconvenient truths are sacrificed. The first among the ‘good purposes’ is to avoid any scandal. Any scandal would affect the credibility of the Church and weaken the faith as well as the regard and respect of the believers in the authority of those who lead and guide them. It would make the Church a laughing stock amidst the non-believers. It would affect the work of evangelization. Many such arguments are put forward by the Church authorities and even by some lay people who seeminly have the good of the Church in their minds and hearts. All their justifications for hiding the truth concerning sexual abuses by the clergy and other illegal and immoral activities committed in the name of the Church by individuals or by a group of individuals for their selfish interests cannot be hidden to avoid scandals. In the history of the Church we find that such sinful and criminal activities could not be hushed up for long. When they were out in the open and exposed sometimes by the enemies of the Church they had done more harm to the witnessing mission of the Church. The Church fails Christ and His Kingdom when it does not stand for truth and justice or attempts to hide truth for fear of scandal. The Church must always condemn all criminal activities done by its members and at the same time remain compassionate and charitable to the person who commits such unchristian activities.
The sinner must always be loved while condemning the sinful and criminal activities. The Church’s proclamation of truth and justice is out of love following Jesus her Lord and Master. It is said that Jesus denounced and condemned the irreligious and ungodly activities of the Scribes and Pharisees because He loved them. He wanted their repentance and conversion. He sided with the poor and the oppressed because He loved them. To speak the truth with love is the mission of the Church. For this, the Church needs to listen to the Spirit who guides it into all truth by being self-critical and open to renewal so that its structures adhere to the gospel values of justice and truth and it must always be seen too as standing for these values. Even though it is painful and shameful to hear about the failure of its members to remain faithful to their Christian vocation to live and witness to the values Jesus lived and died for, it is absolutely necessary for the Church to denounce all forms of corruption and untruth both within the Church as well as in the world. The Lord expects the Church to be the conscience of the world and fulfill its prophetic vocation of witnessing to the presence of God in the world and to prophetically challenge everything that stands against the values of God’s reign.
Call of the Church to be Open and Truthful
With prophetic courage and authority Jesus accused the religious leaders of His time for their hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is untruthfulness in action. When religious leaders and the religious systems are corrupt and untruthful they manipulate religious teaching, laws and regulations for their private interests. They will be supported by those who benefit from such manipulation of religion making the temple a market place and a den of thieves. Of course, Jesus had to pay for His stand against the religious system which had become corrupt and oppressive. The apostles had the boldness or parrhesia to proclaim the truth and for the same they suffered persecution for the same (Acts 4:13).
When Pope Francis uses the word parrhesia which means candidness, openness, frankness etc., in the context of the need of the Church to purify itself, he also affirms that the Church must always remain truthful to its vocation as the sacrament of Christ, the light of the world. There are situations in which the Church can be and is contaminated by the values of the world which are contrary to the values of the gospel. In the world we find governments, political parties and many secular organizations and selfish individuals who manipulate truth and use blatant lies to make people believe in their words and actions and secure their support for their nefarious inhuman activities. Claiming that they are committed to human welfare, they device means to destroy humans and deplete the wealth for their selfish interests. In such situations we need prophetic voices with parrhesia to purify the Church, the Body of Christ and to keep it holy and pure. Such parrhesiaor openness in speaking truth is dangerous to the Church as a whole and in particular to the prophet who speaks truth with love. But the Church has no option but to speak the truth with charity.
Michel Foucault, a French philosopher of our times, analyzed the Greek word parrhesia says, “Parrhesia, then, is linked to courage in the face of danger: it demands the courage to speak the truth in spite of some danger. And in its extreme form, telling the truth takes place in the “game” of life or death”. The Church’s openness to truth and the proclamation of it can be a risky affair. But it can only bring life to the Church and make it truly dynamic. Hiding the truth or hushing up criminal activities would make the Church ineffective in its mission, hypocritical in its preaching and inauthentic in its life. Therefore, the concern of Pope Francis about being transparent in all aspects of the Church’s life is crucial for its life and mission.
The movement of God’s chosen people who entered into a covenant with God to be his “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” ( Exodus 19:6) called to bring other nations to God failed in their mediating function became an oppressive system of religion disfiguring the compassionate face of God with elaborate rules and rituals. Behind the veil of mystery the priesthood of the Old Testament profaned God’s liberative actions and merciful presence by caring only for their private interests instilling fear in the minds of the people by presenting a punishing and revengeful God. In the Church of the NT times as it is today when the priesthood of the people of God and the ministerial priesthood of the leaders of the Christian community needs to be credible witness to the Truth that sets everyone free and proclaim it by prophetically challenging with parrhesia or with openness and boldness its own members and the structures in spite of the possibility of any scandal that may arise. Then it can challenge the structures and systems to remain transparent in their commitment to the welfare of humans and nature.