He looked tired. The glow which once radiated from his visage has been clouded, even amid the natural joy of Pentecost Sunday. And we also heard it in his voice, as he proclaimed in his homily, with a slight tremble, the most profound and apropos aspect of this great Feast:
At Pentecost the Holy Spirit manifests himself as fire. […] The fire of God, the fire of the Holy Spirit, is that of the bush that burned without being consumed (cf. Exodus 3:2). It is a flame that burns but does not destroy, that, in burning, brings forth the better and truer part of man, as in a fusion it makes his interior form emerge, his vocation to truth and to love.
Truth and love. They are two sides to the coin of divine humanity: living as God created us to live in Eden. Therefore, to tell the truth to or about a friend, even at the expense of losing him, is the greatest form of love. But lying to or about a friend, in order to destroy him, is the greatest form of hatred. And when a lie takes on the latter form, it is called betrayal.
Betrayal is a lie that hands over another (be + the Latin: tradere). It is the greatest sin because it goes against the very purpose of creation itself: for human beings to live together, in friendship and truth, in order that we are never alone and never unloved (cf. Gen 2:18). For this reason, betrayal is inevitably a sin that occurs under the cover of darkness, so as not to be exposed. This was the sin of Judas and, sadly it seems, this was the sin committed against Pope Benedict XVI.
It all began, publicly, on Saturday when the Vatican confirmed the news that the Pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, had been arrested in connection with the recent Vatican leaks scandal (colloquially referred to as “Vatileaks”) leading, ultimately, to the publication of His Holiness (authored by Italian journalist, Gianluigi Nuzzi). Subsequently, Mr. Gabriele was formally charged on May 29 with illegal possession of secret documents. In the wake of the news, of course, have come a plethora of interviews, announcements, and accusations. Some say certain Cardinals were involved; others deny the claim. Some say it was certain monsignors; others deny it. Still others can only say that there were whistleblowers—plural. Wherever or with whomever the driving force for all this rests, we may never know. What we do know is this: there are deeper problems here, which go far beyond the actual accusations.
The trouble is that of the anonymity and confidentiality infused into all of this. “‘It is a total mess,’ said one high-ranking Vatican official who spoke, like all others, on the condition of anonymity.” Of course, others have asserted the same: that high-ranking folks are willing to speak, so long as their names are not revealed. However, I would propose that this way of dealing with the “scandal” of the Vatican (if such accusations are true) is, in actuality, a way of hating the Holy Father and not loving him. Allow me to explain.
Imagine for a moment that such accusations are true, particularly that the Church has been uniquely corrupt since 2009-2010, and that this corruption can be traced back to the poor leadership of Pope Benedict XVI. Obviously, those unnamed whistleblowers feel that they have an obligation to defend the purity of the Church. (Sadly, because they are unnamed, one cannot confirm that obligation.) Consequently, since the Church has lived in corruption on their watch, they not only feel guilty for not having spoken out sooner but, moreover, they feel sinned against or, dare I say, betrayed. Therefore, they see themselves as victims and, as such, they are blowing the whistle to stop the corruption and, more personally, to stop the pain of the perceived sin against them.
If the foregoing, however, is true (and I believe many of the whistleblowers will admit that a troubled conscience and battered spirit led them to take such action), then the only way forward is the way of truth and light, not accusation and anonymity. Why? Precisely because sins, if they are real and not merely perceived, are to be dealt with face-to-face, as Jesus describes in Matthew 18; and, if confrontation fails, then we are to take a few objective witnesses with us (those who are clear-headed, rational, and observed the whole thing), in order to win our brother back; and, if that too fails, then we take it to the Church for her judgment. However, when we reverse the steps and remove the names, we fail to live under the protection of this divine order for reconciliation and, in turn, we leave ourselves exposed to all sorts of demonic threats (the result of chaos and disorder). Very simply, the way of anonymity and confidentiality is the way of darkness, not light; it is the way of betrayal, not friendship; it is the way of hatred, not love. And if we live that way, but say we have fellowship with God, we lie and do not practice the truth (1 Jn 1:5-7).
It goes without saying that I desperately wish this was a new thing for the Church, but unfortunately it is not. Pastors have been, are, and ever shall be easy targets, and, ironically, the worst offenders are other pastors. This is why St. Paul, in giving instructions to the Church, prescribes that one needs to supply double the witnesses (1 Tim 5:19) if one is going to bring charges against a pastor. This does not mean, of course, that pastors are always faultless or, worse yet, that the Vatican is completely innocent in this matter. Pastors are sinners and the Holy See’s guilt is yet to be determined. Instead, it only seems that if these whistleblowers wish to love their Holy Father, they might begin by offering their names, their data, and their ears: names to live in the light, data for the sake of truth, and ears to listen to what might be a uniquely pastoral explanation for all the perceived leadership troubles in the Church. Without such strides, however, one must wonder if these whistleblowers are actually interested in the well-being of Holy Church and, especially, of Pope Benedict XVI.
Joshua Genig is pastor of The Lutheran Church of the Ascension in Atlanta, GA. He recently completed a Ph.D. in systematic theology at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.
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