The price of tardiness

The public has been shocked by revelations in the mass media of bishops and archimandrites being implicated in trial-fixing scandals over the past few days. People are watching members of the Church Hierarchy hurling accusations at each other, and listening to alleged wiretaps of telephone conversations with tragicomic or hair-raising content. The Church is roiling. The main victim in this ancient, and hardly spiritual, conflict are neither the accused clergymen nor the suspended bishops. The main victim is the Church itself, an institution that is not to be identified with its leadership but with its large, nameless flock. From a certain – and theologically grounded – perspective, the Church is the people, the community. And these people are dismayed to see priests and bishops involved in shady deals, accepting bribes and generally indulging in conduct improper for the clergy. Worse, they see a hierarchy that is reluctant to purge itself. People are overwhelmed by an avalanche of tapes revealing sex scandals, to which bishops respond by saying that the evidence had been available to them for a long time. The clergy who are now forced, under the pressure of shameful revelations, to take steps to purge the Church body of corruption, in fact knew the extent and the content of the allegations but deemed it preferable to ignore the evidence. By disregarding the allegations, the clergy effectively covered up the corruption. Now that the crisis has come to a head, several bishops admit that «we knew what was going on but we failed to take any action; now we are forced to move under pressure from the media.» Which brings us to the question of why the Church Hierarchy did not step in early enough to carry out its own purge, which has resulted in the scandals now being broadcast around the country. The systematic foot-dragging of the hierarchy on this essential issue scandalizes the people, that is the lay members of the Church, and paves the way for a probe. Obviously, the allegations being made in the media are a matter for the judiciary, especially after recent reports of corruption in the justice system. Notably, whereas the judicial authorities have taken urgent steps to purge their sector of corruption, the Church elite has been dangerously sluggish. And the last thing we need these days is to feed skepticism about the country’s institutions.

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