John Sainsbury: Catholicism’s Culture of Secrecy





[John Sainsbury is a professor of history at Brock University, and a member of the congregation of the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria.]

In April, Bishop James Wingle abruptly quit his post as head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Catharines, Ont., and disappeared overnight from public view....

The mystery of his whereabouts was resolved on July 31 — the same day that a front-page story appeared in the St. Catharines Standard under the banner headline “Where on earth is Bishop Wingle?” In an email message to Monsignor Wayne Kirkpatrick, the temporary administrator of the diocese, Wingle wrote that he was living in Jerusalem (there had been unconfirmed reports of his presence there), matter-of-factly revealing that he would now spend time “doing some writing and research on a catechetical-pastoral project.”...

The circumstance underscores a familiar problem. The Church is notoriously resistant to the release of any information about the conduct of its clergy. The cry of “cover up” is the predictable public response, yet church policy is rooted in the centuries-old notion that any involvement in the spread of scandal is a serious offence on the grounds that scandal reveals sinful behaviour to the laity, who might then be induced to imitate it.

There might have been a practical basis for such a position in the Medieval era. But in the modern era, the silence of the Church leaves the spread of information — true, false, or simply unverifiable — in the hands of others, who do not always have the best interests of the Church at heart....


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