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The truth shall make you upset

Shooting the messenger has never been an effective way to deal with bad news

The truth shall make you upset
Father William Grimm MM, Tokyo

April 3, 2012

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In the play Antigone by the Greek dramatist Sophocles a guard comes to King Creon to tell him that someone has defied his command that no one must bury the slain rebel Polynices. The guard admits to being a reluctant messenger. In fact, none of the guards was willing to bring word. "So lots were thrown for who should go, and by bad luck I won." Even in 441 BC people knew that bearers of bad news are not popular, even — and perhaps especially — when the news they bear is the truth. The media are often attacked for publishing the truth. That is nothing new. In the 13th century, the English monk Matthew Paris said, "If you speak or write truth about powerful men, they become your enemies." The Church is not immune to this tendency. Those who do anything other than extol the virtues of the Church are often treated as traitors. Church news agencies like UCAN are especially liable to be chided for exposing our communal blemishes, as if covering up the truth were a favor to the Church or Christ. A recent example is a comment of Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s spokesman, in response to news coverage of repeated leaks of documents that allege corruption in various Vatican offices. The Vatican has announced an investigation into what is being called "Vatileaks," but as yet there has not been a publicized investigation of the charges of corruption contained in those leaks. In fact, neither Fr Lombardi nor any other Vatican official has denied the authenticity of the leaks. Instead, they have attacked the messengers who have reported them. Speaking of the leaks during a Vatican Radio broadcast, Fr Lombardi said: "They create confusion and bewilderment, showing the Vatican and the Catholic Church in a bad light. Reporters should use reason — something not everyone in the media tends to do." In other words, the problem is not the corruption the leaks highlight and the need to do something about it. The problem for Fr Lombardi and many others is that the reporting of the truth by the media shows "the Vatican and the Catholic Church in a bad light." But, if the Vatican looks bad in the light, it makes no sense to blame the light. "Confusion and bewilderment" are not being caused by the media, but by a Church structure that is apparently not living up to our ideals. Since the truth will not disappear, "shooting the messenger" will only lead to worse problems in the future. When the Boston Globe newspaper exposed the extent of cover-ups of sexual abuse of children by clergy, it was accused of anti-Catholic bias. When the problem became too public to deny, some in the Vatican blamed it on the English language, claiming that it was a problem of English-speaking nations. Of course, that bit of nonsense did not shut off the spotlights. Now, finally, the Vatican has admitted that the problem is Church-wide and that Church-wide actions must be taken to face it. Had the media not created "confusion and bewilderment, showing the Vatican and the Catholic Church in a bad light," steps towards an essential and overdue reform in the Church would not have taken place. We will never get rid of sin in the Church. Perhaps admitting that and therefore admitting that the Church is composed of human beings rather than angels might attract men and women hoping that there is place for them and their humanity in God’s Church and even in God’s kingdom. Bad news about the Church can only frighten those who are guilty or those who are afraid that their own faith in God or the Church is too weak to face the light of truth. Father William Grimm is a Tokyo-based priest and publisher of UCA News, and former editor-in-chief of Katorikku Shimbun, Japan’s Catholic weekly    
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