the acquiescence of silence

During some very dark days in our parish and in our diocese, my head rolled with those of many others. We suffered under an authoritative bishop whose destructive actions reflected a dysfunctional leadership style. Our pastor was one of his minions. When I locked horns with him, life became intolerable for me and my family. We had to leave.

Friends in the parish sympathized with us, and offered many a listening ear. They also shared their own hurts and frustrations, filling us in on the continuing saga of dysfunction after we left. We also had priest friends in the diocese who were struggling with the situation. They were supportive and compassionate to us, but did nothing. The faithful dutifully went about their tasks, while silence hung like a big, stinky elephant in the room. No one stood up for us or anyone else who had been black-listed. We felt deserted by the community, and the dysfunction continued.

The reason behind the silence was fear. The result of the silence was an enabling of the destructive behavior of priest and bishop. It didn’t change until the bishop retired, dying soon after. Yet, many of the hurts remain. Many who left at the time have not returned.

Today, silence has been broken in a public and courageous manner by two groups in the USA. Seven provinces of Franciscan brothers and priests have published a letter of support for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in wake of their Vatican rebuke.

We believe that your willingness to reflect on many of the questions faced by contemporary society is an expression of your determination to be faithful to the Gospel, the Church, the invitation from Vatican II and your own religious charisms. We remain thankful for and edified by your courage to engage in such reflection despite the ever-present risk of misunderstanding.

The second show of support came from the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA) for Sr. Margaret Farley. Her book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics was censured by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The community of theologians not only supported her and her work, but wanted to clarify the distinction between the role of catechists and theologians. They recognize the importance of taking a stand now to ensure that future theologians will be given the necessary academic freedom to address hard issues without fear of reprisal.

Such an understanding of the nature of theology inappropriately conflates the distinctive tasks of catechesis and theology. With regard to the subject matter of Professor Farley’s book, it is simply a matter of fact that faithful Catholics in every corner of the Church are raising ethical questions like those Professor Farley has addressed. In raising and exploring such questions with her customary sensitivity and judiciousness, Professor Farley has invited us to engage the Catholic tradition seriously and thoughtfully.

We speak often of courageously standing up to injustice in the world. We need to show the same courage in standing up to injustices in our church. And, yes, it takes courage. But silence is too easily interpreted as acquiescence. And acquiescence enables the injustice to continue.