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April 19, 2010
It was British playwright Oscar Wilde who penned the words, "Scandal is gossip made tedious by morality."
No stranger to scandal himself, Wilde would not be surprised by the steady stream of salacious gossip our media has served up of late, from priestly pedophilia to Tiger Woods.
It is instructive to note that our English word scandal comes from the Greek word skandalon, referring to a trap or stumbling block.
A scandal was something that ensnared or tripped someone up and, even in today's moral relativism, we still like to gobble up news of "hey, that really isn't right."
On the ecclesiastical front, most of us are outraged over the Vatican's apparent suppression of information regarding abuse by priests. The questions are flying fast and furious as to who knew what and when.
Most of these questions are directed at the church itself and those in charge.
But when an Ipsos Reid poll suggested recently that as many as two million Canadians personally know someone who had been sexually assaulted by a priest, it becomes clear that ordinary parishioners have some responsibility in this business as well.
It is also a scandal that so many Canadians could know the truth and hide it, abdicating the essential teaching of the founder of their church — the teaching of Jesus that it is in knowing the truth that people are set free.
A distrust of God
This week, in over 200 Toronto area Catholic parishes, a letter from Archbishop Thomas Collins was read, addressing the abuse scandal.
Collins admitted the church is shamed not only by the acts that were perpetrated by certain clergy but also by the way it responded to these victims.
A portion of what Archbishop Collins had to say in his pastoral letter can be seen in this Context with Lorna Dueck video.
For many Catholics, the message that the church was addressing the issues and this scandal undoubtedly conveyed relief.
For others, it meant only that the church was in damage control and that this overdue response was an attempt to keep public furor from growing even louder.
In the midst of the stumbling, we should remember that, as Christians, we have every right to expect our churches to lead the way as seekers of truth. Catholic or Protestant, there certainly have been enough scandals to go around.
The church has to place the highest value on truth, since it was Jesus himself who repeatedly prefaced his words with "I tell you the truth" and who emphasized the veracity of his every word.
Christ launched a standard of truth telling that helped millions of people trust in the divine. These people then expected the church to mediate that truth and the church blew it.
What we ended up with is a distrust of God. It's a scandal all around.
Today, we have also placed our trust in governments to be responsible for truth telling.
As private citizens, we can understand the need for caution with certain types of information. We can appreciate that everyone does not have to divulge everything for truth to be served.
However, the Globe and Mail's recent ranking of the current federal government's lack of openness in regards to information should make each of us question what are the proper boundaries.
Indeed, Suzanne Legault, the interim information commissioner, recently unveiled a critical report in which she saw little evidence of the Harper government being open to releasing public information.
In effect, the federal government is saying trust us, rather than giving us the information that would help us to trust them.
Like the Vatican, the government is saying we're an institution, we have a hierarchy, we will handle this.
This is a truth-telling void that journalists are supposed to step in and fill. But journalism today is moving at such lightning speed that it's tough to know which tweet of truth to count on.
At a recent breakfast organized by the CNW Group distribution agency, public relations officials had a good laugh over the falsely announced death of Gordon Lightfoot.
His songs may have received a royalty boost before a correction was issued, but that is not the only dollar consequence on truth.
The spin agents at the PR breakfast were reminded that budget-strapped newsrooms are so hungry for facts these days that it is much easier to get your client in the news with a reliable-sounding press release. A clear drift from what we expect from journalism.
Knowing the truth is how we develop trust. We expect it from the church, because this is a principle Jesus showed us is worthwhile for everyone.
And we should also expect it from the institutions that guard our national values and well-being. Full disclosure is not only possible, it is a necessity.
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