For weeks now I’ve been following the saga of Bishop Morris’ offer-you-can’t-refuse ‘retirement’.
Most of the action has been on Catholica — well the ‘action’ that interests me anyhow! — but there’s been a buzz all around the web sphere especially here in Australia, but also internationally.
In fact, my attempts to discuss the matter on Sentire have lead me to the view that my interaction with that ‘place’ is too negative and a waste of time. While I imposed a similar self-exile from CathPews, in Sentire’s defence, I think its host is much more open to an alternative point of view than any other ‘orthodox’ web site I’ve come across. At some stage — often far too long in my case — you have to ‘shake the dust off your sandals’.
Back to +Morris. There’s much that has been written about the situation and circumstances of his demise. Much of it is fuelled by genuine anger at how a good man could be white-anted then shown the door and much has also been fuelled by a pre-existing hostility to ‘Rome’ in the wake of other issues, particularly the way it ‘handled’ clerical child abuse.
So, for the record, here are some more dispassionate observations from Andrew Hamilton’s Eurkea Street article Trust at stake in Toowoomba:
All governance relies on a passive trust on the part of the people if it is to function well. If trust is not given, laws will not be obeyed. When trust is withdrawn, societies stagnate because they lack any sense of the common good. They become polarised, and governments often rule by repression. The officials responsible for day to day governance become demoralised and unenthusiastic.
In Eastern Europe, and now in the Middle East, apparently impregnable regimes can be brought down because trust is lacking.
Traditionally, institutions have encouraged trust by depicting their rulers as strong and benign and as guided by the best of values. But these images, and the trust they engender, have been put under pressure by the development of communication technologies and the lack of control over them. Images have become personalised.
The treatment of Bishop Bill Morris risks further blurring the image of the Catholic Church. The story told of a good man who encouraged his church, who was resolute in dealing with sexual abuse, but was removed in an untransparent process, will confirm many in their distrust of the Catholic Church. They wlll conclude that it has taken the authoritarian option.
I think this erosion of trust — or what I call moral credibility — is something that can’t be measured with surveys, but I suspect it is something that has contributed to the precipitous decline in the church in the west. Unlike people living under oppressive political regimes who eventually find the courage to ‘go out onto the streets’, Catholics just leave and that’s what they’ve been doing in droves in the last few decades.
The Pope doesn’t rule a tribe or a country where it’s members feel that their membership is fundamental to self-identify. Arguably it used to be like that, but now more than ever issues of trust are the most important way the church holds onto its membership.
In two huge issues of trust — the abuse crisis and now the church’s own internal process of justice — the best secular processes are better than the Church’s. There are no ‘streets’ to go out on to in the Catholic Church and people will just not put up with a church that says one thing and does another. According to some in the church, the secular world may be going to hell in a handbasket but it sure as hell recognises hypocrisy when it sees it. The erosion of moral credibility over many years though, has meant that very few people know or care.