Philip F. Lawler
Phil is the editor of, which brings you daily news headlines from a Catholic perspective. He is the author of The Faithful Departed, a history of the Church in Boston and the scandal of the abuse of children by priests.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Better not to know?

In a comment left on Phil's post below, TSO says:
"So I'm not sure how good it is for people to know that their shepherds lack faith, especially given how tenuous the faith of the faithful is."

What do you think? The premise behind publishing The Faithful Departed is that it is better to know -- otherwise Phil wouldn't have gone there, as a faithful Catholic who has only the good of the Church at heart.

But is he mistaken? Is it ultimately destructive or not helpful for us to know?

I'd like to read further discussion on that topic (discussion from readers, as opposed to those in the Chancery, who perhaps have a vested interest in the faithful not knowing...).


Adrienne said...

Those that have a "need to know" (like myself) will find the information. The majority are just sitting in the pews hoping the homily isn't too long so they can get to breakfast.

James the Least said...

Ignorance is not bliss. A large part of the reason for the sorry state of the Church today is the average parishioner's blindness to the truth. If they knew what was really going on--if they knew that most postconciliar clerics think of their flock as a bunch of stupid, bleating sheep to be led where the cleric wills rather than innocent, vulnerable lambs to be nourished with the Way, the Truth, and the Life--they would abandon their modernist services and clerics in droves until such time as the authentic Faith was restored. (This is already happening to a large degree, but it would happen all at once were the "everything's wonderful, we are church" game not being played on them.)

James the Least said...

Oops. Kinda lost sight of where I was going in my previous response. That one applies to parishioners with a reasonably strong faith. Those with none, or a weak faith, I look at this way: it is never lawful to do an evil that good may come. Therefore, to sustain them on lies in order to save their souls is a misguided endeavor; in the end, it is impossible. If they will be saved, it will be through faith and a receptiveness to the grace of the Sacraments (presuming those are valid). It will not be through rote activity grounded in nothing. Let the truth be known, then, and let the people make their choice clearly either for God or for the devil.

art said...

I think it is a very selfish attitude. More importantly, it is harmful to the message of the Gospel when the average Roman Catholic prefers to remain in ignorance,or worse, make excuses, blame the media, or conspiracies instead of admitting there is a problem.
Those doing everything but realizing the only way to cleanse the Church, and to Salvation itself, is to accept the need for taking the hard medicine of humility and repentance.
The one thing that would do more to allow the Spirit of Christ to shine through even the most evil of circumstances they will not do.
So much for the witness to the world that the Church is really something other than different than just another big corporation more interested in in the facade of reputation, it's worldly power and prestige, and pleasing its shareholders (those who are already members of the Church.

They are putting their own comfort ahead of the Gospel of Christ.

If there is any true anti-Catholicicm out there, it only affirms the misconceptions that outsiders have had of the church all along. And keeps potential converts away.

Also, those who have been abused, know someone who has been abused, cannot pretend ignorance.

So if the commentator wants the burden of those souls lost by ignoring the problem, and those souls that that will be lost by future abuse, and by non-Catholics who look at the Church and can't stomach Christianity if that's what True Christianity looks like.....sure, go ahead and remain in your blissful ignorance.

Also, how far do you carry the "Better not to know". Is it better not to know that you yourself, and others around you are sinners in need of Salvation...that's a very painful insight...and maybe we should spare people that pain also.

Jerry Benitz said...

James hit the mark: it's about salvation of souls. If those charged with protecting the sheep will not sound the alarm, then others should. At some point, it becomes imperative. Silence, out of a false sense of respect, can become culpable. I think we're well past that point.

It is especially important for reputable Catholics to speak out. Thanks Phil.

Leila said...

To be fair to TSO, he said "I'm not sure..."

It seems that there is a fear that an already weakened faith will be snuffed out by the depressing discussion, especially when nothing is done to address the real issue.

However, I think that people want to believe, and actually are more depressed by the bishops' bureaucratic responses that are either meaningless, such as fake apologies, or positively harmful, such as "Good touch, bad touch" programs like Talking About Touching.

Pseudodionysius said...

I suggest re-reading Josef Pieper's excellent Leisure:The Basis of Culture and his insightful comments on the Capital Sin of Acedia (Sloth). I think the excessive busyness of the laity in the sacristy is a workaholism that is, at root, acedia.

I also think that Fr Jonathan Robinson hit the nail on the head in his book The Mass and Modernity. If you want to lead the orchestra, you have to turn your back on the crowd.

Pathfinder's pupil said...

I think it's better to know, but then it's incumbent on us to try to DO something about it and still act with charity. I agree with Phil's assessment toward the end of The Faithful Departed: "A loyal Catholic should protect the bishop's office by demanding that the bishop fulfills it. Failing that, a Catholic who loves the Church must demand that at a bare minimum his bishop refrains from debasing his office or bargaining away his authority to preserve his own comfort. Even if today's bishop is unworthy of his office, his authority should be protected for the sake of his successors. Eventually, as the Holy Spirit guides the Church, a worthy successor will arrive to lead the reform. Once again the history of Catholicism furnishes enough examples of successful reform to bolster hope in even the grimmest of circumstances."
Well said.

TSO said...

The readership here is a self-selected crowd with a strong faith, and so obviously aren't sympathetic to those whose faith is weaker than theirs.

This is personal to me, since my mom is planning on reading the book and her faith is weak. We might read up on what St. Thomas Aquinas wrote about scandal.

Leila said...

TSO: On the contrary, sympathetic is what I am, and scandal is what we are seeking to avoid.

You are worried about those with weak faith, and that shows that you have the whole Church in mind, which is more than I can say for many!

Speaking for myself, regarding this "strong faith" -- I will say that although some trials including near death and near financial ruin never shook my faith, this scandal -- particularly the bishops' role -- has done so, in a way I never thought possible.

That's why I asked the question raised by your comment.

I believe that "the truth shall set you free" -- but the operation seems to be a risky one!

But I have more questions:

Does the blame for the harm to those of weak faith lie with those who tell the truth or those who committed the original outrage?

What is scandal?

sue a said...

According to Thomas Aquinas scandal is the bad example that is a consequence of public sin, which leads another to sin, not the consequence of talking about sin that has already been revealed. The scandal has already happened. If the bishops had acted swiftly and decisively to discipline errant priests instead of “enabling” them then there would have been no scandal. Trying to make sense of things that are already known publicly as Phil tries to do in his book is not causing any scandal. In fact, for people of weak faith it would more likely have the effect of strengthening it. An example that comes to mind is young men who don’t want to be associated with a church, which harbors child molesters. Impotent bishops who talk about being "on a learning curve" will not edify them.