Friday, October 16, 2009
The New York Times has found another Catholic priest scandal to explore. On today's front page, the paper offers a "rare look at the lengths the Catholic Church goes to to keep clergy members' clandestine relationships hidden." The article documents the sexual affair between Fr. Henry Willenborg, a Franciscan, and a woman he was counseling. Along the way, the reporter notes that these relationships are "hardly unique" and reveal how the Church was "tightfisted" with its money when the child produced by the affair developed cancer. (Given the Church's endless supply of money, greed is the only possible explanation.) There are plenty of questions to ask from a journalistic standpoint (As one reader asked in the comments, If a priest's consensual affair warrants the front page, why didn't the Times deem the sexual affair of a major presidential candidate, John Edwards, newsworthy?), but I'm interested in the Church's handling of this mess. For now, one question jumps out at me: why does the Church insist on confidentiality agreements in these cases? Isn't transparency essential in a situation like this, not only in terms of the confidence we place in the clergy, but in terms of the clergy members' own accountability? The surrounding culture, including the New York Times, would have a harder time shouting "Scandalous cover-up!" whenever sin among the clergy is discovered if the Church stopped acting as though the clergy are sinless.