21 March 2018

Openness. (1)

It is a natural human instinct to wish to keep tabs on those who exercise authority. Ultimately, we want them to be accountable for what they decide and order. And when authority is exercised in and through a committee, we naturally want to know who said what; how many persons voted for a particular outcome; how a consensus was reached.

Perhaps Minutes should reveal such mysteries?

Minutes, however, are a problem. Because they put a great deal of power into the hands of those who write the minutes ... or, more likely, of the Person in whom it lies to say "Perhaps you might let me have a quick look at your draft of the minutes before you finalise them and send them round ...".

So, perhaps, a meeting should be open to the Media and the Public, like the American Episcopal Conference, whose activities can be recorded by journalists and published, in the same sort of way as the British Parliamentary Hansard.

But, human nature being what it is, if a meeting is all open and above board, before you can down a G and T, there will be another, unofficial, private, ad hoc group which, unaccountably, fixes what will happen at the open meeting. If that group is then formalised, the next stage is for it to be added to 'so as make it more representative'; and you reach the stage at which authority decides that another much smaller, unofficial, private, ad hoc group would be useful in order to ...

You get the point. Administrators crave the existence of informal groups behind closed doors which will do the real fixing before the 'formal' fora do their public and minuted business.

There is no answer to this problem. Anybody who thinks there is, is living in a fool's paradise, and has certainly never worked in anything like an English Public School.

But there are ways of attenuating the disadvantages of such inevitable recessions of decision-making.

Episcopal Conferences should follow the praxis of the Americans, and be open.

I became convinced of this two or three years ago, when the CBCEW called upon the Ecclesia Dei Commission to 'reconsider' the text of the Good Friday Prayer for the Jews in the Extraordinary Form, as it had been personally rewritten by Benedict XVI only a decade previously. Since this announcement seemed to me, and still seems, thoroughly outrageous, disgraceful, and improper, for a large number of reasons which I need not now repeat, it convinced me that data should be available about who moved the motion, who said what, how many favoured it, how many opposed, and how many abstained because they had not the faintest idea of what it was really all about.

It is possible that an even more important topic may, over the next months, come before some Episcopal Conferences. The still-simmering Amoris laetitia problem ... call it Adulterygate, or what you will.

I believe the Holy People of God deserve to be allowed to know who and how many bishops favoured what; and, moreover, to read any papers, memoranda, letters, which circulated in a Conference before its meeting. And if a repeatedly amended resolution eventually emerges as a consensus, the process of such evolution should not be opaque.

OK, there will still be secret cabals in (as the English used to say) smoke-filled rooms. We shall not see everything. Would-be fixers will still feverishly perform their private would-be fixing. But there will be data indicating where, even if at only one particular point in the process, each participant was prepared to take personal responsibility, before God and before God's people.

In his great explanation of where a Christian should look to find the Truth, S Irenaeus made great play of the public teaching of each bishop. Publicity offered an objective check that a bishop was not ... horror of horrors ... innovating upon what his predecessors in his See had taught since the Apostolic depositum fidei.


Capt. Morgan said...

Father, that same problem exists in every governing body in the US all the way down to the smallest municipality. Closed door sessions are the rule when important decisions about spending the peoples money are concerned. And it seems all diocesan decisions follow the same template. Politics is a spawn of Satan! Whether it be public or ecclesiastical.

Nicolas Bellord said...

The sheep are hungry but they are not being fed.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Bishops should remember they are bishops for particular Churches and answerable to those Churches.
Maybe the Churches, or at least the Presbyters of those Churches, need to learn to hold their bishops to accountability. It is something we could learn from the East.

Deacon Augustine said...

Fr. H, I believe you are right to be concerned about what may be coming down the pipe in a certain conference in particular. I have detected signs recently that pressure is being applied from somewhere to arrive at some sort of consensus on Amoris Laetitia - and the pressure is not being applied to achieve consensus in the same sense and meaning that we receive from the Deposit of Faith.

Unfortunately signs of wilting have been detected from even the most unexpected quarters. I believe the line of attack they will take will be to start out from the premise articulated by a rather dubious personage that "the great majority of Catholic marriages are invalid", and this due in large part to the lack of faith of those entering into those marriages.

Any wisdom you could impart as to why that premise is false and, indeed, a recipe for disaster, may prove to be very strategically important at this time.

God bless you for your fidelity.

Adam 12 said...

I once was on a committee to establish a public access TV station in a community. Certain commissioners were opposed to it because they feared having their proceedings broadcast. The League of Women Voters wanted to be present when we had our private discussions, which basically consisted of making political evaluations of various people and coming up with workarounds in order to get the access channel approved.

My point is that in every meeting people need to have the ability to think out loud with others in sympathy and strategise. Decisions need to be public but complete transparency has the potential of being stultifying and paralyzing. The other side, of course, is that privacy cloaks selfish motives and personal agendas.

Sadie Vacantist said...

The there are two ways forward in respect of AL:

1) The praxis of regular communion needs to be reversed as no longer meeting the pastoral needs of the contemporary Church. This experiment by Pius X has run its course.

2) All marriages should now be annulled. Then a programme of marriage vow renewal be initiated using the Easter renewal of baptismal vows as a model. This will flush out all the bad debts whilst conserving the good through the renewal programme.

Anonymous said...

"I have spoken openly to the world ... I said nothing in secret" (John 18:20 20).