The Essential Missing Principle for Reformation of the Church
By Stanley Zir
June 13, 2002
In the wake of the historic meeting of American Catholic bishops in Dallas concerning the sexual abuse scandal in the Church, a grand window of opportunity has concurrently opened for a reformation of the hierarchy and governance of the church. The bishops recognize the growing frustration of the Catholic people and realize that they must take some kind of decisive action. Catholic people have had it with the institutional corruption that has allowed sexual predators to be coddled and protected in the name of God. This systemic corruption has perpetrated cover-ups, censorship and violations of Catholic people's rights resulting in the reputations of all priests being smeared by the actions of a few. As a result many people have lost their trust in the hierarchy and are dissociating themselves from the Church, but not from their faith.
Resolving such disputes as the zero tolerance policy on sexual abuse, celibacy requirements and homosexuality issues that have surfaced will not solve the deeper fundamental problems which are not only afflicting the American Catholic Church, but are endemic in the majority of religious and secular institutions as well. Sexual abuse and cover-ups are in no way an exclusive monopoly of the Church. They are merely the surface phenomena of a deeper dilemma. This dilemma is universal and is a product of the omission of the essential principle, which is the protection of the people's rights in these institutions.
I am watching the events of this upheaval in the Church unfold with great
interest, as both religious leaders and Catholic people alike seem to be lost for an answer. I am not of the Catholic faith, but in terms of my own struggle with institutional reformation, I find an affinity with the Catholic people. From my perspective, the Church abuse scandal is merely the tip of the iceberg revealing a glimpse into the much greater threat to human dignity and our American way of life that this institutional corruption is perpetrating.
This article is not being written so you can take up my cause with the SGI, a world-wide religious Buddhist organization of 12 million people, with whom I am remonstrating, but so you understand the same fundamental principles that have governed the SGI for over 40 years are mirrored in the institutional structure of the Church. Victorious America, the web site that I founded, www.victoriousamerica.com, began as a remonstration with the SGI and has evolved into an in-depth study of the omission of the one fundamental principle of human rights in religious and secular institutions. It imparts a perfectly clear understanding of this phenomenon and utilizes the SGI organization as the prototype of a structure that produces an unholy alliance for those who wish to cover up their abuses of power. It also presents the solution for change in order to protect the people and their faith of choice.
Anyone with critical thinking faculties can sense the moral decay and corruption that proliferates from a religious institution top heavy with an unaccountable hierarchy. Their major weapon of control is using the religious doctrine for spiritual blackmail to preserve the status of the leaders. Since they claim that they are accountable to God, they don't have to be accountable to the very body of believers that they serve. Rather it's the believers who must be accountable to the religious authorities to be judged as faithful and free from sin.
Such an erroneous institutional thinking has encompassed most all religious institutions causing many good hearted people to flee to preserve their own sanity. One example of this thinking surfaced when Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law intoned that the Church is not a democracy, in response to efforts to uncover his years of protecting and covering up chronic sexual predators in the Church preying on children.
For me, the Church or the SGI organization is supposed to function for the service of the people only in the name of the founder of the faith. Both Jesus Christ and Nichiren Daishonin in Buddhism, preached directly to the people for their salvation and enlightenment, respectively. Therefore the lay believers in the church and the SGI are in reality given the ultimate responsibility to look over its affairs especially if the authorities are delinquent in their responsibilities to serve their people.
Please don't misconstrue this article as an attack on the Church or on any other religious institution, rather it is the evil that has attacked these institutions from within through a misguided process in the organizational structure, that I am pointing out. This institutional process has omitted the one great principle of accountability of the religious authorities to the people. This principle of accountability is the cornerstone to maintain civility between those that have the honor to serve the people and the people themselves. As I mentioned in my writings, it is the very cornerstone of democracy as well. It also acts as the universal principle that is essential to protect the individual rights of both the lay believers and the priests as well, thus maintaining the dignity of all without exception. Therefore this one principle must never be denied to the lay believers by the hierarchy.
One thing I found out from my own experience is that activating this principle in a religious institution will not only keep it free from abuses and scandals but will also attract a higher caliber leadership to further the aims of the faith. Implementing this principle in the by-laws would allow the formation of a watchdog committee to monitor the actions of the religious leaders and give the lay believers greater voice and control over the affairs of the institution. Thereby the leaders would be made directly accountable to the membership. A mother of young children who sits on this committee would certainly drive out pedophile priests and turn them over to legal authorities without hesitation. Any seminarian who might dwell on such depravity will know well in advance that they need not apply to a Church with such a watchdog committee. Thus a religious leadership accountable to a higher standard set by the people they serve, will be born, and they will be given total credibility and trustworthiness in the society they minister.
If the Church leadership has courage enough to form committees made of priests and worshipers from each congregation and at the end of the day, the final accounting will be in the hands of the people, then the cover-ups and the abuse scandals will stop. If they won't implement this change, then it's up to the Catholic people to take matters into their own hands to demand change. Nothing less than this change will do, or the cover-ups and scandals will continue with a new face. If this one principle cannot be exercised by the people in a religious organization because it is omitted from the by-laws, corruption of its leaders will follow as sure as the tide from the ocean will come in to shore.
Finally the door has opened and now might be the only time that the people of the Catholic Church can grab the reins to make the changes necessary to protect the Church and its teachings. It seems as though God trusted the people with his scriptures and believed in them, now it's the priests' turn to trust the people, since the people have put unlimited trust in them for centuries. Such a small change to make the priests accountable to the people directly for their abuses, will not destroy the church but will finally put its house in order. Is it not ironic that it was the uncensored free press, a secular institution, that acted as the agent through which editorials, inquiries and exposés were made to initiate transformations in the Church that otherwise would have probably remained shrouded in secrecy, behind closed doors with cover-ups for years to come, while worshippers continued to suffer in silence. I wrote this article
at the time of the Catholic bishops conference because I deeply felt that this is the answer to your prayers.
Stanley Zir is a freelance writer and the founder of
Email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2002 Stan Zir