We are witnessing a boom in media-driven public confessions; yet another area for exploitation by reality television. The script format could have been decreed by Mills and Boon: Scandal, relentless pursuit of the sinner, tears, remorse, anguish, forgiveness. To conform to the titillation format the subject matter is usually limited to adultery, embarrassing intoxication, fraud by a respected member of the community, and more adultery. We have not, as far as I know, witnessed attention-seeking sinners pursuing the media but it’s sure to happen soon. I suggest this development has the potential to be tedious in the extreme?
No doubt the Pope agrees with me. His clergy managed to keep scandal at bay for about a thousand years. It was easy for much of that time because they were in charge. They had the power and the authority of law; they wrote it. But over time the secular voice became more important than the ecclesiastical and now the church is up to its ears defending the indefensible. As with most powerful institutions such as multinational corporations and governments, secrecy is paramount. But from the start the Catholic church had an unfair advantage on its competitors, it enshrined secrecy as a divine right. It’s pretty hard to argue against divine wisdom, sanctity, and the Holy Ghost.
In the modern context a priest’s divine right to keep secret the confession of a child molester is ridiculous. In my most thoughtful moments I am willing to believe the seal of secrecy could also have had a positive function. Perhaps as a means of maintaining professional discipline. Priests are men and men tend to give way to enmity, greed, malice, anger and envy, especially when all powerful, unless they are curbed. However, my experience tells me that the main motivation of the church was to avoid scandal and thus falling numbers and decreasing power. Such is the way of powerful institutions. The difference with the Catholic Church is that secrecy once had the authority of law.
Which is not the case with international corporations or parliaments or even relatively minor financial institutions. But while scandal costs money, careers, and seats in cabinet, silence remains the unwritten rule. So, tedious or not, that’s why we need the attention-seeking sinners.