Opinion Installment 2: Hypocrisy–The Church Breaker

From the outset of this discussion it is important to make clear that this discussion is not intended to be an ad personam or ad hominem exposé of any kind whatsoever; I am extracting the conduct alone to illustrate my points, not the person. Any reading to establish identity with any particular person is purely coïncidental or the a priori  or post hoc intention of the reader (applying a post hoc, ergo propter hoc logic). If you can appreciate and accept these caveats, please read on.


Throughout the history of the Church, hypocrisy or some insidious form of it has broken the Church; nothing has changed even today.

By way of review: we find the definition of hypocrisy in the Catholic Encyclopedia (CE) reading: “Hypocrisy is the pretension to qualities which one does not possess, or…the putting forward of a false appearance of virtue or religion.”

Broken Church

The Encyclopedia article offers the example of “[T]he portrait of hypocrisy is drawn with appalling vividness by Christ in His denunciation of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23-24: ‘Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you tithe mint, and anise, and cummin, and have left the weightier things of the law; judgment, and mercy, and faith. These things you ought to have done, and not to leave those undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel.'”

The discussion subject continues to be suffering but this week the topic deals with how we minister to suffering others. Much of this suffering is mute because the sufferer either cannot or will not be participate  in the discussion. There may have been a presumed breach of trust, anger, frustration, etc. Free speech, many feel, is OK as long as you say what the majority wants to hear and say it in the way they want to hear it. She feels that anything she would or could say would appear be useless, fruitless (similar to my own feelings described in the example published in the introductory article of this series, relating to a colleague’s exercise of free speech and opinion, while denying the same privilege to me). I have to wonder how many sit with bated breath waiting for an opportunity to give expression to their suffering; how long had they prepared for their great debut of indignation and protest. And then wondering: What was the real point? Was it really worth it?

Of course, no names or specifics needed to be mentioned in the first part and none will be mentioned here. It’s not necessary because it’s an ancient and Everyman situation. It doesn’t seem to want to go away.

In a paper I recently read in conjunction with my research on suffering and mourning, in particular, I read that the sufferer seeks companions to accompany him/her in his/her suffering;  a significant part of the mute or expressive suffering is finding a language with which to express that suffering; in one stage, the sufferer finds a language for his/her suffering, translates it, interprets it. Victor Frankel writes that “suffering ceases to be suffering in some way once it finds meaning.” There is much suffering, much of it mute and some of it expressive. Without a doubt both the sufferer and the compassionate person offering to accompany the sufferer co-exist in a relationship of suffering;  both the mute and the expressive modes seek support from the like-minded or those willing to be like-minded, whether in the Church or outside of the Church, the wounded innocent bystanders, if you prefer, who also is suffering. Seeking consolation in itself is wholly natural for a suffering person. It’s the etiology, however, that has to be addressed, not the signs and symptoms of the suffering. And that’s the  basic premise of this discussion: are we being true, are we putting the common good before our own interests, are we proactively addressing the real problems at hand.

The examples that can be cited are myriad and everyone, I believe has at some time or another experienced them. They are all important to a greater or lesser degree in a discussion of hypocrisy in the Church. Some examples that I have heard of might include: mixed messages received from persons involved in leadership or ministry in parishes, persons pursuing training or formation in ministry, pastoral care, theological, or divinity may totally misconstrue what they have learned, claim to be practicing Roman Catholics in “good standing” in one circle but behave quite differently outside of that circle, do the “homage-circuit” (make their rounds touching base, politicking, gathering gossip, and giving advice) but for personal gain (this could apply to just about any gift, and the question of whether we are good stewards), wearing the Christian, servant, disciple armband but being really uncharitable, etc. The list can go on and does. Have we turned our backs on the sufferer(s) and yet still parade our piety? All of these represent fertile ground for a crop of potential hypocrites, if the CE definition introduced above applies.

The CE goes on to teach, “[e]ssentially its (that is, hypocricy’s)  malice is identical with that of lying; in both cases there is discordance between what a man has in his mind and the simultaneous manifestation of himself.” The article goes on to discuss the magnitude of sinfulness involved: “With the purpose of measuring the degree of sinfulness attributable to this vice, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that we must carefully differentiate its two elements: the want of goodness, and the pretence of having it. If a person be so minded as definitely to intend both things, it is of course obvious that he is
guilty of grievous sin, for that is only another way of saying that a man lacks the indispensable righteousness which makes him pleasing in the sight of God.”

Of course, motivation or knowlege plays a significant part in this sort of behavior but it would certainly be untenable and imprecise if I were to countenance being capable of looking into the minds of the suspects, or knowing their consciences. That would be hubris at best but clearly ridiculous to play divine.  But there does appear to be a facial (no pun intended, of course) discrepancy between the two personas (I use that Latin term specifically because it conveys the notion of a “mask” and playing a “role,” similar to the Greek root word of hypocrite, it means to “pretend,” to “act,” and is used to mean a mask used by an actor to portray a dramatic character. See the connection?) of many in the pews, leadership, hierarchy, wherever we might look.

Wot da...?!?!

If we make the contrast we might have three individuals, each suffering uniquely mutely, expressively, and interpretively; the first silently, not having a language or words to describe the suffering; the expressive sufferer, having the words, expresses his suffering, but in a manner [only] he can understand, finally the interpretive sufferer who takes the flow of the narratives and translates it. It’s simply not enough, nor appropriate to accuse another of being “schizoid,” unauthentic, hypocritical. Muteness doesn’t work and eventually becomes anger or frustration. If the situation is to be expressed, it must be done in language that points, that can be appreciated to point to something specific. Right. Therefore, for those who are not appreciating or understanding, it must be translated or interpreted for them. Being indirect or vague only prolongs the problem but in today’s culture, everyone wants, needs to be coddled–PC is killing honesty and us with it.

It’s almost prophetic…No! It is prophetic, literally and figuratively.  And the accusers, malfeasors continue appear as the ‘righteous-in-good-standing,” ministers to the suffering, but they concealing a very sinister side. They must have missed the messages of the Biblical Prophets and misread the Wisdom literature, totally misinterpreted the Gospels, the magisterial Ecclesiology, etc. What about the notion that a minister should be non-judgmental, empathetic, actively listening? What about simply recognizing the truth of what’s being said, the reality of what’s being described? What about the ol’ Aha! moment, recognizing the problem, accepting the diagnosis, finding a language with which to discuss your suffering and redefine it, give meaning to it, allowing yourself to be transformed and activated by it?

Very rare moment, indeed. More frequently than not, they’d rather attempt to ambush and kill the messenger! Make the prophets among us go away.

There is something creepy going on and it’s bound to affect the entire body of the Church. It’s comparable to an army whose commanders rely on the conduct and reporting of double agents. Something’s going to break down fast.

Dark Angels Among Us?

I’ve selected these several examples for discussion only because they are common, I believe, and can be conveniently discussed in the context of discussions on suffering and ministry in which many of us participate, but all the more so because we have also all are actors participating  in ongoing drama of the book of Prophets (not to mention the Gospels and their parables), who decry the very same pernicious conduct  I am positing here, and yet these examples, despite the knowledge of the teachings and the proximity of the discussions, continue that almost archetypal behavior. Incredible! If we have people like this in leadership positions, in ministry positions, in the Church hierarchy, people who are actually participating in higher level education in the Tradition, what can we possibly expect from the pews…or from those we’re losing from the hemorrhaging Church…perhaps for the very reason of the hypocrisy of Her leaders and ministers?

The Church’s HR structural support, the servant religous, the magisterial clergy are all aging and, worse still, diminishing in their numbers. They are simply spread too thin and exhausted and now have to rely on lay support. Where the religious and clergy were subject to stringent and rigorous selection, proving, and formation processes and
accepted the rule of obedience, the laiety are quite the different kettle of fish, indeed. Few are obedient, fewer still are likely to sacrifice for the sake of their ministry. Most have an agenda or are fulfilling a personal need in their ministry, totally apart from the servant attitude of ministry. Many look to  ministry later in life, after they have fully participated and taken advantage of the world and its distractions and adictions–and for some “ministry” is just another way to self-agrandizement, and visibility. These are a scandalous discredit to those who have devoted lifetimes to sacrifice and obedience, and to those who genuinely wish to live their lives in discipleship and service. Without appropriate supervision and regular examination the core rot of hypocrisy is a real threat to the integrity of an already distressed Church.

This is a serious problem. It’s all the more serious because of its insidiousness and potential adverse effects. It’s malignant because it’s so easy to overlook and to hide behind the actor’s mask of hypocrisy.  The spiritual home is broken by being pulled apart by the ideals of the magisterial institution and the knowing or unknowing contradictions of a discordant leadership.

That having been said here’s my solution: Open your mouths, honestly, constructively, and when something comes out make sure you’ve run it by the moral censor and the content sensor. If the suffering can be alleviated then work to alleviate it; if it’s unavoidable, work to give it meaning and transform.  And I’ll try to follow my own advice (if I trip, pick me up, won’t you?).

The Broken Spiritual Home

We’d be interested in knowing your thoughts on this subject. Please leave a comment.

Return to intro article.

Read the Disciple Syndrome, a related theme.


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