Pope needs to open up
Vatican City is the smallest nation in the world, yet arguably the most influential. Recently, though, that influence is being put into question with a variety of what people are coining “Vatileaks:” a series of confidential documents being released by people within the Vatican itself. The recent leaks, however, are not the first, but merely the most recent in a long history of leaked documents from the Catholic Church.
Ever since the sex scandals began coming out in the 1980s, there has been a shadow of mistrust over the Vatican. The latest, the Vatileaks, involves Paolo Gabriele, a butler, who was found with thousands of sensitive Vatican documents in his apartment that had been leaked to an Italian investigative journalist and later published in a book. Many of the documents were between the Vatican Secretary of State and a number of ambassadors around the world and had been marked to be destroyed by Pope Benedict XVI, the current pope. Gabriele was found guilty on Sunday and will serve 18 months in prison.
Most people focus on what information is being released. The main problem, however, is the fact that people are violating the Vatican’s privacy in releasing the information in the first place. The Vatican is further injuring its public image, however, by trying to hush information up after it has already been leaked.
Secrecy used to work in the past as a way to simplify the faith and leave the decision-making to those in authority. Keep in mind that especially in religious institutions, a unity of beliefs is important and easier to maintain when there is control over the release of documents. Also, when the pope is expected to have infallible faith and morals, the Church works hard to make sure that any belief he emulates is exactly what is legitimate and official.
But in this new world of technology, where leaks have become easier and easier to pull off, this regulated approach is not working any more. Secrecy in today’s transparent and fast-paced society makes everything more suspect, even when there is nothing suspect at all. What used to be normal to keep private has now been forced into the public light. People have become afraid of the unknown more than of anything else.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the pope’s official spokesperson, has been working to make the Vatican more transparent to take care of both problems – deterring people from leaking documents and helping the Vatican seem less suspect and more accessible to the one billion Catholics around the globe looking to the Vatican as a guide. For an institution that has been around for roughly 2,000 years, it can be hard to adapt to the developing world. The Church is faced with the challenge of keeping a strong tradition alive while avoiding being termed outdated, unpractical or unrelatable.
Being more open at this time when people are beginning to distrust the silence is the most important step the Vatican could take right now.