Like a sieve. . .

If your attention — like mine — has been utterly transfixed by the WikiSpooks leaks of the 2010 Receieved Text of the Roman Missal translation, you might not have noticed that the Catholic Church isn’t the only organization of global influence currently leaking like a sieve. Massive amounts of top-secret, top-level U.S. Embassy cables were leaked in the past few days via WikiLeaks — which seems at the moment to be embargoed and unreachable. Coverage of the latter leak, including a massive amount of archiving of the embargoed information is available via The Guardian.

If you thought the present “Roman Missal Crisis” (as I’ve seen it called in a couple of forums) is wreaking havoc in your world. . .

As Jeffrey Tucker has written, “Transparency is not the enemy of truth; it might even be its precondition.” That’s a lesson still to be learned, inside the church and out.

UPDATE 12/01/2010: WikiLeaks, which has been unavailable for much of the day, has become available again.


  1. As some may know from my previous comments, the World Values Survey is a worldwide network of social scientists studying changing values and their impact on social and political life. It has carried out representative national surveys in 97 societies containing almost 90 percent of the world’s population. These surveys show pervasive changes in what people want out of life and what they believe. They have executed five waves of surveys, from 1981 to 2007.

    The leadership at the University of Michigan consists of some political scientists who are very much interested in how democracy works, and how societies become more democratic. They see the nature of authority as having changed from traditional authority in agrarian societies, to bureaucratic authority in industrial societies to the authority of personal experience in postindustrial societies.

    One of the main points of the authors is that formal democratic institutions are less important than the resources and informal processes that make them work. This may apply even to Catholicism which has only a few democratic institutions and processes among its elites (e.g. national bishops conferences).

    A very good, brief and readable summary of this is found in:

    The Role of Ordinary People in Democratization, by Welzel, C. & R. Inglehart from
    Journal of Democracy, 2009 available in PDF format at

    “Human empowerment is becoming an increasingly important driving force behind democratization. Although elite bargaining was central when representative democracy first emerged and still plays an important role, the development of “effective democracy” reflects the acquisition by ordinary people of resources and values that enable them effectively to pressure elites. The importance of this process, called “human empowerment,” is generally underestimated.”

  2. Thanks – these are excellent resources and it would be helpful to integrated their insights into reflections/studies of the structure of the church.

  3. There is an alternative view which says that, in a democracy, transparency is always a benefit, but in a monarchial system, which the Church is, the ability to “speak with one voice” is undermined by publicizing the process by which results are reached.

    Thus, bishops meetings being broadcast or recorded verbatim has allowed people to side with certain bishops over other bishops. It used to be that the results of a vote, whichever way it went, were the voice of the bishops. Not now. It’s every bishop for himself, because they are being scrutinized and judged not as part of a collective that speaks with one voice any longer. And one has the problem of reporting which takes some voices over others, like EWTN, which was cutting to commentary whenever the bishops they didn’t favor had the floor.

    Personally, I think the monarchial system leaves a lot to be desired. But let’s not imagine there’s no cost to changing it. We may be on the verge of a bigger change than anyone intended.

  4. Rita,

    The strong point of the WVS article is that institutional change in itself is less important for democracy than the changes that take place in ordinary people.

    Political elites can set up democratic institutions and have people vote, and still maintain dictatorial rule. If the people are so caught up in making ends meet, or do not have self expressive values, or do not have the education which enables them to create change, or do not have the resources (money, internet, social networks), then elites will still have their way.

    We Catholics spend far too much time focusing upon institutional change (e.g. how to choose bishops, the qualifications for priesthood, accountability, etc.). The real changes toward democracy are (or are not) taking place among the people. A lot of the institutional changes proposed for Catholicism have disadvantages. One does not have to look far to see those disadvantages.

    Priests who are interested in change are often very willing to let the lay people (who have much less to lose) lead that change, however they are very concerned that laity are unwilling to give the time and effort necessary to make change happen and to remain committed for the long term. When the particular crisis that motivates laity to action (sexual abuse, parish closings, etc.) dies down, priests still have to live with consequences of their participation while lay people go on with their lives. Even in program suggestions for parishes, staff have to be concerned about getting stuck with work once enthusiasm dies down.

    We, the people, have to change before institutions will change. Whether in government, business or the church, we get the institutions and the quality of management that we are willing to put up with. If we want better institutions and better management we have to put time and resources into it.

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