A Catholic newspaper was recently criticized by a bishop whom the paper had held accountable. The bishop in fact felt that the paper should not use the word Catholic in its title since it did not uphold Catholic principles. It is no accident that this paper had asked the same bishop to step down after he was convicted for failure to report suspected child abuse.
This is nothing new. Back in the 1940s, Dorothy Day was told by the cardinal of New York not to use the word Catholic as part of Catholic Worker publications. It so happened that the Catholic Worker newspaper had come out in support of grave diggers striking against the Catholic diocese.
Speaking out is not encouraged in many religious traditions yet it is incumbent upon us to do so. As Huston Smith says “Religions would be fine if it weren’t for people.” Indeed, because religions are administered by people, then there is always risk of misuse of the considerable power that comes with positions of authority. Many religious authorities are consumed by that power and misuse it, whether to become wealthy or to have their way sexually. Some simply relish being self-righteous.
This opposition to protest is all very odd since the founders of most major religions were speaking out against the powers that be. Jesus Christ, for example, spoke out in no uncertain terms against church officials who were abusive and self-serving. Yet centuries later, outspoken Christians are condemned and silenced if they challenge church hierarchies.
Mind you, if you take it upon yourself to speak out, you will be judged and even shunned. Yet this very act of speaking out may be the most sacred act you can perform.
Growth comes through tension, not comfort. When organized religion becomes comfortable or when organized religion circles its wagons to defend their power base, we must rise up in challenge. This is the only way organized religion can truly survive in a meaningful way.