Friday, October 2, 2009

Authenticity – Those Who Live By the Sword …

To see my Musings-in-a-Minute version of “Authenticity – Those Who Live By the Sword …”, please click here.

This week, the Roman Catholic Church has been rocked by another scandal with a member of its clergy.  Bishop Raymond Lahey of Atlantic Canada has been charged with importing and possessing child pornography.  Parishioners across Canada have been shocked, angered and saddened by this latest event in the saga of child abuse by a member of the cloth.

It is an unfortunate but poignant example of what happens when a leader chooses to be inauthentic, when s/he chooses to present a persona of themselves that doesn’t represent who they really are.

In the interests of due process, we cannot yet condemn Bishop Lahey.  He has not been found guilty despite the number and scope of the allegations against him.

However, it is notable that one man, with the mistakes that he may have made in his life, can rock an organization as large and as rich in history and tradition as the Roman Catholic Church.

When authenticity breaks down, it only takes one person to rock an entire organization and devastate other people for the rest of their lives.

The events of the current week demonstrate the importance of being authentic and the importance of an organization to hold all of its leaders accountable for authenticity.

As rumor swirls around the possibility that some people within the Church knew of the Bishop’s alleged issues over 20 years ago, we are reminded more than ever:

1. If we choose to be something other than that which we are, sooner or later the truth comes out.  The longer it takes to come out, the greater the damage that results.

2. If we know of a lack of authenticity within someone else, we must find a way to rectify it before greater damage is done to the organization or more importantly, the people that it serves.

3. A lot of damage and hurt can be avoided when we choose to hold ourselves and others to be authentic.

Authenticity goes hand-in-hand with transparency, accountability and trust.

Trust is built on the belief that someone else is being authentic.  Trust develops when each person in a relationship is open and clear about who they are and what they represent in the way of values, beliefs, needs and intentions.

Transparency ensures that authenticity is actually being embraced.

Accountability demands that we or someone overseeing us can vouch for our authenticity.  If an event occurs that demonstrates lack of authenticity, accountability demands that the event will be handled appropriately, quickly and transparently.

Without this, trust cannot be established or maintained and definitely cannot be restored if lost.

Many people assume that where there is smoke there is fire and that there are many ticking time bombs still within the Church in the form of pedophiles. Some claim proof of this.

Whatever the case, it is important for any organization, whether it be the Church or any other group, to step forward and own responsibility for the event and to be totally transparent.

This goes beyond saying “we are sorry, we are hurt or we are angry”.  Words are easy to come by.

It means that if there are other priests struggling with these demons, that someone has to remove them from their position of power, authority and leadership and get them the help they need.

Otherwise, the trust is dead and the damage to others continues.

A scattered event such as this catches us by surprise.

Repeated events suggest a deeper problem that warrants a transparent solution.

We all know what happens to organizations that garner no trust.  Some of the largest corporations in the world collapsed when trust in them from customers or shareholders failed.

As a Roman Catholic myself, I would like to see the Church embrace this moment to really come clean.

This would represent an authentic moment for many faithful and not faithful alike, whether Roman Catholic or not.

Teach us from the pulpit to be honest, truthful and respectful.  Teach us to demand the highest standards from ourselves and others.

And then:

Honor us and embrace us by leading by example and ferreting out those within who struggle with their own inner demons.

Many of you who go to church or once attended church will remember this from Matthew 18:7-11 (NIV):

"Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

We are overdue for large organizations like the Church to cleanse themselves in the same way.

Otherwise, be honest with everyone and stop teaching everyone else to do this.

To not do so is to not be authentic as an organization committed to leading us morally, ethically and spiritually.

When one examines why many churches are losing parishioners, some suggest it is entirely based on a decline of faith in the 21st century.

However, more Bibles are being sold now than ever.  The self-help spirituality publication industry sells $5 billion a year in product.  Many people are clearly on a spiritual quest.

I would posit that it is a lack of trust – a model of “do as I say and not as I do”.

Many people say it is wrong to ask questions of the Church.  I once questioned a devout Catholic who told me that she believed that the abuse of the 50’s – 80’s was the fault of the children because they allowed it to happen.  When I questioned the sanity of such a remark, I was told that I was the anti-Christ if I dare question the Church.  My reply was that if this is the label that one gets when defending the rights of children, then I wear the label with pride.

I believe the faithful and others have every right to ask questions.  Any organization or leader grows stronger as a result of being challenged to learn and improve upon execution.

Trust is based on each of us being totally transparent and authentic with the other.

If dialog is ok ONLY if we don’t touch on the sensitive subjects, then we are not being totally transparent with each other.

If we can’t be transparent, there is no room for trust.

Without trust, each of us is an island unto ourselves.

Who wants to live that way?

In service and servanthood.


PS Here is an unfortunate example of a disconnect in authenticity.  Quoting Bishop Lahey from a couple of years ago:

“Sexual abuse, indeed any abuse, is wrong. It is a crime and it is a serious sin in the eyes of God. I want to assure you that for some time our diocese, like others throughout Canada, have been taking steps to protect children and youth,” Bishop Lahey told a news conference

As with many things, saying and doing are often difficult to reconcile.  We are all human, regardless of someone’s expectations to the contrary.

To see my Musings-in-a-Minute version of “Authenticity – Those Who Live By the Sword …”, please click here.


  1. Harry,
    Thank you for commenting about such a grave issue. I was in the Catholic Seminary for my High School and undergraduate years. Fortunately, the men who were entrusted with our education were men of integrity. Unfortunately, not all priests acted with the same code of conduct. Those that wounded their parishioners left them bleeding rather than forgiven in the confessional box.

    As you wrote, authenticity is about transparency and openness even when dealing with very serious and painful matters. Thank you for calling our attention to the abuse so that our children are protected.

  2. Hi Leonard,

    Thank you for your kind comments.

    Isn't it incredible that when we apply the lens of authenticity, it becomes clear that we all play a role in creating an authentic place?

    As long as mankind is on the planet, there will probably always be some who act in a manner that others define as "wrong".

    However, it doesn't get addressed unless we all embrace authenticity and collaborate to help each other grow stronger.

    As you say note - it is about transparency and openness. This is especially true when it is most difficult to embrace.

    If we can't embrace it during difficult times, how do we grow as individuals and as a society?

    If we don't, we become a society of the bullied, intimidated, apathetic or indifferent - not a great place to be and not a place for sharing, collaboration, enhanced success or love to exist.

    Thanks, Leonard - take care and create a great day!