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bishops & us

By Diogenes (articles ) | Feb 16, 2004

It's always sad, in Barnes & Noble, to see a thirty-year-old propped against the stacks while leafing through a book on How to Make Friends. If you need to ask, as the saying goes, you won't understand the answer. C.S. Lewis wrote, "That is why those pathetic people who simply 'want friends' can never make any. The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends."

The U.S. bishops' programs for "restoring trust" strike me as pathetic, and futile, for precisely the same reason. To adapt Lewis's words: the very condition of trusting a man is his total indifference as to whether you trust him or not. That is to say, we trust those who we know will tell us the truth regardless of how we'll react and keep their promises regardless of how they appear in the eyes of others. Only a confidence man asks himself, "How can I get this guy to trust me?" as a distinct endeavor from "What is the right thing to do in this situation?"

When the pertinent body is a collectivity, like a professional group, we trust the outfit that is harder on its own members than we ourselves would incline to be. "They fired Dr. Smith just for that?" "Captain Jones lost his command just for that?" When we marvel that what appear trivial lapses to those of us outside the guild are deemed career-ending offenses to those within it, and when we see that the guild not infrequently pulls the trigger on its own members even at considerable cost to itself, then we tend to think, "These are serious folks who have a serious mission -- a mission they see more clearly than we do." And note: if they surprise us often enough by a severity towards themselves we don't fully understand, we can accept it as a good faith decision if, occasionally, they show a leniency we don't fully understand. By acting consistently in conformity to objective standards -- without reference to the impression it makes on us -- they've earned our trust.

It doesn't matter, then, how many covenants are nailed to cathedral doors: every attempt to cajole trust from us is a reason for us to withhold it. As Dallas journalist Wick Allison asked the bishops two years ago: how can we trust you if you don't trust yourselves? And how can you trust yourselves if you can't remove the villains from your ranks?

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  • Posted by: - Feb. 18, 2004 11:22 PM ET USA

    Thank you for this elegant commentary. I only wish the people who needed to read it would do so.

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