By Patrick Lencioni

The Best Way Forward is to Face the Truth Squarely

December 2, 2020
Column: Management that Makes a Difference

I don’t even want to type the word.  It’s that painful.


My on-line dictionary provides these three initial definitions: Moral perversion; depravity.  Perversion of integrity. Corrupt or dishonest proceedings.

Few words convey something so universally ugly and sad.

Corruption lies at the heart of the worst problems in the world, from starvation to poverty to human trafficking.  All the money and good intentions in the world haven’t been able to address these problems in third world countries because of corruption among leaders of nations and organizations.

And so, it is with a deep sadness that I’ve had to accept the reality that corruption has infiltrated much of the world where I live, and in ways that I had never expected to see in my lifetime.

Whether it is overt censorship in media and education or hypocrisy among government leaders who apply different rules to themselves than the ones they force upon regular citizens, it is jarring to experience first-hand what I’ve been watching from a distance around the world.

But the corruption that is breaking my heart most right now is what is happening in the Church that I love.  Again, this is painful to admit, but I’m convinced that acknowledging it is part of the path to peace in this storm, and to avoiding the loss of faith and fidelity.  To deny what is happening is to make us more likely to accept and even comply with it, and ultimately, to grow bitter and cold toward the body of Christ, something that we must always avoid.

Let me first state that every organization or body will have corruption in it.  We are, after all, sinners, and no one and nothing outside of Heaven is perfect.  But when corruption becomes commonplace, and when it emanates from places high in an organization or institution, it is necessary to shine light on it so that more people are not misled or lost, and so that those who perpetrate it have the opportunity to repent.

What is the nature of the corruption happening in the Church right now?  (Again, this is painful to write, and I do so in humility and with the best attempt at pure intentions.)  Looking back at the definition of corruption above, one part of the current corruption is none other than moral perversion and depravity, and I’m not referring only to the horrific and sick situation related to pedophilia.  There is currently in the U.S., and other parts of the world including Rome, a rampant participation among clergy in sexual activity that is expressly forbidden in the Bible and in the Church. 

In more than a few of our seminaries, and in some religious orders, parishes and chanceries, sexual grooming and encouragement have become a serious problem over the past handful of decades.  Many young men have abandoned their vocations because of it, and others have been ridiculed or even abused for not participating.  Still others, sadly, have given into the harassment and taken part.

Rest assured that the Bishops know about this.  All of them.  They’ve either experienced it first-hand or heard from brother priests who have suffered as a result.  Some [definitely not all] may be participating, though I can’t say for sure.  But none are unaware.  So why hasn’t anything been done?

Here is where the other definitions of corruption come into play: perversion of integrity, and corrupt or dishonest proceedingsFor too many Bishops and Church officials, there is a preference for ignoring tenets of the faith that are no longer convenient or welcomed in secular society.  I understand that temptation.  No one enjoys having to tell someone who is engaged in unacceptable sexual activity, or who is affirming others who are doing so, that what they are doing will separate them from God.  Still, all of us are called to do exactly that if someone asks us for our opinion, or if we are responsible for the moral development of someone in our circle of care.

But some Bishops have decided to ignore, abandon and oppose the Church’s moral stance on sexual behavior.  That alone is a blatant assault on the integrity of the words and teachings of Christ, His Apostles, and His Church.

But it gets worse.

It would be one thing if these Bishops came out and stated their desire to change Church teaching.  They could then go about starting their own church or moving to one that fits their desires for worldly accommodation.  But that’s not what they are doing.  They are claiming to follow Jesus and His Church, but they are knowingly falsifying and distorting His words and teachings.  And this is where what they are doing becomes corruption.

Now, beyond this corrupt group of bishops, there is a much larger group who are unwilling to call out their “brother” bishops who are misleading the flock.  For some reason, these sadden me the most.  They seem to prefer getting along with their corrupt peers and avoiding rejection or criticism to speaking truth in love.

For those who say, “you don’t know what they are saying to one another in private conversations,” I humbly reply, “I actually do.”  See, I’ve asked.  A lot.  They admit that they aren’t confronting each other.  Even many of those who are troubled by what is happening simply shake their heads and shrug.  One even told me, “if I criticize what he’s doing in his diocese, he’ll criticize what I’m doing in mine.”  I wish that weren’t true.

But I understand where these bishops are coming from.  I do.

Being ostracized by peers for speaking up about matters of morality is extremely hard for anyone.  But leaders, especially in the Church, especially Bishops, must have courage.  It breaks my heart that so many do not.  And it breaks my heart that the few Bishops and priests who have the courage to speak out about all this are suffering more than they should because they are not getting the support and encouragement from their “quiet” peers.  Is it any real wonder that other abuses of Church teaching, including but not limited to pedophilia, have been ignored?

It’s interesting to note that this corruption of moral integrity and ignoring of unpopular teachings of Christ has not led to growth in the Church; even if it did it would not be a justification.  But as the leaders of the Church become more corrupt, according to the many definitions above, it only repels those who are seeking truth, beauty and goodness.  And even if that truth is difficult, inconvenient or socially unpopular, the Church cannot reject it.  Truth is truth, and it alone, He alone, will set us free.

So let us pray for our Church leaders, and speak truth to them all, in love.

The courageous Bishops and priests deserve our prayers, support and encouragement.  The timid ones need to be exhorted to have courage.  The corrupt ones need our unequivocal correction and call to repentance.  And let’s pray for pure intentions as we engage in these acts of love.

And remember that it is not only acceptable for lay people to do this, it is our duty!  We are all the Body of Christ, and throughout Church history lay people have had to call out and oppose corruption and cowardice among their leaders who acted like politicians more than heroic shepherds.  If doing this makes us unpopular, even among some within the Church we love, then let us rejoice and thank Jesus, as Peter did, for being deemed worthy to suffer for Him.

Patrick Lencioni is the founder and president of The Table Group, and a prolific author of best-selling books on business management, particularly in relation to team... MORE »

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