Opinion: The power of silence

I’ve just returned from St Peter’s Square where I was packed in shoulder-to- shoulder with 150,000 others for Benedict’s final general audience.

Saying farewell to a Pope who hasn’t actually died makes this experience of farewell a rather unusual one – at least it hasn’t happened for centuries.

Benedict has said clearly that he will spend the rest of his days “hidden from the world” and in prayer and silence. This has made me think a lot about the power of silence, and how it can be used for good or for harm.

Sadly, over centuries, the Vatican has developed the art of placing itself behind walls of secrecy, silence and anonymity. Silence has been used as an instrument of power, and with harmful effects.

Visits of inquiry into dioceses or into the conduct of Bishops in the dioceses have frequently been followed by no report; letters written by people to different Vatican departments often receive no reply or no acknowledgement; anonymity surrounds many of the accusations made about priests, religious or laypeople denounced to the Vatican; people called to explain themselves have often complained of not receiving the information they rightly deserve.

This silence is not the silence of professional confidentiality.

This is something else.

It’s a bad way of dealing with people, and this sort of silence becomes an instrument which harms.

Tomorrow Benedict withdraws permanently into the shadows to live a life of prayer and silence. He probably won’t be seen again or heard again; but no one can ignore him while he remains a silent presence in the heart of the Vatican which he found difficult to cleanse or govern.

This silence might well be an instrument of healing for the Church.

– Fr Craig Larkin s.m., who is based in Rome, writing exclusively for CathNews NZ Pacific

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