Looking to the Eastern Church for Reform in Rome

In Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses, Adam A.J. DeVille considers possible reforms to Roman Catholicism that respect tradition while reducing abuse and increasing accountability. The book’s strength is that while it challenges many common assumptions about the Church, it does not fall into the traps of either presuming that the structure of the Church can never change or ignoring the importance of tradition. Rather than considering reforms completely foreign to Catholic tradition, DeVille mines the structures of churches in communion with the Roman Catholic Church to identify reforms that could reduce abuse. While I cannot say that I agree with everything in the book, many of DeVille’s suggested reforms are so manifestly helpful, yet seldom discussed in the public discourse on abuse in the Church, that Catholics should take this book seriously.

To understand where DeVille comes from, you must appreciate the distinction between the Eastern Catholic Churches and the Latin Catholic Church. DeVille serves as a professor of theology with a mandatum from his local Latin Catholic Bishop, but also received ordination as a subdeacon in the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church, one of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches that, along with the Latin Catholic Church, make up the communion of Catholic churches. While you mostly hear about the Latin Church, also called the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Churches are in communion with the Latin Catholic Church and the Pope, though with many unique structures and traditions that are foreign to your typical Latin Catholic parishioner.

Drawing on unique, and often little known, structures of Eastern Churches, DeVille explores four areas where the Latin Church could consider Eastern practices to address abuse concerns. This approach makes sense, as he notes, “[t]here is no coherent theological reason why these structures might be good and permissible in one or more Eastern Catholic churches, but somehow forbidden to the Latin Church.”

Sensibly, DeVille presents his ideas in order of increasing human cost and decreasing priority. The lowest cost to experience and expectations, but with greatest opportunity for reducing abuse is the reform of parish councils to give lay representatives oversight authority for their parishes as opposed to just serving on an advisory body. Comparatively more costly with less return is the creation of diocesan synods, which is a tradition rooted long in Catholic history but has disappeared. Then DeVille explores changing episcopal conferences from bodies with only the power to discuss issues and make statements to synods with the authority to discipline wayward bishops.

The strength of these organizational reforms is that they increase oversight not by just creating new rules but by involving more laity and clergy in decision making and discipline. My experience has been that when you include those closest to a problem in deciding solutions you are more apt to make the right call. At the same time, many of these organizational reforms were historically used not only in Eastern Churches, but in the pre-Vatican I Latin Church. Pope Francis’s emphasis on synodality at all levels of the Church is also in keeping with DeVille’s analysis.

The final reform, expanding married priests, comes with the greatest human cost and, comparatively, the least reform value. As DeVille notes, the suggestion of more married priests, “is too often the idea that lazy and unimaginative people leap to first when contemplating Catholic reforms today.” DeVille’s discussion of the impact of married priests is refreshingly balanced in presenting how the expansion of married priests would reduce abuse as more priests would be older men tested by demonstrably healthy marriages while acknowledging that this expansion comes with a great price in the form of disruption of tradition and human emotional cost.

My only reservation with DeVille’s approach was his use of Freudian analysis in Chapter 1 to explain the roots of hesitation by Latin Church laity to challenge clerical structures. While insightful, I would argue that Catholics are too diverse a group for such generalizations. Rather than relying on psychology, DeVille could justify his organizational reforms based on Catholic teaching on subsidiarity along with the common sense concept, that DeVille points out, that no person should be trusted with a monopoly on power.

In a Church searching for solutions, DeVille’s perspective as a man who is in the Church, but not of the Latin rite, is unique and helpful. Everything is Hidden Shall Be Revealed demonstrates that DeVille is someone who cares deeply about the future of the Latin Church and wants to finally end the scandal of abuse. I recommend this book to those interested in reform.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the great review, Mike! Agreed… on the need for collaborative lay oversight. Given that we are all a part of the Body of Christ, the lay parts of the Body can help to heal and restore, especially at the site of the insult. Also, a high priority is to pray and suffer for the Church. This comes with a variable price tag and depends on our willingness to enter into the wounds.

    Liked by 1 person

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