Back when the Patriot Act was still being debated in Congress, it didn’t really faze me. I was as petrified of terrorism as the next person, newly on my own in new city, working a government job that required me to see the terrorist “threat level” every day I went to work. My knee-jerk reaction was, “If you’re not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?” The political pundits in favor of the Act were saying essentially the same thing.
I’ve since changed my way of thinking. A lot. The gist of my current disagreement with the Patriot Act and laws like it is that it doesn’t define who gets to decide what is “wrong.” It gives the executive powers the opportunity to “flag” people as terrorists for anything that makes them uncomfortable — voting for the wrong party, being a feminist, being of a certain religion or a certain race.
It’s unnerving to me that we aren’t debating these issues of “who decides” more, in light of the recent news of the massive NSA “spying” program that oversteps the bounds of what anyone would consider “reasonable” surveillance. When Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the whole operation, he became a wanted criminal, who fled the country for his own protection.
I find myself wondering why the rhetorical question of “If you’re not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?” doesn’t apply to the U.S. government. So, some information about them got into hands that it wasn’t intended for. If they’re doing nothing wrong, what’s the problem? But the truth is, they come down a lot harder when the eyes are on them.
So far, I’ve been overwhelmingly impressed by Pope Francis’s public statements. And although I applaud him for finally properly criminalizing sex crimes involving children, I bristled when he criminalized Vatican “leaks” in the same breath. The news of this particular crackdown, breaking in the midst of the NSA leaks, seemed more than coincidence.
If you’re not doing anything wrong, what do you have to worry about?
Of course, I’ve come to realize that the issue is much, much more complicated than that. I’m not comfortable with large-scale government surveillance because many moral issues remain subjective, and the wrong person in power could quickly criminalize any of the freedoms we enjoy–with the information to track down everyone who engaged in or thought about engaging in that activity. At the same time, I understand that, when you’re on the “inside” of an organization, you’re entrusted with a certain level of confidential information, which could cause great harm if shared with the general public.
This issue becomes even more sensitive when connected to correspondence to and from the Pope, the leader of the largest Christian denomination in the world. People entrust their spiritual leaders with vulnerable information that they may not entrust to anyone else, whether in the confessional booth or in a letter to the Pope, and people should feel assured that their confidentiality in such manners should be maintained.
So, where to draw the line?
Ultimately, there are moral and legal rules that both the Vatican and the U.S. Government are charged with upholding. When an entity publicly proclaims to stand in one place on a moral issue, but behaves behind closed doors in a way that blatantly contradicts those principles, exposure might be the greatest moral good.
In both the Old and the New Testament, the Bible charges the believer who sees another doing wrong to rebuke him or her in private. I do believe this is, indeed, the appropriate first step. Before going to the press, see whether the sin can be repented of without the media circus. But I have to wonder how many individuals have either left organizations or kept their mouths shut because they were tired of their objections falling on deaf ears. Matthew 18 says that if the sinner does not listen to you, you may involve more and more people, all the way up to the whole Church; and if the sin still continues, you then have “permission” to distance yourself from that person — or that organization.
I find myself wondering whether Edward Snowden, or those who have exposed Vatican crimes, got to the point where they needed to permanently distance themselves from the entity they saw doing wrong. And in doing so, they called on the world to see if a so-often apathetic public would help them fight the injustices they saw within the very institutions charged with upholding justice.
These issues do not have easy answers, and perhaps the only action that can be unequivocally considered “right” is forgiveness.
Forgiveness, for the people in the institutions who sometimes betray us.
And forgiveness for those who shine light on those betrayals.
I’m not sure I’m there yet. The U.S. government certainly isn’t. But I do feel certain that, at the end of it all, it’s the only “right” place to be.