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West Point Cadets
West Point cadets and instructors

West Point Cadets

A group of 13 cadets and four instructors from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point take on the weekly 'On Leadership' questions. Who better to explore the gray areas of leadership than members of The Long Gray Line?

A failure of duty

Q: Pope Benedict XVI's efforts to deal with the Church's sex scandal raises this question: Can a leader hold managers to account on an issue where his own past performance is in question?

As the season of Lent and Holy Week nears its end, a bitter taste remains in the mouths of Catholics all over the world. After years of worldwide child abuse in schools and parishes, the Catholic Church is still struggling to come to terms with its position as a common denominator in this ongoing controversy.

Although the Vatican has apologized for numerous isolated incidents occurring in Ireland, Germany, the U.S., and all over the world, it still regards these crimes as individual acts of sin. Until the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, recognizes and acknowledges that there is an underlying institutional problem, the abuse will continue and he will fail in his duty of service to the people and to the Church.

As a leader, one must remain transparent. There can be no "man behind the curtain" atmosphere. Without transparency, there is ambiguity and therefore possible corruption and deception. If Pope Benedict XVI failed to take action on several abuse cases in the past, how can he hold the rest of the Catholic hierarchy accountable for their inaction? An apology is expected but insufficient. Starting with the Pope, the Catholic Church must take responsibility collectively for the years of abuses and scandals, sexually and politically. Until then, the church will continue to lose the faith of its followers and its credibility as an institution.--Cadet Megan Snook

Pope's school of hard knocks

The leader must first have held himself or herself accountable for the past performance. If that's the case, not only can the leader hold others accountable, but will quite possibly be more effective in helping others develop from the experience.

Few leaders, and none that I know personally, enjoyed a pristine path to their position at the table nor handled every leadership challenge flawlessly. Most have been fraught with the tough challenges that result in transformational experiences that form the core of their leadership philosophy. Along the way, while facing those challenges, mistakes occur. Some of the most profound development occurs as a result of our failures, as long as we are able to take responsibility for them, understand their impact, and integrate the lessons learned into future leadership opportunities. A leader who has undergone that developmental process has an opportunity to draw upon those experiences when working with a subordinate who faces related challenges.

Consider your own mentors in life and the reasons you value their perspectives. Chances are that there were some hard knocks that contributed to their wisdom. Now you purposefully seek their guidance, not because they were flawless, but because they learned and can relate their experiences to you. - Major Donnie LaGrange

The optimism of 'failure tolerance'

Failure tolerance is an important concept not only to leaders, but to followers as well. Leaders must tolerate some failure on the part of their managers in order to empower them with trust.

No one is perfect, including the leaders of the Catholic church. I've learned from West Point that failure tolerance is about optimism and faith in the best that people have to offer. However, faith in people does not absolve the wrong-doer of the consequences of their decision.

Perceptions play a large role in what we believe a leader has the authority and ability to accomplish. As a follower, I find that when a past leader's past performance is in question, I look to a combination of my past perceptions of them along with their current attitude to assess the state of their trustworthiness. First, they must acknowledge and accept any errors. Then I ask, "Is this person trying to make amends? Do his actions show intent to steer clear of past mistakes, to correct the behavior sincerely?"

Though failures sometimes make us lose faith in those with whom we place so much trust, a leader's reactions to failure can attest to their true character. If we never gave the benefit of the doubt, then we've never taken a risk. And how can anyone progress without taking stock in a risk? -- Cadet Christina Tamayo

No super-human leader

I believe all leaders are human beings who are prone to mistakes. There is no one leader who is perfect. Leadership is a process in which the individual must be willing to fail. But with failure comes greater understanding, forcing leaders to learn from their mistakes. It takes a great leader to be able to overcome his/her mistakes and be able to have the legitimacy to continue to lead, influence, and hold others accountable for issues in which they did not behave in the right manner. A leader must acknowledge his/her mistake and be able to undergo self reflection in order to correct it. A leader should not necessarily lose confidence in his/her ability to be able to lead effectively because of one mistake. If a leader is not willing to fix a mistake and hold others to a standard who will? As long as Pope Benedict XVI can acknowledge his mistake and grow from it, I believe he can continue to hold others accountable on the same issue to ensure it is not a reoccurrence. -- Cadet Dario Marcelli

Ready to forgive

If a leader were not allowed to correct a mistake in a subordinate that he himself made in the past, West Point would be quieter than a library. Expecting perfection from anyone is unreasonable. Everyone understands this, and that is why we are a generally forgiving people.

But to be forgiven, one must admit fault. Pope Benedict XVI must own his mistakes. He should explicitly state his errors, the lessons he learned from them, and do everything he can to convince his subordinates and constituency that he will not make the same mistakes again. If Pope Benedict XVI admits his flaws, it is my belief that a rational person should forgive him his mistakes and consider his attempts to hold his managers to account legitimate. - Cadet Avi Bakshani

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

By West Point Cadets

 |  March 30, 2010; 6:56 AM ET
Category:  Religious leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Take a look in the mirror | Next: Transforming the priesthood


Please report offensive comments below.

I think the Church's pass on 1500+ years of abuse is enough. It's time to prosecute.

Posted by: OneWhoSpeaksTruth | March 30, 2010 7:26 PM
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tenants of the catholic church allow for forgiveness. an admirable ideal, and part of a healing process to both the offended, and the offender. however, there must be an "act of contrition" on the part of sinner. Where has that act been seen on behalf of the church or the pope?
perhaps a ritual public flogging in saint peters square? doubtful.

Posted by: paul_postie | March 30, 2010 1:23 PM
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The basic difference between the Catholic Church and public schools is that the Catholic Church claims to be the arbiters of human morality. They consider YOUR sins to be offensive but not their own. In fact, one of your sins to acknowledging or questioning their hypocrisy. Public schools also (usually) make quick work of an offending teacher or administrator, while the Catholic Church has historically gone to some lengths to protect molesters, even threatening victims if they don't stay quiet. Additionally, we don't know how many sexual abusers in public schools come from a Catholic background. We can be sure what kind of background Catholic priests come from.

The main problem for the Church is that any real acknowledgement of failure on their part, especially failure on the Pope's part, means the end of their organization. If the Pope cannot act without public censure, then the papacy is finished as the spritual compass for catholics. The papacy is no longer an office beyond the reach of secular law and scrutinization. The game is over.

Posted by: biograph19851 | March 30, 2010 1:03 PM
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I used to teach at a Jesuit college preparatory many years ago. After I left, I found out that the principal of that school was defrocked after molesting a junior high school boy in a parish far away from his own school. Aside from the shock of finding this out, I was not surprised. The man was an immature adolescent himself who clearly needed adolescents to bolster his own fragile ego.

This man should never have been working with young people, but the reason he was had less to do with him than with the Church itself. It has been a perfect situation for men who can't face the world or their own psychological inadequacies. There is nothing to stop those men from rising to positions of leadership inside the Church because the Church itself is corrupt - it is only in recent years that the rest of the world can see this as well.

Ironically, there are so many in the church - both religious and lay people - who minister to the sick, inspire the young, serve the poor and marginalized, strive to do what Jesus asks of them, and resist injustice with all their hearts. As a rule, these people are not found in the ranks of the hierarchy but in the trenches.

It might be hard for a rich man to enter heaven, but for a Bishop, I'd venture to say it's damn near impossible.

Posted by: cbl55 | March 30, 2010 11:44 AM
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simonbm, before you hurl slanderous statements at people, might I recommend that you think hard of how this reflects on your ignorance.

Let me educate you:

1.7% of Catholic clergy has been found guilty of pedophilia; 10% of Protestant ministers; 9% of students in the American school system is sexually abused at some point between Kindergarten and 12th grade.

Pedophilia is hardly a Catholic Problem.

I hate to implicate other organizations, but you should know the context of this problem, and how some media reporters have managed to magnify the problem and create grossly misguided opinions like yours.

Posted by: MartinGonzalez1 | March 30, 2010 10:17 AM
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Setting the facts straight is important as people start casting stones. Here's one such clarification found in this link:

The fact that only 20 percent of the cases were subjected to full canonical trial has been hailed as a belated grasp in Rome of the need for swift and sure justice, and a victory for the more aggressive American approach to the crisis. It should be noted, too, that bypassing trials has been roundly criticized by some canon lawyers and Vatican officials as a betrayal of the due process safeguards in church law.
Hence to describe that 20 percent figure as a sign of "inaction" cannot help but seem, to anyone who's been paying attention, rather ironic. In truth, handling 60 percent of the cases through the stroke of a bishop's pen has, up to now, more often been cited as evidence of exaggerated and draconian action by Ratzinger and his deputies.


Posted by: MartinGonzalez1 | March 30, 2010 10:04 AM
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simonbm spouts off without a shred of evidence. Now let's compare the fact that 1021 priests have been charged in 52 years, an average of about 19 priests per year, compared to the 479 Public School Teachers who were charged in 2008 ALONE. Abusers seek out positions where they can attain trust and access to commit their crimes, including schools, pediatrics, day care centers, etc. The Catholic Church has the John Jay Report where they investigated the problem and have put major initiatives in place to address problems. I have seen no such widespread investigation of the thousands of teachers who have been charged. Where is the NEA study? Also consider that there are literally a billion Catholics, and the Church has to address not just the clergy but the laity as well. Laity perform about 90% of the daily ministry in a parish, if not more. We ALL take VIRTUS training before we're allowed to work with kids, and I can attest that VIRTUS is far more robust than anything offered by other organizations. simonbm would do well to hold Public Schools, Pediatricians, and Day Care Centers to the same standards he holds the Catholic Church. Is the Church blameless? No. But we're far more aggressive on this issue than our schools or corporations who continue to hide behind legal walls to avoid their own disclosure. I am a father of two and I am the Catholic Church too.

Posted by: mwcob | March 30, 2010 9:26 AM
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The pope himself was and is a child molester. he cannot get high in the ranks without molesting children, that's a requirement in the church to get higher ranks.

Posted by: simonbm | March 30, 2010 7:49 AM
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