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Bill George
Scholar/Former CEO

Bill George

Bill George is a management professor at the Harvard Business School, the former Chairman and CEO of Medtronic, Inc., and the author of several best-selling books on leadership. His latest release is 7 Lessons for
Leading in Crisis

A step-by-step plan

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?

Pope Benedict XVI is facing the greatest crisis of his long career. It's not just his leadership of the Vatican that is on the line, but the reputation of the entire Roman Catholic Church. If the Pope fails to face the reality that problems of pedophilia by priests have brought on the church, many Catholics may lose faith that their church leaders practice the same high moral standards that they preach. This situation is ironic for a Pope whose hallmark has been enforcing moral and sexual standards for one billion of the faithful. Does he have any choice but to require his priests to do the same?

Why is it so hard for the Vatican and especially this Pope to face reality? Is it denial? A cover-up? A double standard? Or simply a desire to protect its own leaders?

First of all, doing so means acknowledging that the church in not dealing as harshly with sexual deviants as civil law and basic morality would require. To suggest that these problems are limited to very few priests or a distant problem corrected long ago only accentuates public denial of the depth of these problems and widespread knowledge of them throughout the church hierarchy.

While addressing a crisis of this magnitude is painful, it must start with the Pope admitting mistakes the Vatican has made, including his own. Next, the Pope needs to deal as aggressively with past defenders as would be expected in a court of law. Then, he needs to install a compliance system that will prevent future occurrences and ensure the early identification of offenders. Finally, Pope Benedict XVI needs to make the Vatican itself much more transparent in order to prevent covering up problems in the future.

These steps, which are similar to what would be expected in government, public corporations, or other religious denominations, are required to protect children who believe in their church. Their protection is far more important than preventing wayward priests from being held to high moral standards.

By Bill George

 |  March 30, 2010; 10:46 AM ET
Category:  Religious leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Transforming the priesthood | Next: Use the past for the future


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These are the same people that refuse communion to certain classes of 'sinners' and who refuse health care benefits to spouses at Catholic Charities so they don't have to offer them to same-sex couples. They then ask that the pedophiles and those who let them run rampant within the church not be judged, but forgiven. They might take some cues from the gospels, judge not..., remove the splinter from your own eye..., and let's not forget Christ drove the money changers out of the temple.

Posted by: DGSPAMMAIL | March 31, 2010 12:11 AM
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Prosecute the old perv. He and the rest of them are criminals, no less so than any other child rapist.

They should NOT be allowed to get away with this.

Posted by: rcubedkc | March 30, 2010 11:35 PM
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This pope will never come to America because the public would throw tomatoes.

The Catholic Church will get poorer and poorer as Americans and Europeans continue to leave the flock. Their few growth markets are in Africa and in isolated pockets of Asia.

In 50 years, the Italian government will have to bail out the Vatican to avoid foreclosure on St. Peter's Basilica. THAT is the future that awaits this sordid institution.

Posted by: herrbrahms | March 30, 2010 11:25 PM
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Face reality?! We're talkin' "Pope" here. You know, Believer-in-Chief of the greatest b.s. story ever told! Of COURSE he can't face reality and neither can any of the others in the Vatican. The original "golden arches" franchise is dying a slow, ugly death. Good riddance. Signed, an ex-Catholic

Posted by: Bugs222 | March 30, 2010 11:17 PM
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Say we have to bring these officers to criminal court, and then maybe that opens the door to civil court and a slew of tort cases. Could you see churches of other denominations teaming up with them to stop these kind of suits? Something has to be done.

I personally know two people whose lives where destroyed by molesting priests - they MUST be made to divulge the facts in this decades long coverup - if it comes down to arrests and raids, so be it.

Posted by: liska33 | March 30, 2010 10:22 PM
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I'm Episcopalian, not Roman Catholic. However, my opinion is that the RCC thinks of itself similarly to a monarchy. The RCC and military organizations are practically the epitome of vertical organizations. Many Protestant churches organize themselves much more democratically. The Episcopal Church affords considerable power to its bishops, as most episcopally governed churches do, but the Episcopal church as a whole is run very democratically.

That would help explain how hard it is for the Catholic magisterium to admit its previous wrongdoings. In my opinion, they simply do not feel that accountability to the general public or lay Catholics is as a top value.

I believe this is unfortunate, and I do not believe that it is theologically sound. Jesus committed the only act of violence in his ministry in response to the hierarchy at the Temple who had lost sight of true Jewish values and accountability to the poor. Jesus also organized a relatively horizontal organization - he admitted many women into his ministry and he went so far as to wash the feet of his disciples, an act that only lowly servants did in that era. The apostles, after Christ's death, sold everything they had and gave it to the poor, and they lived in common, almost kibbutz-style. On those dimensions, the Catholic magisterium may have lost sight of the Christian message.

Note that I distinguish the Catholic magisterium, which is Cardinals and above, from Catholic laity, religious and priests.

Posted by: weiwentg | March 30, 2010 10:06 PM
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Well all this has certainly taken Roman Polanski off the front pages !

Posted by: andy5643 | March 30, 2010 10:05 PM
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It was a bad sign when he appointed Cardinal Bernard Law to his inner circle of advisers. The news coming out now isn't a surprise for those of us in Boston but it's a sad state of affairs for an organization that labels itself a church.

Then again its history isn't exactly full of stories about a Christ-like hierarchy. In fact its history is just the opposite.

The only difference now is that knowledge is hard to suppress and this truly evil organization is paying a price. Pope Clement does his organization no favors by remaining in power.

Posted by: Leofwine | March 30, 2010 10:04 PM
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The Catholic Church has no closer relationship to God than the Washington Post does. If you want to confess your sins, go the person you sinned against: confessing to your priest and getting his absolution is about as meaningful as confessing to your bartender. And the Church's insight into God's mind is as relevant as my dog's. Neither one of them knows anything.

Posted by: Larryman | March 30, 2010 9:51 PM
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expecting the pope, cardinals, and child molesting catholic priest to protect children, especially altar boys is like hoping homosexual nato dutch soldiers to be brave. cashier the phony soldiers and crucify the child molesting christians.

violence et vengence is mine saith the lord to moi

Posted by: therapy | March 30, 2010 9:20 PM
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The man decided not to defrock a man who had abused 200 deaf boys. There is no explanation or excuse, and the current dithering makes everyone look like accomplices.

Posted by: thmas | March 30, 2010 9:14 PM
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The Basic Problem:
Treating the Pope or Priest or Royalty or any particular human as appointed by God is ridiculous. ALL so-called Saints are appointed by MAN, not by any God.

Madness. As stupid as Astrology or Scientology.

Posted by: lufrank1 | March 30, 2010 8:55 PM
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the Catholic Church needs deep reformation why baning marrriage while the first apostles where married !Crist recomend one wife ,does marriage make the relegiouse person far from God!!i thing is the opposite when u deny ur desire this is the result, the Christ teach us how to make in good path our desire by marry not by having pleasure and worst by commiting shamful acts,the Law of crime should be applied to any who violate the rules of society and morals or no need to be a democray

Posted by: viaalbae | March 30, 2010 8:43 PM
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The solution to this problem is simple. RCC should subject itself to the same civilian laws as any other organization in its country of location. They must not get to adjudicate criminal violations on their own.

Posted by: Secular | March 30, 2010 8:41 PM
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Unfortunately, many active catholics cannot separate God from the hocus pocus that is organized religion
- we poor dears are brainwashed the moment we pop out of that womb and many of us make
no effort to loose religion's poisonous grip on our minds. Through years of hard work and effort, I learned to see this institution
for the insidious thing it is: a criminal enterprise obsess with money, power and getting away with breaking the law.
The RCC has as much relevance in my life as all the creeps locked up for rape,murder and domestic violence: a big fat zero!
It does infuriates me however that they are tax exempt while we law abiding citizens are not. Why is our government subsidizing this
criminal institution ? Until the RCC tax-exempt status is removed and abused victims decide to take the law
into their own hands, the pope and his possee of criminals will continue with business as usual.
We need a relentless campaign to have this tax exempt status remove. Write to your congress rep and encourage anyone you know
to do likewise.

Posted by: anaofelia | March 30, 2010 7:59 PM
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I'm sad to say this as a longtime (though not practicing)Catholic. The church has already created answers for it's failures... it's the weakness of man striving to be like God.

No... it's just a big organization like any other public company except it reports nothing and is overseen by noone.

Posted by: Rickster623 | March 30, 2010 7:40 PM
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"Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples saying, 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments; And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues; And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi! Rabbi!!

But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.

And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in Heaven.

Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.

But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves'."

Posted by: samxstreampools | March 30, 2010 7:05 PM
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You are asking a man and an organization who believe that the universe was created by a man in the sky? And not to mention resurecting the dead,turning blood into wine,walking on water, man living to 800 years,living in a whale etc."Why is it so hard for the Vatican and especially this Pope to face reality?"

Posted by: excalibur2 | March 30, 2010 6:42 PM
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Child abuse /even the remotest connection with - or knowledge of by a Vatican official/church official is a crime..I, as a 70 year Catholic am ashamed of this church...I have been in parishes ..where 3 priests have been accused of/removed from the parish but NEVER charged...I find this ludicrous! My faith in a saving almighty presence has not changed...in the human institution...there has been a big reality check.

Posted by: Mamanomia | March 30, 2010 6:22 PM
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Posted by: arcoveus | March 30, 2010 6:03 PM
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Step one, never leave your children with a priest.

no need for Step two.

sad, isn't it?!

Posted by: vigor | March 30, 2010 5:34 PM
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"Why is it so hard for the Vatican and especially this Pope to face reality?"

Is this a trick question?

Its very existence is based on and depends on the acceptance of fable and fantasy.

Posted by: apspa1 | March 30, 2010 4:19 PM
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My bet on this situation: nothing will be done. The Catholic Church will go on as usual and wait for this crisis to fade away...Sad to say that I have Catholic friends and really do not understand their passivity on this issue. Apparently "faith" trumps all, including fellow human beings.

As another poster so accurately wrote, the only thing that will get the church to change is when the masses withhold $$$$. Doesn't appear to be happening, does it?

Posted by: PatC1 | March 30, 2010 4:13 PM
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"If any of you cause any of these [children] to sin, it would have been better for you to never have been born."

Posted by: anti-elitist | March 30, 2010 4:08 PM
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Recent comments by RC Church leaders make clear that the Church has no plans to do anything other than what is has already done.

The only thing that might bring a different response is if the 'faithful' stopped going to church; stopped giving money. Perhaps even for one planned weekend.

However, judging from Palm Sunday mass as St Matthews, folks are still turning out in droves, including members of the Church-villified gay community.

What's it gonna be?

Posted by: tslats | March 30, 2010 3:36 PM
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This is what Catholics want to believe: a Cardinal – not simply another Priest, and not even a Bishop, but a Cardinal – a man in line to become – dare we say it – the Pope – in a church with a well documented history of abuse of accepts a pedophile into his authority and then claims he doesn’t know what happened to this man after he "went through treatment."

Let’s keep in mind this is not the same as saying “We have a Priest with a drug problem,” or “We have a Priest with a drinking problem.” This is “We have a Priest who has committed the most vile form of child abuse imaginable.” That Cardinal Ratzinger could allow himself to “lose track of” this individual stretches credibility past the breaking point. Unless, of course, it was because he was busy keeping track of all the others as well.

Either the Pope is incompetent as a leader or he’s attempting to cover up his own complicity. Either way, it’s a “no-win” situation for the Catholic church.

Posted by: Nemo5 | March 30, 2010 2:54 PM
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"get over it"?

i suppose that will get it into the dustpan any day now.

yes, let's get over it and move on. that should take care of it.

Posted by: trufe | March 30, 2010 2:50 PM
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Get over it. The Roman Catholic Church answers to no one. Never has and never will. The only way to correct this situation is to wait for the time when the Church moves into the dustpan of history like so many before her.

Posted by: the1joncook | March 30, 2010 2:48 PM
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this guy is an evil man who needs to go to jail. children were raped and he covered it up. period.

Posted by: trufe | March 30, 2010 2:42 PM
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Response to:
The Catholic Church nomenclature does not admit the word "crime". Wrongdoings are labeled "sins" that can be resolved by repentance and prayers for forgiveness, and then moving on with one's life as if total absolvement for past deeds, however heinous, were dissolved by confession and promises to amend one's future behavior. So now that we have settled that problem, what's next?
The Church is not an ostrich! It cannot stick its head in the sand and hope for the best. Secreting the abuse and allowing the pedophile to continue Church endorsed contact with children is playing ostrich at best and aiding at worst. Remove the offender from children, from the priesthood, and from the Church (excommunication) if need be to protect the innocent. Facilitating his contact with children is sharing in the sin of the abuser.

Posted by: gss49 | March 30, 2010 2:30 PM
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The last time I checked, acting on pedophilia urges is wrong within the Church, whereas marriage at 12 is not wrong in the Moslem faith. Because others do something, in no way justifies another wrong behavior.
In my view, if one priest commits an abuse, and 1000 know of it and do not prosecute him, then 1001 are guilty of abusing that child. The cover-up is as bad as the sin.

Posted by: gss49 | March 30, 2010 2:15 PM
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If you want to belong to a church that has no history of child abuse, inquisition, or misogyny, come join the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and partake of his saucy goodness.


Posted by: impeachemall | March 30, 2010 2:14 PM
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While its clear that horrific evil was perpetrated during the Pope's tenure as Bishop or ArchBishop its not clear he did anything amiss.

He obviously can't stop nor control what he's not aware of.

What the media keeps missing is how common pedophilia is and how common the sexual abuse of children 12 - 14 is.

One of out of 5 girls are molested. In some cultures the marriage of children is condoned. In Islam there is no age limit on how young a young girl may marry. Two months ago in an Islamic country a young girl of 12 died in child birth after 2 days in labor. Her husband was 24.

Posted by: agapn9 | March 30, 2010 2:01 PM
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Sue the old fart off his golden throne. Maybe that'll wake them up to reality.

Posted by: EdSantaFe | March 30, 2010 1:59 PM
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Why shouldn't the focus be more on the church itself? Focusing on the victims now doesn't do the potential future victims any good. To solve a problem, you go to the root. The church has every right to be attacked in this instance -- it's allowing rampant abuse to happen. What kind of focus do you want there to be on the victims? It doesn't make sense.

Posted by: SteelCityGal | March 30, 2010 1:55 PM
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The Catholic Church nomenclature does not admit the word "crime". Wrongdoings are labeled "sins" that can be resolved by repentance and prayers for forgiveness, and then moving on with one's life as if total absolvement for past deeds, however heinous, were dissolved by confession and promises to amend one's future behavior. So now that we have settled that problem, what's next?

Posted by: vicsoir1 | March 30, 2010 1:46 PM
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As a Catholic, the Church needs to come into the 21st Century---the Pope needs to resign.

Posted by: fairness3 | March 30, 2010 1:36 PM
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It is surprising to me that we are focussing more on the Church than on the victims (as was the New York TImes). In Wisconsin, the local authorities investigated the issue and incorrectly concluded that nothing was amiss: our focus should be more on this conclusion. Th Washington Post should investigate the failure of this investigation. Hence, leads me to believe that this is more of an attack on the Church than it is about a concern for the victims, where our focus should really lie.

Posted by: Maria29 | March 30, 2010 1:07 PM
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First, I think we have to define the term "Sanctity" as used by the Church which means "moral perfection". So, who failed the test of moral perfection, God, Man or Church ? In this case Man and Church failed the test of moral perfect I guess but I will only point out that man is not infallible.

In this case, the crime by man is so heinous that no one in their right mind will claim "pedophilia is God's Will". Obviously, a failure by man occurred at the onset of this snowball. God giving his children free allows individuals to do good or evil or the great choice of Life itself.

Public Corporations, Government Agencies and The Church fail ethical and moral challenges all too often. Once a failure occurs, the tendency is to cover-up or deny such fallibility tries to avoid public disclosure leading to embarrassment. Denial is a defense mechanism so as the motive becomes protection of the public and perhaps internal "reputation" of the Firm, Agency or Church. On paper, there are certain standards of conduct which may or may not be met or non-conformance to ethical or moral standards set as policy. Now comes the choice of protecting that standard by illusion or by disclosure which admits non-conformity.

The Risk of covering up or trying to avoid the potential liabilities of imperfections delivered to customers through products or services is that these liabilities can and will snowball into greater liabilities, losses and damages. In essence, why was the automobile, Priest or Contractor left on the market with a known defect ?

Contracts both private and public contain double indemnity agreement which I have referred to as the "double stupid" clause in past references. The double stupid clause guarantees liabilities will increase if a known defect is allowed in circulation.

Now, after corrective action is implemented will such failures lead to snowballs in the future, maybe because the societal memory is about 20-30 years long depending on the anthropologist or social-psychologist being asked that question. As example, oil boom to bust cycles beginning in 1978 and 2008.

Posted by: truthhurts | March 30, 2010 1:03 PM
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This little piece of prose is just what the Pope needs. A non-statement. Mr. George could have done better.

The Catholic Church is wrong and it is the duty of the Pope and all his subordinates to stamp out this wrong.
The system to do that is already in place, civil law.
Report wrongdoers of any kind within your organization to the law. Be it theft from the company or misuse of power within a Church or within the Government.

The failure to do that, is what brought the Church to where it is now, its World Leader himself, the Pope stands accused, of covering up crimes against young children in the care of the Church.
A head of Government in a democratic country would have resigned.

Posted by: GoneNative | March 30, 2010 12:57 PM
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