Lessons from the Air Force Academy
Q: The 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?
The alleged failings in Pope Benedict XVI's past are precisely why he must demonstrate leadership in holding priests and clergy to account for their crimes. Life-long Catholics - as well those like me who just recently rejoined the Church because we see it beginning to acknowledge and rectify past mistakes - will accept nothing less from their moral and spiritual leadership.
At this moment, the Church has the opportunity to show that it not only offers salvation; but that it can seek it as well. And if it effectively demonstrates a lasting commitment to protecting the children under its care, I have no doubt it will be redeemed.
Of course, the ask must come in the form of action. And while some apologies have been made, and some investigations have already resulted in arrests and prosecutions, there is far more to be done before the Church regains the credibility and trust that serve as its foundation.
When I helped address similar scandals at the Air Force Academy some years ago, I learned that the first order of business is full disclosure. By being transparent, honest, and open to scrutiny, the Church would articulate that it has nothing to hide and that the safety and security of its parishioners is the top priority. This would also serve as the first step in rebuilding public trust, as sins can't be forgiven until they've been confessed.
Second, the perpetrators of these crimes, as well as anyone found to have covered them up, must be held accountable - not only to stop the criminal behavior, but to send a strong message to others that malfeasance will not be tolerated. Accountability can come in many in many forms - but it must be infused at all levels. Justice for some is no justice at all.
Third, victim assistance is absolutely essential. Those who summon the courage to come forward simply won't do so unless they know they've got a friend in the Church. Whether it's through a promise of confidentiality, counseling, or swift punishment for those found guilty of these heinous crimes, the victims must know that the Church is on their side and that they will receive the help they need to make as full a recovery as possible.
Fourth, training within the Church must take place to ensure that priests and clergy understand how best to prevent future assaults.
And fifth, a specialized task force should be established to ensure that all reports of abuse are properly investigated and that any institutional issues found to be driving such offenses are addressed.
These are the steps we took at the Air Force Academy - and today, it is now arguably one of the safest campuses in the country. What Pope Benedict XVI must understand to reach the same goal is that he doesn't need a perfect record to implement a similar approach. All he needs is a steadfast commitment to righting past wrongs.
After all, isn't that what forgiveness is all about?
March 31, 2010; 12:20 PM ET
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Posted by: CoughlinC | April 2, 2010 1:52 PM
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