Comment 72713

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 04, 2012 at 11:43:07 in reply to Comment 72709

Yesterday, I read a remarkable quote that happened to be in an article on the Finnish school system:

Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.

As much as I wish more Catholic priests followed Michelle Martin's advice to conceive their role in the context of parenthood, such an approach would require them to see themselves as fundamentally responsible for their conduct. Clearly, a number of priests did not so regard themselves.

In the absence of that deep personal responsibility, accountability would have acted as a secondary safeguard for at least those children who were abused after the first cases came to light. But tragically, farcically, the organization of the Church chose instead to close ranks around its abusive members and redeploy them instead of removing them.

When the personal stakes are as high as they are for priests with intimate access to vulnerable children, it's just not good enough to trust in personal responsibility. Even where accountability is present - and it was emphatically not present in the Church - it comes too late to protect the first victims.

Instead, we can take a cue from high reliability organizations for which the cost of failure is catastrophic and intolerable. HROs avoid failure through intense, systematic dedication to five concepts:

  1. Maintaining situational awareness and communicating openly throughout operations;

  2. Imagining and seeking potential causes of failure, and treating each near miss as a valuable opportunity to fix problems;

  3. Responding quickly and effectively to problems as soon as they emerge, so they do not escalate into full-blown catastrophes;

  4. Deferring to expertise and proven best practices, not to hierarchical authority; and

  5. Avoiding oversimplification of complex problems with deceptively simple solutions.

I see nothing in the Catholic Church's various responses - in either communication or organization - to the child abuse scandal to suggest they have really internalized this lesson. To this day, the Church's primary organizational imperative remains damage control and self-preservation.

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