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The Main Lesson from the Catholic Sexual Abuse Scandal

child protection on the mission fieldI enjoyed the Child Safety and Protection Network conference. In my talk on “Lessons Learned from the Catholic Sexual Abuse Scandal,” I received a thought-provoking question from the audience, “What is the main thing you have learned from the Catholic sexual abuse scandal?” I had to think fast, because there are lots of options there. We’ve learned the importance of protecting children, and how child sexual abuse can exist even within religious organizations. We’ve learned the importance of good policies and procedures that are enthusiastically supported by top management (the bishops, the Board, the CEO or President). We’ve learned how litigation can threaten the very existence of those organizations, and some of the difficulties surrounding historic litigation (meaning allegations from decades ago).

But the main thing that has struck me lately is this. Even after watching repeated waves of scandal hit the Catholic Church, even after watching the devastation at Penn State, organizations still have an impulse to duck out from fully investigating allegations. In reading through old material from Catholic cases, I would wonder how the bishops and monsignors in charge could have thought the problem was resolved. Now I understand. It is so easy to do a minimal investigation, to think the problem is dealt with, or to refrain from giving information to everyone who needs it. This is complicated by the fact that you can also hurt people by investigating too broadly, not keeping information confidential, and telling too much to too many people. 

As I advise organizations in this area, this is where I’ll need the most wisdom to give good advice, and they will need both wisdom and fortitude to do the right thing.

Disclaimer: not official legal or psychological advice or opinion

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