That’s the question raised by the Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.
It found that when people within the church received disclosures and allegations they sometimes acted to protect the image of the church that it wanted the rest of society to hold of them, rather than help the kids out.
In some ways this is no surprise. People usually, first, think about their own survival and well-being. When they sit at the head of an organisation, or sit within it, they prioritise the ‘image’ that the organisation wants to project. This often involves hiding and minimising all kinds of shit that goes on, from incompetence to corruption to harm caused to others, accidentally or deliberately.
If a child comes along and says an adult from your organisation abused me, this is always going to trigger a sense of grief, because if the allegation is true, and it becomes public knowledge, it’s going to destroy that ‘image’ or the ‘brand’, which in turn will threaten the bottom line, largesse and influence of an organisation or church.
The Inquiry, though, talked about how religious organisations have an explicit moral purpose in teaching right from wrong. It also said, though commenting on the Anglican Church, “ In the context of child sexual abuse, the Church’s neglect of the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of children and young people in favour of protecting its reputation was in conflict with its mission of love and care for the innocent and vulnerable.”
It seems that a determination to teach others the difference between right and wrong does not require that the Catholic Church is able, in its behaviour, to do right, rather than wrong. Do as I say, not as I do.
The Catholic Church is not especially different from many non-religious organisations in its behaviour around helping kids who reach out to to it, but it’s own behaviour destroys the moral basis underpinning its teachings and expectations.
The challenge for the leaders of the Catholic Church are to ask how they would have to organise themselves to really do good, and do they have the appetite for doing these things, that is to say do they really want to do good and help the vulnerable?