In crisis, Francis fails

One of the chapters of my upcoming book deals with what I call Institutional Rot, that is, why “good” people do and say bad things in the name of the institution and how children are caught in the crossfire. For an institutional culture to have this kind of crisis, the direction—or I should say, misdirection—has to come from the top.

For the sake of comparison, let’s look at a hypothetical:

Auto Company X is the leading automaker in the United States. For more than 100 years, Company X’s cars have been a part of American’s lives and a well-loved and trusted brand. But civil lawsuits filed by victims have unearthed the fact that Company X has knowingly been making and selling defective cars that veer off the road and kill people.

Hundreds of victims sue the company. In the process of the litigation, it’s discovered that many of the corporate officers knew about the defects and did nothing. Instead of being fired, the executives are allowed to keep their jobs.

The news gets worse and worse. In some areas of the country, anywhere from one in ten to one in 20 cars were killing people. While many of the cars were taken off the road, the company refuses to disclose how many cars still on the road have the potential to kill. In some cases, Company X took their emblems off of certain killer cars and now claims that they are no longer responsible for what those cars do.

Although the lawsuits continue and one executive was convicted, the company insists the crisis is over. The convicted executive, who covered up for the defects and allowed killer cars to stay on the road, keeps his cushy job.

In an interview, a newly-promoted president of the company says, “The crisis is over.” Despite the tens of thousands of people who were injured or killed by his cars, he says that “drunk drivers kill far more people than Company X’s cars.” He goes on to say that no one has looked into auto accidents more than Company X and that they are being “unfairly targeted.” In fact, he calls his predecessor, who knew about the defective cars for decades, a “true reformer.”

All the while, victims of defective cars are still coming forward and executives are still fighting in the courts to make sure that the public never knows how many defective cars are or were on the road.

We’d never tolerate that from an auto company. Why do we tolerate it from a religious leader?

A perfect example? Pope Francis’ interview today with Italian daily Corriere della Serra.

From the translated text:

Corriere della Serra: The scandals that rocked the life of the Church are fortunately in the past. A public appeal was made to you, on the delicate theme of the abuse of minors, published by (the Italian newspaper) Il Foglio and signed by Besancon and Scruton, among others, that you would raise your voice and make it heard against the fanaticisms and the bad conscience of the secularized world that hardly respects infancy.

Pope Francis: I want to say two things. The cases of abuses are terrible because they leave extremely deep wounds. Benedict XVI was very courageous and he cleared a path. The Church has done so much on this path. Perhaps more than anyone. The statistics on the phenomenon of the violence against children are shocking, but they also show clearly that the great majority of abuses take place in the family environment and around it. The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility. No other has done more. And, the Church is the only one to be attacked.

Here’s the problem: Francis is not addressing the problem. In business ethics circles, this kind of response (or lack thereof) is called “Organizational Failure.” What’s organizational failure? It’s when, in a crisis, an organization’s leader does not take responsibility, does not show contrition, does not display true action to ensure it never happens again, and does nothing to rebuild trust or punish wrong-doers.


Instead, Francis says the problem is over, does not apologize, does not talk about Bishops who are law-breakers right now, does not try to make amends, deflects blame, and plays the victim. And unfortunately for many Catholics and apologists, that’s okay.

It should never be okay.



8 thoughts on “In crisis, Francis fails

  1. Joelle. Love the article. Early in the AM this morning, I penned an short article that i shared on my FB page as well as my Break the Silence page:

    Your post is written so much better than mine, but the similarities are bizarre, and posted on the same day!

    Debbie Bodkin’s comment above says it all. I am so disappointed in Francis.

  2. No matter how much I read about the RCC and its coverup of the child sexual abuse perpatrated by the priestly pedophiles.The I just don’t understand why the law seems to be incontinent about doing any thing about the horrific crimes committed by the RCC at all leadership levels.

  3. The PR pope has shown his true colors. He fears and detests survivors of his clergy’s sexual abuse just like all the other members of the hierarchy. This failure not only punches a big hole in his inflated image, it opens him up to relentless examination of his role in the Roman Catholic church’s sex abuse atrocity.

  4. I would propose that raping little boys is hardly a delicate should raise the shackles of heaven.

  5. Wow….. I had always hoped Pope Francis would see the light, but it appears he has not personally researched the evil cover ups orchestrated by high-priced attorneys representing the Catholic Church, especially in the United States of America. It is a personal choice to educate one’s self and when the truths are too painful to accept, the easiest road to take is the deadend and/or playing the ostrich.

    In my personal opinion, when U.S. federal law enforcement officials join Church officials, acting like just another ostrich, while depending on some type of twisted and negligent legal intrepretation of freedom of religion and separation of Church and State, as a society we now have a public safety crisis that will never be over!

    Until the U.S. Department of Justice and FBI take this public safety crisis seriously, religious institutions and their expensive attorneys, will continue to punish and intimidate, defame and humiliate Whistleblower employees and abuse victims, while laughing all the way to the Bank.

  6. I think we all knew deep down where Francis stands on the sex abuse issue, but hearing his words really hurts.
    Now we know where Pope Francis stands on the issue of the sex abuse of children within the Catholic institution. He states: “The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility. No other has done more. And, the Church is the only one to be attacked”——-

    His defensive words are very hurtful to so many thousands of victims who were hoping that, just maybe, Pope Francis might be different. That maybe he really does care about protecting innocent children.
    Sadly the pope is badly misinformed about the church officials being responsible and transparent. Or he is just following the same old archaic rhetoric that the previous popes have done. Child sex abuse and cover up by the clergy under his power does not seem to be a big deal to him. Francis words could make a person cry, if we had any hope at all that he might take some decisive actions to get this horrific abuse and cover up stopped.

    Tragically the sex abuse and cover up within the church hierarchy throughout the world is still going on to this day. Cardinals and bishops are still not removing accused predator clergy, and they are still not reporting to law enforcement. Their so called “zero tolerance” policy is not being followed by the bishops who created it. They don’t have to, because there is no punishment to force the bishops to change their ways of protecting their image and the institution rather than protecting children.
    Child predators need to be kept far away from kids forever. So silence is not an option anymore, it only hurts and by speaking up there is a chance for healing, exposing the truth, and therefore protecting others.

    Judy Jones, “SNAP” the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests,

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