Church scandal proves power concentrated is power abused

Church scandal proves power concentrated is power abused
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Last week, we read with horror the stories of child abuse and sexual predation by Catholic priests in Pennsylvania. We are stunned by how long this has gone on and how many victims’ lives have been altered forever. We are sobered by the reality that Catholic leadership failed to hold serial offenders accountable, hid the truth from parishioners and indeed fought to shut down the grand jury investigation that ultimately brought these stories to light.  

There will be more revelations as time goes by. There always are. And once again, people’s faith in a venerable institution, that has done so much good for so many, will be shaken to the core. Once again, people will shake their heads in disbelief and say: “I cannot believe this person that I trusted, respected and thought I knew, could behave in this way.”  

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History and our own experiences teach us that the concentration of too much power for too long, in too few hands, will always lead to the abuse of that power. Sexual predation and child abuse are perhaps the most heinous forms of power abuse, but there are others: corruption, larceny, fraud, the manipulation of people and processes to achieve an outcome. Over time, concentrated and unchecked power rewards itself, enriches itself, strengthens itself, and feeds on itself.

 

A parish priest, a winning coach, a successful boss, a military, political or business figure, a celebrity — and all the systems that support and reward these people — all can become consumed by power. As has been said for centuries, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Only transparency and accountability can prevent the abuse of concentrated power.

In practical terms, what does this mean? In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, a full reckoning is required, just as it is required for any other institution that wants to regain trust and moral authority after such revelations. The church should be unequivocal and vocal in its condemnation and repentance. Perpetrators must be punished. The truth must come out. Attorneys general in the remaining 49 states and the District of Columbia should begin their own investigations, if they haven’t already, and the church should welcome, not resist, these efforts.  

We live in an age where condemnation can be swift, indiscriminate and unjustified. The social media world can be incredibly cruel. We too quickly condemn people for their views and associations, and callously and carelessly criticize and demean. We politicize everything. In our breathless, sensationalized news coverage, we lose a sense of perspective and proportion.

Individuals and organizations focus on “keeping control of the narrative.” In such a climate, it is more tempting than ever to hunker down, conduct “internal investigations,” and stay silent until a statement is given describing decisions that were made and actions taken. While tempting, it is never sufficient. When trust has been shattered, “trust me” doesn’t cut it. The search for the truth always will be difficult, painful and consequential. Without an open, transparent process to get to the truth, as well as clear and appropriate action taken because of that truth, there can be no trust.      

We must rebuild trust in the church world, the sports world, the business world, and the political world by following the truth, wherever it leads. And we can only maintain that trust by adhering to, and creating if necessary, systems of checks and balance. Power should be distributed, not concentrated. Power must be questioned, and held accountable always, never blindly followed.   

Churches can lead the way.

Carly Fiorina, founder and chairman of Unlocking Potential, ran for president in 2015-16 as a Republican. She held executive positions with AT&T and Lucent Technologies, then became the first woman to lead a Fortune 20 company as CEO of Hewlett-Packard. She headed the newly-formed External Advisory Board for the CIA under President George W. Bush and, in 2008, joined then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to found the One Woman Initiative, becoming its global board chair when it merged with Opportunity International.