Organizational Defensiveness

The Catholic Church continues to struggle with it's sex abuse nightmare, seemingly digging itself deeper into the turmoil with every public statement. In recent days, we have heard musings that link the sexual abuse of children to homosexuality and that the Church is under attack from its critics in the same way that the Jews were from the Nazis.


As far as Organizational Defensive Routines (ODR) go, this is one for the textbooks.


ODR are strategies that organizations adopt for self-preservation. They are designed to shut down inquiry that would lead to embarrassment or the potential loss of reputation. It appears that the Catholic Church has been mastering ODR for years.


Chris Argyris and Donald Schon, pioneers of organizational learning, suggest that ODR is driven by some governing variables, including:


• always maintain unilateral control;


• maximize winning and minimize losing;


• behave according to what you believe is rational.


They also state that the implications of these governing variables are:


• the design and management of situations unilaterally to ensure maximum control;


• the advocacy of a single viewpoint and the elimination of inquiry;


• the attribution of causes (ie. homosexuality is the problem);


• the cover-up of problems and the undiscussability of issues related to the problem;


• engaging defensive actions such as blaming others, stereotyping, and rationalizations for behaviors.


There it is. The Church's strategy in response to these long-standing charges in a nutshell.


The John Jay Report (2004), commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops found that over 10,000 people had alleged sex abuse by the clergy between 1950 and 2002. A total of 4,392 priests and deacons against whom allegations were made had these claims "substantiated." This does not include cases in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Poland, Ireland, Norway or the Philipines.


Not only did some Catholic priests rape children but the hierarchy covered it up, moved suspects to other countries to avoid prosecution, and allowed sex offenders to reoffend once moved. They also sought to silence their victims, according to the BBC, through the imposition of oaths of secrecy on child victims, the priest dealing with the allegations and any witnessess, on pain of excommunication.


Pope Benedict claims to be deeply ashamed but sought diplomatic immunity from a law suit where he was accused of conspiring to cover up the molestation of three young boys in Texas. The conspiracy charges may grow as more of the details of his involvement in the global cover-up are revealed.


Benedict's tears in recent meetings with victims are not enough. Real change must come to the Catholic Church for it to survive the 21st Century. Organizational defensiveness may be a major contributing factor to this long agony, this cancer, within the Catholic Church.



© Patrick O’Neill 2010. All rights reserved

Posted on April 28, 2010 and filed under Uncategorized.