Appalling consequences follow when people believe a virtuous lifestyle excuses evil deedsby Julian Baggini / November 19, 2020 / Leave a comment
Last week’s Vatican report into how the Catholic Church repeatedly failed to deal with allegations of sexual abuse evokes a heavy sense of déjà-vu. This is not just because the church has sinned in similar ways so many times before, but that numerous other organisations that exist to do good have also been shown to tolerate exceptional wickedness.
In this case, Father Theodore McCarrick faced multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, but Pope John Paul II not only ignored them, he actually promoted him, first to archbishop of Washington DC and then to cardinal. John Paul’s successor Pope Benedict XVI also knew about the alleged misconduct and although he accepted McCarrick’s resignation, he too failed to deal adequately with the allegations and new ones that came to light.
The Catholic Church is not unique in harbouring vice behind a veil of virtue. Time and again we see organisations committed to making the world a better place becoming home to those making it worse.
Take Oxfam, which has been engulfed in scandals around staff misconduct, including paid sex with potentially underage children, in Haiti and the Philippines. The Charity Commission report into the allegations was damning, saying that the incidents and problems identified were not isolated one-offs.
Or consider Jimmy Savile’s repeated abuse of children at Stoke Mandeville hospital. Staff had their concerns but they let him get away with it because, as the hospital’s former director of nursing put it, “people were afraid of Jimmy stopping raising money for the hospital.” At another hospital where Savile was given free licence, a former nurse said: “A lot of the staff said he should be behind bars. We used to laugh about it in those days.”
I’m also reminded of a major trade union where a good friend of mine worked in the early 2000s. All the while the union was promoting workers’ rights its own staff were often overworked, burning out and even bullied in an aggressive, male-dominated environment.
When such problems are investigated, the conclusions are all remarkably similar. Time and again what is uncovered is a culture of denial and tolerance. The Charity Commission report into Oxfam identified “A culture of tolerating poor behaviour.” Pope Francis pointed the finger at a “culture of clericalism” in the church, whereby it…