Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

True versus False Accountability

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jan 07, 2004

A man I know worked for a firm that made fuel controls for jet engines. His job was to ensure the quality of the component parts that were made by outside contractors. This entailed weekly visits to the shops in which the parts were machined and personal, hands-on verification that the parts were made to spec -- OK as to grade of stock, linear dimensions, concentricity, smoothness, surface finish, etc. The system was designed to ensure good parts, and if bad parts got through to become part of the fuel control assembly, the blame could be, and was properly, traced back to him.

Then a new management team took over. They no longer had the man visit the machine shops or inspect the parts. In the new thinking, they required him to ask the subcontractors whether they had quality control processes in place in their own shops. In other words, he'd send a questionnaire to the supplier asking "Do you have such and such procedures for checking spec compliance?" They'd answer Yes, and he'd sign off on the form and pass it up the ladder. The point is that management had a fall guy -- someone who had put a signature on a document -- and hence someone besides themselves to blame when things went wrong. The system (called, significantly, a Quality Control Audit) was designed not to ensure good parts but to cover managers' tails.

The Church's sex abuse crisis was a calamity in which, so to speak, all their aircraft fell out of the sky within five months. The public outcry for accountability was too great to be ignored. So how did the bishops respond? Let Bishop Gregory tell it:

We established an Office of Child and Youth Protection, the purposes of which are "to assist in the consistent application" of the Charter's principles and "to provide a vehicle of accountability and assistance to dioceses/eparchies." According to the Charter, the Office is expected to produce "an annual public report on the progress made in implementing the standards in this Charter."

The first of these reports is contained in this volume. It is based on a compliance audit of virtually all dioceses and eparchies of the United States by an independent auditor, the Gavin Group, Inc., of Boston, Massachusetts.

Everyone realizes that a group the size of the National Review Board, no matter how competent and good-willed, cannot really assess the situation in 193 dioceses within 18 months. Many (not all) also realize that true accountability would entail a root-and-branch purge of corrupt and grossly incompetent administrators, including bishops. Threatened by or incapable of true accountability, the bishops opted for false accountability, for the counterfeit, for an "audit." Gregory's "consistent application" criterion does not guarantee good priests and better bishops. It means his tail is covered.

Too harsh? As one commenter notes, John McCormack of Manchester -- perhaps the most catastrophically incompetent and injurious of all the bishops -- comes out of the audit not with nary a censure and indeed with two commendations to his credit. A brief tour through the charred and twisted aluminum and smoking kerosene of the crisis shows that, on paper, the planes are flying higher than ever.

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