The Catholic Church will stay mired in the abuse crisis until it gets serious about SAM risk management data

This report, from the National Catholic Reporter, citing a speech by Fr. Hans Zollner saying clericalism was the root of the sex abuse crisis demonstrates an important reason the Church is still struggling to put the crisis behind it.

In defense of Fr Zollner, who I briefly met about 14 months ago, he clearly ‘gets’ both the depth of the crisis and the extent of the actions needed to help the Church address the challenges it faces. The article suggests that, since I heard him speak last year, he has become even more realistic about the extent of the challenges and more concerned to work jointly with the laity to find solutions.  

But, where to find solutions?

If Moneyball taught us anything, it is that decisions based on subjective opinion are often flawed. Blaming the abuse crisis on clericalism is an opinion. It may be a correct opinion but, even if it is, it is unlikely to be the only reason. And it is hardly a new opinion. In fact, it has been a popular view for a long time, but the different ways the Church has sought to address clericalism have made no difference to the nature or depth of the crisis in which the Church remains as deeply mired as ever.

The problem as I see it is that the Church is still trying to meet the core challenge of the crisis – of effectively managing all the different manifestations of sexual abuse and misconduct (SAM) risk – with its hands tied behind its back.  SAM is a risk by the definition of a risk as something that can help or prevent an organization from meeting its core objectives.  On this definition, SAM is a significant risk to the Church and should be managed accordingly. 

No risk can be managed effectively without sound analysis of reliable data.  The more significant the risk, the more important reliable data and sound analysis become.  The Church’s hands are tied because the data necessary to manage SAM risk effectively is not currently collected, so cannot be analyzed or acted upon. What gets measured gets managed…

Ideally, the right data needs to be collected at scale and analyzed effectively. Then, objective SAM risk management best practices identified by the analysis need to be applied widely. Until this happens, the many different parts of the Church will continue to make subjective, diverse, and too often, flawed SAM risk management decisions. 

To address the concern that this couldn’t work because the Church isn’t “one big block”, technology now makes it trivial to deliver information in ways that would allow any organization within the Church to choose which best practices to deploy based, for example, on their context, objectives, and resource constraints.

Subjective, diverse, and flawed SAM risk decisions evidently contributed to the abuse crisis in the first place. But they are also keeping the Church rooted in crisis because the absence of appropriate data and analysis allows them to persist.

Leave a Reply