Institutional privilege

On the balancing act between institutional privilege and credibility with the public. Is a "win-win" solution possible or is it a "zero-sum" or "win-loss" kind of "game"?

In a piece in the Inky, we learn of the Roman Catholic Church's response to Americans seeking to hold the Vatican, and specifically the current Pope, accountable for pedophile priests.

Court documents obtained yesterday show that Vatican lawyers plan to argue that the pope has immunity as head of state, that U.S. bishops who oversaw abusive priests weren't employees of the Vatican, and that a 1962 document is not the "smoking gun" that shows proof of a cover-up.

Would that the Vatican would concentrate only upon the last defense! That's the only part of their legal strategy that bears directly upon the Pope's guilt or innocence. The other two defenses are purely ones of institutional privilege. I can understand institutional privilege and can see why people defend it, but that's at direct cross-purposes with giving a credible explanation that would, in turn, build trust.

Wonkette reproduces a press briefing wherein the Press Secretary Tony Snow discusses the balancing act between institutional privilege and openness, transparency and credibility. Snow tries to convince the press corps that golly-gee willikers guys, we'd be open and honest and transparent, but hey y'know, Congress is seeking to impinge upon the institutional prerogatives of the President and associated subordinates.

MR. SNOW: What you’re saying is that every time somebody wants to try to mount a charge you ought to be able to get hauled up and testify under oath, with a presumption of criminality, rather than a presumption of goodwill. I’m not going to buy that.
Of course, as 911truthmovement.org makes clear, the people who wanted haul up Bush & Cheney upon "a presumption of criminality," were actually on very solid ground to make that presumption. About a year after Snow's scolding of the press corps, Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta confessed that there were several war games that were being conducted on 11Sep01, at the same time that the 9/11 attacks were taking place. The question this raises is:

...did the NORAD war games (Vigilant Guardian, Vigilant Warrior, Northern Vigilance) being run on 9/11 impact in any way, positively or negatively, the response by the military that morning?


[Richard Clarke] denied that there were multiple exercises.

The georgewashington.blogspot.com concludes that:

...the dedicated rank-and-file personnel at Norad were misled, intentionally, by the planners of 9/11. Specifically, the good and dedicated lower-level military people were confused by the events of 9/11 because 9/11 occurred at the same time as the multiple war games with their live fly exercises, plane into building scenarios, false radar inserts, and apparent interference by Cheney. [emphasis in original]

Were there any such war games taking place? That's hard to say because institutional privilege allowed Bush & Cheney to testify under the following conditions:

The two leaders were not under oath and no recording was made of the private session at the White House.


It was eventually agreed that the meeting would be held in the Oval Office, alongside Mr Cheney. There were no television cameras and also no photographs or transcripts of answers given by the two men.
Democrats had suggested the president's joint appearance with Mr Cheney might be an attempt to eliminate the possibility of providing contradictory testimony over whether the White House did all it could to head off the attacks.
But Mr Bush laughed off the suggestion.
It's very difficult to have any confidence that candid answers were given at the 2004 meeting considering that the record, even years later, still has so many troubling holes in it. By the same token, how are either Catholics or non-Catholics supposed to have any confidence that the problem of pedophile priests was properly or will ever be appropriately dealt with? The current, decades-old problem first came to the attention of the public in 2002:

Ultimately, it became clear that, over several decades in the 20th century, priests and lay members of religious orders in the Catholic Church had sexually abused minors on a scale such that the accusations reached into the thousands. Although the majority of cases were reported to have occurred in the United States, victims have come forward in other nations such as Ireland, Canada and Australia. A major aggravating factor was the actions of Catholic bishops to keep these crimes secret and to reassign the accused to other parishes in positions where they had continued unsupervised contact with youth, thus allowing the abusers to continue their crime. [emphasis added]

The real damage to the Church's credibility wasn't simply that it was embroiled in a scandal about adults abusing their positions of authority for their own sexual pleasure, it was in the fact that these crimes were enabled by a hierarchy that should have put the interests of the young people first. So, while I fully understand why the Church puts its institutional privileges first and acts to protect its "chain of command," the price of such protection is their credibility with the public.

The author is a Congregationalist Protestant, a New England denomination that is a direct theological descendant of English Puritanism. As such, he's mildly suspicious of the Roman Catholic Church in general, but only as an institution. He doesn't go so far as to hold Catholicism against anyone in a personal manner.

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