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The Catholic sexual abuse scandal again came to light after a Pennsylvania grand jury found that over 1,000 victims had been sexually abused by more than 300 priests over 70 years and that many employees of the Catholic Church were involved in covering up the abuse. How was it that so much abuse was able to be hidden from the public eye for so long? The answer to this question holds lessons for all institutions who want to ensure they take the right steps in the face of allegations of misconduct.

The most likely explanation is that the Catholic Church was protecting its reputation and rather than deal with the optics of priests being investigated and convicted of sexual abuse against children, the church tried to cover up the details and deal with the problem internally. In other words, the church created a de facto policy that when allegations surfaced that its priority would be to ensure that the allegations were not made public and the abuse not reported. When details did surface in the community, the Catholic Church would simply transfer the priest to a new church where the parishioners would not know he was a child abuser. As the grand jury put it, the church followed “a playbook for concealing abuse.” That “playbook” was policy. More details about this policy may be coming to light after the New York State Attorney General’s Office issued subpoenas to every Catholic diocese in the state as part of its investigation into sex crimes committed by Catholic priests.

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