Sex-abuse cover-ups cast a long shadow

By David Quinn
February 18, 2018

The UN and Oxfam have learnt nothing from the church’s disgrace

When an organisation is hit by complaints of sex abuse, and when it is discovered that the abuse was covered up by those in charge, the effect on that organisation is devastating. The Catholic church is the best example. In this country, abuse by priests and religious was a dominant news story from roughly the mid-1990s until 2011, when the report about abuse in the Cloyne diocese was published.

The blanket coverage of that story is what makes it so mystifying to see other organisations also engage in the cover-up of sex abuse, including sporting bodies, schools, scouting organisations, other churches, the UN and, most recently, Oxfam.

If these abuses had been covered up years ago, before the scandals that embroiled the Catholic church had come to light, that might be one thing. While it would not, of course, excuse the abuses or the cover-ups, it would mean those other organisations had no opportunity to learn from the catastrophic mistakes made by the Catholic church. But many incidences of abuse and cover-ups occurred after those lessons should have been learnt. They were not.

A report last year into the Hillsborough disaster of 1989, in which 96 people were killed at a football match in Sheffield, described what seems to be almost an immutable law of human nature, namely “an instinctive prioritisation of the reputation of an organisation over the citizen’s right to expect people to be held to account for their actions”.


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