The Pope and Tiger Woods

Posted on April 6, 2010
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The Roman Catholic Church is proving the truth of Lord Acton’s claim that power corrupts and absolutel power corrupts absolutely.

Obviously hundreds, perhaps thousands, of members of the church hierarchy were aware of claims by alleged victims of abuse. Many abused their power by what they did or did not do about those claims within the church.

More abused their power and broke the law by what they did not do with regard to criminal law. Each and every one of them had a duty to report such claims and complaints to the police. Many of them did not.

Regardless of the truth of each allegation, priests, bishops and cardinals do not get to decide if charges should be laid or to try cases outside the courts.

What a priest says in confession may be confidential but a charge of abuse by an alleged victim is not.

Referring to the pattern of abuse and coverup and criminal behaviour over decades, countries and continents as “petty gossip” is the height of arrogance. The church continues to put the interests and power of the institution ahead of morality and the rights of people.

The church betrays its own claims to morality and justice.

Unfortunately, as Lord Acton claimed, this was inevitable. Power and the pursuit of power corrupts.

A woman I know defended the institution by pointing out the great majority of decent, self-sacrificing, generous priests and nuns serving the church and the people. In fact, those people have been betrayed as much as any other victim.

They also provide a buffer for hierarchy members who abuse power. They provide the good face that makes it hard to believe they have less beneficient colleagues.

Of course, the genuine, humble servants do not advance in the hierarchy. As always, the only people fit to hold power are not the ones programmed to win it.

Power itself seduces, produces and encourages the people who will abuse it.

When you think of it, the behaviour of other non-democratic, non-open strutures is the same.

Anyone who has lived around a military environment is fully aware of that. Military hierarchy, like the Catholic church, has a history of transferring miscreants rather than referring them to civilian justice. The church and the military could be using the same playbook when it comes to denial, coverup, rationalization and abuse.

If anything, in recent years, the military has been considerably more accountable than the church.

The financial masters of the universe do the same. We hear that the financial institutions have to pay the huge wages and bonuses into the tens of millions of dollars so that they do not lose their best talent.

To put this in perspective, they are referring to the talent that figured out how to set up dummy companies to move bad equities back and forth between quarterly reporting periods. They are referring to the people who devised the huge pools of rotten debt. They are referring to the people who, having created these pools, then sold them on the market. They are referring to the people who, knowing that these packages were garbage, sold them short (bet against them) on the market.

Much of what they did, we are told, is not even illegal but it is certainly misleading and dishonest.

These masters of the universe, as Tom Wolfe identified them, may not be part of one hierarchal organization chart. However, they do seem to have similar immunity to accountability. They arrogantly and greedily put the international financial ship on the rocks. They then scrambled into the lifeboats with their steamer trunks full of millions in bonuses. In their wake they left millions of seniors with their retirement investments decimated. They left millions more to the unemployment lines.

The regulators and inspectors and rating agencies that were responsible to ensure honest trading failed miserably.

This week, Tiger Woods rejoined the Professional Golf Association’s tournament tour with the Master’s. How much of his welcome back, by the fans, the networks and the golf industy is due forgiveness and how much is due power and money?

Tournament attendance, TV ratings, and industry profits all plumeted on the news of his absence after wallowing in an international orgy of kinky, vulgar sex while marketing himself as the All-American role model.

His rehabillitation, you can be sure, had quite a lot to do with scripting his apologies and teaching him how to answer questions to produce the quickest return to profit for him and the industry.

To be fair, another quote deserves equal consideration. I don’t know who said it but it too has the ring of truth.

“Virtue gets a lot of credit that actually belongs to lack of opportunity”.

Who among us believes we could handle significant power without being corrupted?

Still, it is interesting to see how quickly, thoroughly and easily profit trumps consequences in a case of such spectacular infidelity, hypocrisy, and behaviour.

Lord Acton seems to have been accurate when he said, “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

There was more to Acton’s observation. The next line was “Great men are almost always bad men”.

Power, like fire, is a good servant but a terrible master. We must constantly press our governments to improve its regulation, monitoring and concentration.                                                               DAC


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