Last week the LA Times published a story detailing how the Boy Scouts of America repeatedly covered up for troop leaders and scoutmasters who sexually abused the boys in their care. I found the following particularly telling:
In 1982, a Michigan Boy Scout camp director who learned of allegations of repeated abuse by a staff member told police he didn’t promptly report them because his bosses wanted to protect the reputation of the Scouts and the accused staff member.
I imagine that many Catholic officials employed the same type of thinking when they decided to cover up similar behavior by priests, and I can picture how those conversations might go. People can trick themselves into believing they’re doing what’s best for their institution long-term by sacrificing justice in the short term, but in both cases—the Scouts and the church—an even longer view has shown that to be false.
You see this “not-quite-long-enough” view at work in all sorts of collective decision-making, and it never seems to end well. Maybe ethical standards exist for a reason—not just because they’re right, but because they work.