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The Catholic Church operates a medieval system of accountability

By Kate Mannix - posted Wednesday, 1 December 2004

The corruption in the Olympic Movement reached truly Olympic proportions under the rule of Juan Antonio Samaranch, once an assistant to Franco, who headed the IOC for 20 years until his retirement in 2000.

Samaranch opened a floodgate for finance from corporate sponsors and host governments, and turned a blind eye to millions of dollars in unadulterated graft. The scandal broke finally in late 1998 and led to the expulsion of ten IOC members for receiving cash, gifts and other incentives during the Salt Lake City Winter Games bid.

Samaranch and his IOC cronies turned the Olympics into a cash cow, and a sacred one at that. There are hilarious accounts of his insistence that people treat him as a virtual head of state, with a gaggle of servants who were required to call him "Your Excellency". He allowed his sycophants to secure for him a regal headquarters and private penthouse in Switzerland, with expense accounts and trappings worthy of royalty.


The rules changed because of Samaranch. IOC members had been appointed for life. Now they may serve for only 8 years and must retire when they reach 80.

The IOC did this because they realised something that the Catholic Church - expert in humanity - is yet to realise:

People who are placed in positions of power for life are likely to become fatigued and lazy, or corrupt. Indeed corruption is almost inevitable in any situation where there is no election, no term, no accountability, no “turnover” and no accessible authority to which to appeal.

That is the position the former Bishops of Ballarat, O'Collins and Mulkearns, were in when they had responsibility for rampant paedophiles, Fr Gerald Ridsdale and Monsignor John Day.

Like Samaranch, these Bishops had total authority. Like Samaranch, these Excellencies appear to have misused their authority. Like Samaranch, at the very least, they closed their eyes to what was going on around them. In Mildura, a nudge and wink to the officer in charge could make papers disappear, privilege and prestige were gifts, and the rape of children by men in the Church's charge were airbrushed out of sight, out of mind.

The Church's hierarchy was not unaware of the broad issue of accountability. When the Code of Canon Law was revised in 1983, it was envisaged that local administrative tribunals of bishops would be a local authority of appeal. Where a case could be made against a bishop, the local conference of Bishops could act as a layer of authority between the faithful, and Rome.


Those involved in the code's revision understood that local tribunals were to be introduced in the 1983 Code; their only question was whether they would be mandated by the code. But unilaterally, Rome decided that there should be no local authority competing with the ultimate authority of the Vatican. Local administrative tribunals were excised, without reference even to the Cardinals.

So we are left with the medieval system we know: the one that produced the "bad apples" and those who protected them.

If the Australian Bishops do not have the authority or the will to institute a system that saves them from the corrosive dangers of power in their own diocese, they can still translate ordinary principles of management for the purpose.

They should adopt financial accountability procedures; “benchmarks” to determine whether or not they are meeting agreed standards; and external reviews. They should move or be moved. Priests should re-locate every six years, so at the very least they must face the challenge of a new set of faces, a new pastoral setting and new local conditions.

In Ballarat, Bishop Mulkearns served the people for 26 years, and before him Bishop O'Collins was in the job for 30 years. And before him Bishop Foley occupied that position for another 25 years. From World War 1 to the Millenium Bug in three long dominions. There is little merit in this. Politics, like nature, knows that without change there is no opportunity for growth, merely conditions ripe for stagnation.

The IOC has addressed its systemic cronyism, poisonous corruption and the renewal of its leadership with a blast of sunlight that resurrected the organisation in the eyes of the world. The Catholic Church in Australia could do this too. Bring it on.

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First published in Online Catholics on November 23, 2004.

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About the Author

Kate Mannix is the founding editor of On Line Catholics, which she edited between 2003 and 2005. Before that she was a senior researcher at ABC Television. She has edited the Catholic Church's e-zines Ozspirit, and various publications for schools.

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