Organizational culture absolutely has an impact on organizational performance, and the Catholic Church is no exception. Indeed, it can be argued that the organizational culture within the Catholic Church, from the Vatican to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to the vast global network of priests and nuns, has had an indelible impact on the church’s performance for a period extending back hundreds of years. The reason people in and out of the Catholic Church continue to debate the merits of the Second Vatican Council of 1958, intended by then-Pope John XXIII to instill an element, no matter how limited, of transparency into Church affairs, is precisely because the history of an extremely opaque organization was leading to fundamental disagreements regarding the organization’s long-term direction.
The revelation of widespread cases of child abuse, as well as of sexual exploitation of nuns from within the Catholic Church was the prelude to a serious reexamination of the church’s organizational culture – a culture that dates back thousands of years. The culture of silence that dominates church affairs, and that facilitated the coverup of so many cases of child abuse at the hands of clergy, was testament to the impact of that culture on organizational performance. The Catholic Church has suffered an existential crisis because of its unwillingness to openly acknowledge and address very serious problems while setting forth dictates that increasingly ran counter to evolving social trends. The culture of silence that characterizes church affairs and that enabled some priests to continue to abuse children trusted to their spiritual care despite knowledge of their crimes by church officials bespeaks the extent of the failures.
The Vatican has always been a highly secretive organization, with the election of new popes famously carried out in strict secrecy by an assemblage of Cardinals and the issue of Vatican finances being the subject of numerous journalistic investigations. Add to the culture of silence surrounding these matters the issue of sexual abuse among presumably celibate clergy, whose lives were dedicated to the spiritual wellbeing of their congregants, and one cannot help but draw the conclusion that the history of coverups of those abuses was a direct extension of that culture of secrecy.
All organizations over time develop cultures that dominate their internal affairs and that directly impact performance. The Catholic Church is not an exception to that rule; it is, in fact, one of the most visible symbols of the rule’s legitimacy.