Institutional Moral Failure: Emotional Intelligence and Practical Reason Serving Justice

  • Thomas Ryan


The Catholic Church in Australia emerged as an instance of gross moral failure in the final findings of a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse of December 2017. The profound damage to thousands of innocent victims has rightly demanded steps to understand and address the causes of this shocking tragedy at the personal, organisational, leadership and cultural levels of the Church. There is an associated imperative of re-evaluating the Church’s life, self-understanding and culture, particularly in relation to leaders and religious ministers. This specific case study in moral failure can be approached through the interplay of psychology and moral science. Emotional intelligence and practical reason converge with a common concern for the appreciation of, and response, to values and persons. This can be done, first, by examining culture (here, ecclesial) and how it underpins and shapes attitudes, values, practices and structures. Second, we consider the extent to which moral failure (with error and mistakes) can be seen as cultural constructs and how these three elements can be embodied in social and structural evil. Finally, there is learning from moral failure (with mistakes and errors) in terms of their potential for growth. Such a task can be approached as a four-pronged exercise in emotional intelligence and practical reason serving justice: from human sciences about the valence of shame; from history and the wider community; from victims; and from within the Christian story. Such an approach offers grounds for hope in the task of cultural change.


Mistake Error Failure Catholic Church Culture Emotional intelligence Justice Moral Practical reason Sexual abuse 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas Ryan
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Hunters HillAustralia
  2. 2.University of Notre DameFremantleAustralia

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