"I can't comment on that," the Harvard Business School (HBS) alumnus, former corporate executive and current entrepreneur told me. I had asked him about the Rev. Michael Madden situation at St. John's Parish in Darien, Connecticut.
That St. John's saga is now familiar, both here in the northeast and nationally.
St. John's parochial vicar Rev. Madden suspected financial and management irregularities at the parish. Instead of notifying his superiors, he and the parish bookkeeper Bethany Derario hired a private investigator Vito Colucci Jr. They used their own funds to pay the PI. The content of the investigation, which the Bridgeport Diocese Bishop William Lori called "sensational," came to the attention of the media. Bishop Lori explained that the Diocese had already been in the midst of its own internal investigation, prior to Rev. Madden's actions.
When the Diocese found out that Rev. Madden was the one who called in PI Colucci, he was asked to resign the position of pastor. He had been elevated to that position after the incumbent, whose financial and management behavior was being looked into, had resigned.
Okay, that's the story. Those of us who have worked in or studied organizations have been left with many questions about this issue. Although the HBS graduate would not speak on the record he did provide some perspective, off the record. Parts of what he's observed has probably already occurred to us. But maybe not all of it.
In a nutshell, the issue here is someone who, for whatever reason, decided to become what's known as a whistle-blower. There are many motivations why members of organizations blow the whistle. They range from answering to a higher moral authority to personal/professional resentments. Most of us are tired enough of psychobabble not to speculate about possible motivations. Our concern is the act and its consequences.
Another part of the issue, of course, is the matter of free speech. But, this becomes dicey when one is a member of an organization. It gets even more tricky when that organization has an overlay of canon law. Could Rev. Madden's actions be interpreted as an exercise of free speech?
A third aspect of this issue is one's concept of organizational loyalty. Our source is from a Japanese ethnic background so his notion of loyalty is very rigid: You are loyal.
So, where does that leave us? According to my source, a whistle-blower, right or wrong, must be prepared to resign or be willing to resign. It is unlikely that this person can continue to function as a member of the organization.
In addition, there might be penalties, direct or indirect, for going outside the chain of command. A direct penalty would be the loss of the promotion, as happened with Rev. Madden. An indirect one would be being "blackballed" in the profession. Organizations are hesitant to hire known whistle-blowers. The whistle-blower must be emotionally and professionally prepared for those penalties.
When I ran all this by a few regular readers, they then put me in the hot seat: What did I think?
So, here's my take: If Rev. Madden felt so strongly about the financial and management problems that he broke the chain of command and hired a PI, then he fit the classic definition of a whistle-blower. As such, he should have been prepared for all the traditional consequences. Are those consequences right and just? In organizational terms, yes. According to a higher moral authority, I simply can't say.