James Condon and Salvation Army Organisational Culture (Or: A Fish Rots from the Head Down)


Image: James Condon and Peter Farthing at the Royal Commission (Image Source: ABC).

Management experts know that organisational culture is a key determinant of how an organisation engages with stakeholders and comports itself in its day-to-day operations. Organisational leaders are particularly important in demonstrating, through their practices, what values an organisation embraces as part of its organisational culture. In particular, how a leader behaves says a lot about an organisation because organisational members generally follow a leader’s example as being a tacit indication of how they should behave themselves.

It is extremely disturbing, therefore, to see how Australian Salvation Army chief, ‘Commissioner’ James Condon, has acted in relation to claims of child abuse by Salvation Army members, including accused paedophile Colin Haggar. Disturbing not just in its own right but because of what his conduct conveys to organisational members who take direction from their leader about what conduct is acceptable or unacceptable, whatever official policy documents may say to the contrary.

James Condon’s rather bumbling testimony about how he took confessed paedophile Colin Haggar to the police raised disbelieving eyebrows to all who listened to it. You could drive trucks through his story in places. Close and critical observers of his testimony, which had just the right mix of uncertainty and certainty in its telling to sound somewhat plausible to the casual listener, felt instinctively that it was clearly scripted and, to be frank, utter rubbish, and were clearly increasingly distressed at having to listen to it.

Witnesses to his self-serving accounts and his intermittent attempts to use a grave environment such as the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to get in little ‘plugs’ for the Salvation Army also became increasingly angry as Mr. Condon continued on with his testimony in a way that indicated that Mr. Condon appeared to be using the proceedings to push the image of the Salvation Army.

It was even more galling to observe Mr. Condon smiling broadly throughout his testimony. To be fair, a lot of people smile when they are nervous, but it seemed to this author at least that Mr. Condon smiled the most broadly when he delivered his lines without faltering. Perhaps that’s a little unfair, but that’s just how this author, who fully admits bias, saw things. Perhaps Mr. Condon was just trying to show that he had a human side? Some people have the misfortune to have faces that, in their relaxed state, regrettably and unfairly make them look like unpleasant people, and need to work hard to show their true colours through appropriate modifications to their ‘resting state’ faces. Poor Mr. Condon may be one such person, as the images below demonstrate.



Images: Would the real James Condon please stand up?

In any event, after having to listen to Mr. Condon go on and on and on in a way that was causing increasing distress and anger to most of those listening to him, it was therefore an enormous relief after this sickening charade to witness surprise and brilliant cross-examinations of Mr. Condon by solicitor Karen McGlinchey and NSW State Lawyer John Agius QC.

In relation to Mr. Condon’s assertion that he took Colin Haggar to the Parramatta police station in 1990 upon Haggar’s confession of his crime to Mr. Condon, which included a patently unlikely claim that the police didn’t ask for any details that might have assisted them in investigating the matter, among other things, John Agius ably ripped Mr. Condon’s story apart at every turn, concluding with the statements:

“Your evidence is ridiculous, isn’t it?”

“It beggars belief, doesn’t it … that the police would not have asked for details of the complaint?”

Karen McGlinchey also showed how preposterous it was for Mr. Condon to have accepted Haggar’s ridiculous assertion that when he told the victim’s parents what he had done, they forgave him. And how ridiculous it was of Mr. Condon to have accepted Haggar’s claim that not only did the parents forgive the man who hurt their child that they actually asked Mr. Haggar to stay for dinner, invited him back to their home on several occasions, and even told Mr. Haggar that they did not want to go to the police.

Mr. Condon is a family man, with children and grandchildren of his own. As a parent and grandparent, it seems unlikely in the extreme that he would act in the way he claimed the family of Colin Haggar’s victim behaved were he to find himself in the same awful situation as they found themselves. Yet he expected those listening to him to believe it of the victim’s parents. As Karen McGlinchey said:

“Well, that’s just ludicrous. Parents don’t behave that way.” 

But there was more to come. And that was in the accounts of how James Condon and the Salvation Army fought the NSW Ombudsman tooth and nail about the Salvation Army’s reporting obligations to that governmental organisation. Reputable charitable organisations involved in provision of services to children should be falling over themselves to work with governmental organisations charged with protection of children. Not so the Salvation Army, it would seem.

When Salvation Army whistleblower Michelle White told Mr. Condon in early 2013 that additional abuse allegations had been made against Colin Haggar, who was running at the time a shelter for women and children,.what did the Salvation Army do?

What it did not do was immediately take the matter to the NSW Ombudsman, which it should have done whether or not the Salvation Army was absolutely certain that the Ombudsman had a right to such information or not. What harm could there have been in going to the Ombudsman? Instead of taking the approach that in pursuance of the interests of child protection it was better to help the NSW Ombudsman, whatever reservations it may have had about the necessity of doing so, it dug its heels in.

According to Michelle White, there were very long delays by Mr. Condon in fulfilling the Salvation Army’s mandatory reporting requirements. Eventually, this led her to take action of her own and report to the NSW Ombudsman that there was an active Salvation Army officer with a known history of child-related sexual abuse in a position to abuse children.

That Ms White had to take this action herself and that it was not done by her employer as soon as she alerted it to the problem is a damning indictment of the Salvation Army. So too is how Ms White was treated by her employing organisation for taking the initiative to follow the law and fulfill her legal and moral obligations to society to protect children from harm. Ms. White is reported as indicating that that high ranking members of the Salvation Army actually intimidated her personally and professionally after she reported a child sex-abuser.

There was another thing that also beggared belief. Not only did Mr. Condon not immediately report Haggar to the NSW Ombudsman on the advice of his staff member Michelle White, it appears from evidence presented to the Royal Commission that the Salvation Army waged a protracted communications battle with the Ombudsman through Salvos Legal, headed by Luke Geary, about whether it actually had an obligation to make such a report! Again, reputable organisations work hand in hand with governmental child protection agencies, not against them. Not so the Salvation Army, it would seem.

So what does all of this tell us about the Salvation Army? At this stage, nothing good. A high ranking leader of the Salvation Army, James Condon, has demonstrated, through his conduct:

1. A willingness to believe utterly implausible stories told by those accused of abusing children.

2. A tardy approach to reporting suspected child abuse and a belief that it’s okay to act in the Salvation Army’s own sweet time about very serious matters in which children might right now be being abused.

3. A confrontational approach to governmental organisations charged with protecting children rather than an approach predicated upon engagement and full cooperation.

4. A lack of support (to put things mildly) to people within its organisation who are concerned about child abuse and the Salvation Army’s handling of incidents of suspected child abuse.

Quite possibly, depending on further action by the NSW government in addressing the matter of Mr. Condon’s strange and implausible story about how he took Colin Haggar to the police in 1990, it may even be shown that Mr. Condon is a head of an organisation who is prepared to lie under oath, on the Bible, to a Royal Commission. Worse, it may even be shown that Mr. Condon broke the law in covering up child abuse. Hopefully, all will be revealed in this respect on Monday when the Royal Commission resumes the Case Study 10 hearings, or at least very soon afterwards.

As stated at the beginning of this post, organisational members generally take direction from the conduct of their leaders. Mr. Condon, through his conduct, has shown himself to be a leader who does not remotely understand child abuse and is prepared to take the word of accused paedophiles no matter how ridiculous their claims, a leader who does not give the respect that is due to governmental institutions designed to protect children, and a leader who does not support internal critics of the Salvation Army who attempt to get it to lift its game in respect of child protection.

What message does all this send to those who work below Mr. Condon?

Further, what confidence can the Australian public have in the Salvation Army, an organisation intimately involved with young people, when its leader has such serious shortcomings?

Finally, what does it say about the worldwide Salvation Army movement that world Salvation Army head, ‘General’ Andre Cox, rather than sack Mr. Condon, has recently announced that Mr. Condon and his wife, Jan, have had their ‘contracts’ as Territorial Leaders of the Australia Eastern Territory extended until 31 May 2016 rather than ‘retire’ Mr. Condon, as planned, on 30 November 2014?

[Postscript. It has been reported in the media that “The commission was also told on Monday that the Salvation Army had no plans to use the defence of vicarious liability in historical cases of child abuse, unlike the Catholic Church which had argued in another matter that it could not be held vicariously responsible for historical abuse.” Will the Salvation Army apply this new decision retrospectively and allow anyone blocked by the defence of vicarious liability in the past to make new claims? Will the Salvation Army also pledge to remove reliance on statute of limitations legislation (retrospectively as well as in the future), vow not to be held to Deeds of Release it made victims sign, and allow the Australian legal system to work so that class actions and other legal actions may now be taken against the Salvation Army for abuses committed by its members?]

Aletha Blayse


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14 Responses to James Condon and Salvation Army Organisational Culture (Or: A Fish Rots from the Head Down)

  1. Rona Seabrook says:

    Bloody Condon knew what was going on and I feel for Lewis Blayse what happen to him was horrific and his family were treated like they were nothing .

  2. Rona Seabrook says:

    Please do not tell me grown men do not know the difference between right and wrong come on who are you trying to kid any person who molests a child should be sent to prison. No trial.

  3. Pingback: Australian Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson Charged (Or: Touchdown!) | lewisblayse.net

  4. google says:

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  5. Judd Huff says:

    Hi, sad to say that it is entirely plausible that the police would turn away a confessing child abuser 20 years ago, indeed it still happens. As a child protection worker I found time and again that nobody would get charged for horrific crimes if the child or family didn’t want to come forward. Sometimes the child wanted to later in life, generally they get off without a care.
    Our justice system demands the victim make some kind of accusation. All it would have taken is a slightly busy duty officer at the police station and bang! Dismissed.
    Sadly it’s worse than what you say it is, not a one off lie but a sad truth of the system.

    • lewisblayse says:

      You make a very good point, and thanks for raising it. It could very well have occurred in the way you suggest. And, sadly, if we choose to believe Condon for the sake of argument, it need not necessarily have been incompetence that may have been involved, as we know all too well from other incidents.

      If so, investigations need to be undertaken into the NSW police and a possible cover-up. From my observations and from what was said at the Royal Commission, however, it appears to me that it’s not the police who were culpable this time.

      Hopefully answers to these issues will be provided this week … SOMEONE has committed a crime in addition to any crimes committed by Colin Haggar, and the truth needs to be ascertained.

      I think the other point that needs to be made is that even if we believe Condon’s story, one has to ask why he didn’t go to more police stations until he found one that would investigate Haggar? And if that proved futile, why did he not then take the matter further?

  6. Pingback: James Condon and Salvation Army Organisational Culture (Or: A Fish Rots from the Head Down) | Christian Reforms

  7. 1petermcc says:

    Reblogged this on 1petermcc's Blog and commented:
    A wonderful piece from Aletha. The Salvos still don’t get it even in front of the Royal Commission.

  8. 1petermcc says:

    Powerful work Aletha. It’s a relief to see someone fighting back hard and it will hopefully put an end to their “business as usual” responses.

    • lewisblayse says:

      Thanks. I think a lot of people are starting to fight back now. Hopefully what they say will actually be listened to and Salvos embrace need for change rather than reject it.

      • 1petermcc says:

        I hope it keeps building up. I fear that eventually bad news fatigue will allow some to escape but I think you have the Salvos seriously pinned down in the spotlight and I can’t see them sneaking away.

        It is remarkable to see individuals able to hold them account. All power to you.

        • lewisblayse says:

          Yes, bad news / compassion fatigue is a real problem. And the news cycle moves on. Soon, it will be on other things. I’ll therefore be trying to write on other matters as I go. I am, however, looking at setting up a ‘side project’ re the Salvos so as to avoid boring people on this blog while keeping up the writing about the Salvos. Really, the work of the whistle-blowers is the best because no-one can accuse them of bias – quite the opposite – they did their best to alert their employer to problems and only went public when it became clear that they weren’t being listened to. I hope more come forward.

  9. snapspaner says:

    GREAT piece Aletha! You are right, next weeks performance of the Salvos will be it’s last chance at a scale tipper. I am stocking up on crisps and brew for the show.

    • lewisblayse says:

      Thanks, Steven. It might be a day to go down in history as a turning point in bringing very high level people to account and showing no-one is above the law. Me, I’m getting some of those red sugar-coated peanuts which have been standard election night nibblies for years but will do just fine for Monday 🙂

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