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A field test of equivocation theory: Apologies by Canadian churches to indigenous people
Unformatted Document Text:  22 However, it is possible to examine the issue of responsibility more closely. Church officials did select the offending individuals and give them absolute authority over children. Clearly, some of those personnel decisions were tragically wrong. Moreover, such widespread abuse was not invisible to everyone, so either officials did not monitor sufficiently or chose to ignore signs and even reports of abuse, as some of the apologies acknowledged. Finally, when they learned of abuse, they could have acted decisively in every instance; even a few instances could have brought about a serious change in policies and administration. These are the actions (or inactions) for which the church can accurately take responsibility, and they have surprisingly positive implications for the future. Only by being specific about what the offences were can one hope to avoid them, or similar problems, in the future. Only an accurate accounting makes the pledge to change convincing. The churches were responsible for what churches can do, administratively, but there is a great deal that can be done at that level. Implications for Research Returning to the two methodological goals of this research, it is clear that it is possible to locate a set of statements made in a relatively uniform set of circumstances that would create an avoidance conflict. Thus, naturally occurring tests of the avoidance theory of equivocation can be found. Second, it is possible to apply the logic but not the procedure of the original method of measurement to create an objective measure of equivocation. In another study (Prevost & Bavelas, 2000), we focused on judges’ descriptions of crimes when there was already a guilty verdict. Naming the

Authors: Bavelas, Janet.
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22
However, it is possible to examine the issue of responsibility more closely.
Church officials did select the offending individuals and give them absolute authority
over children. Clearly, some of those personnel decisions were tragically wrong.
Moreover, such widespread abuse was not invisible to everyone, so either officials did
not monitor sufficiently or chose to ignore signs and even reports of abuse, as some of
the apologies acknowledged. Finally, when they learned of abuse, they could have
acted decisively in every instance; even a few instances could have brought about a
serious change in policies and administration. These are the actions (or inactions) for
which the church can accurately take responsibility, and they have surprisingly positive
implications for the future. Only by being specific about what the offences were can one
hope to avoid them, or similar problems, in the future. Only an accurate accounting
makes the pledge to change convincing. The churches were responsible for what
churches can do, administratively, but there is a great deal that can be done at that
level.
Implications
for
Research
Returning to the two methodological goals of this research, it is clear that it is
possible to locate a set of statements made in a relatively uniform set of circumstances
that would create an avoidance conflict. Thus, naturally occurring tests of the
avoidance theory of equivocation can be found. Second, it is possible to apply the logic
but not the procedure of the original method of measurement to create an objective
measure of equivocation. In another study (Prevost & Bavelas, 2000), we focused on
judges’ descriptions of crimes when there was already a guilty verdict. Naming the


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