Sunday, April 11, 2010

Vatican PR

The Washington Post has a piece today noting the "Lack of a PR Strategy" in how the Vatican is handling the priest abuse scandal.

Excuse me, while their "PR" may be pathetic, it has been an accurate reflection of their view of the situation.  According to most comments coming from the Church, the primary problem is the persecution of the Pope.  That's what they believe and that's what they are saying.  And, while the Post notes that the Vatican has not consulted with the American bishops who have been through this kind of scandal, it would seem that the Vatican's view is shared by the American bishops.   Contrasting the lack of PR strategy in Rome with the presumably better responses in the U.S., the piece points out:
There appears to be a more organized effort, particularly in the United States, to defend the pope. American bishops across the country, including Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, took to the pulpit and op-ed pages over the Easter weekend. "What happens when a pope is persecuted?" was the title of a news release by the Atlanta-based Catholic public relations firm Maximus. "Martyred Popes" was the name of a blog post by American Catholic writer Robert Moynihan.
"Martyred Popes"??  That's the superior American approach to handling the scandal?  God save us from the Church!

The lack of a full acknowledgment of the problems is what's hurting the Church, not its PR strategy.  The PR strategy comes after the operational response, which is currently sorely lacking.  Only then can the Church begin to rehabilitate its reputation by communicating to its audiences its true remorse.  And they would prove that true remorse by taking steps that go beyond institutional protection.  The Church is nowhere near that phase yet. 

All this said, I think there is a PR strategy at work.  Think about it.  Think about the current message about the persecution of the Pope.  Think about which audience would respond to that message.  They are arming the die hards with an explanation in order to hold onto them.  They are not, in any way, seeking to reach people, like me, observant Catholics who are disgusted and whose only explanation is to chalk it up to human frailty that afflicts the Church just like any other human institution.

Sadly, while I look for a divine response more in keeping with the teachings of Jesus, a true humility, a true remorse, an acceptance of responsibility for the sins that have been committed, I wait in vain.

In a telling paragraph in the story, a man named Barry McLoughlin is cited:

Barry McLoughlin, who holds crisis management seminars for U.S. bishops and helped them craft the tougher 2002 rules, said he's "in agony" watching the Church fail to get its footing. He said people around the pope may be too intimidated to deliver bad news to his face.(emphasis added)

It was the tougher rules that helped the American Church begin to move on, not its PR strategy.  As a person who works in PR, suggesting that the Vatican's problem is PR, gives PR a bad name.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Enough, enough, enough, enough....

New evidence that Cardinal Ratzinger was more concerned with protecting "the universal church" than the fate of children left in the care of pedophile priests.  Here's an excerpt from the AP story that reveals a newly discovered letter resisting defrocking a priest that had not only been convicted of lewd conduct, but had requested himself that he leave the priesthood:
But the future pope also noted that any decision to defrock Kiesle must take into account the "good of the universal church" and the "detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke within the community of Christ's faithful, particularly considering the young age." Kiesle was 38 at the time.
I have a Catholic friend, more conservative than me, but who recognizes how bad things are getting.  Still, since he believes all media outside of Fox News represent a liberal conspiracy against all he holds dear, including the Church, he admires the Church's seeming imperviousness to media criticism.  He exults at how ridiculous any idea that the Pope will step down.  He says, "It will NEVER happen, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, etc."  I have to say, I can't easily conceive of the Pope "resigning."  I'm not even sure what that means, it sounds so strange.

But things are truly getting out of hand.  We are clearly in Watergate territory now where it is impossible to contain the damage.  And every dismissive response from the Vatican simply fans the flames.

I would say to my friend, never say never.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Why I Remain a Catholic

This is a nice piece, written by a thinking Catholic named Mary Gordon.  It's worth reading in its entirety as it included a nice parable.  But, here's teh bottom line:
How do some of us stay in the Church? In grief, in sadness, with a resolve not to be shut out by those who say they are speaking in the name of the Father. We just don't believe them. The Church is not an institution; it is the people, people who are now wounded and scandalized, not only by the sexual crimes of priests, but more important, by the cover-up by those in power. In 1959 the election of Pope John XXIII was a surprise, a kind of miracle. It happened once. It could happen again. We wait, in stubborn hope, for the return of miracle. We want to make sure some of us are at home when it happens.
Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for flagging it.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Good Friday

The front page of the Washington Post today has a picture of the pastor of my local parish kneeling in prayer.  The story discusses his struggle over whether to reference the scandal rocking Europe of priestly sexual abuse.  Honestly, I barely glanced at the piece and didn't even know it was Father Enzler until my daughter called it to my attention.  Like all Catholics, I'm disgusted by the scandal and I don't need to know all the details.  I'm from Boston, so I've seen this movie before.  My standard response is that the Church, while divinely inspired, is a human institution with all of humanity's flaws.

At noon, I went up to St. Matthews Cathedral a few blocks from my office to attend Good Friday Services.  Since it is such an important day in the liturgical calendar, I feel like I should do something to get into the spirit of the day.  It's a long service and does provide some spiritual sustenance as you contemplate the events of that day.  Nothing says "melancholy" like a choir singing the Passion Chorale from St. Matthews Passion.

As I approached the Cathedral, I notice a crowd gathered across the street.  It was on behalf of abuse victims and was a very calm, peaceful and respectful vigil.  I learned later that Archbishop Weurl, who presided over the Good Friday services, stopped by the vigil and prayed with the group.  Good move.

During the service, the sex abuse scandal was brought up twice.  Once by a priest who was providing brief commentary on the famous "Last Words of Jesus."  They are phrases that Jesus uttered on the cross before he died.  One phrase was, "Father, why have you forsaken me?"  The priest discussed various ways people feel forsaken by God.  At the end, he mentioned people abused by priest.  Importantly, he acknowledged that they were forsaken both by the priests they trusted, but hat they were also forsaken be the Church as an institution.  Archbishop Wuerl also mentioned the scandal in his big homily, but he included ringing support of the Pope and was somewhat more vague on the responsibility of the Church as an institution. 

So, I had to admire, to some degree, the effort to confront the issue.  Then, as I drove home, I heard about homily delivered by the Pope's personal preacher in his Good Friday sermon.  He compared the criticism of the Pope to anti-Semitism that culminated in the Holocaust.  Big sigh!  Makes my speechless.  I guess I'm pleased that the Vatican had the good sense to reject the comparison.  And the comments of Rev. Thomas Reese  in the story about Fr. Enzler also gives some hope:
But not all Catholics have leapt to the church's defense. The Rev. Thomas Reese, a scholar at Georgetown University, said the suffering-Jesus metaphor might be more fittingly applied to the victims of abuse. Reese, who spent the week analyzing the church's crisis and preparing a Good Friday message for his chapel, said he asked himself, "Who among us has experienced the betrayal, suffering and torture Jesus felt more than the victims?
I doubt the Vatican will ever get it. The layers upon layers that provide an impenetrable bubble around the Pope deny him any sense of what's really happening. They are in total institution protection mode. But they are so misguided. Rather than protecting the institution, they are destroying it from within.