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.

1 comment:

Claire said...

So true, Bill. It's ironic, as contrition and self-reflection are at the heart of the catechism. To be flip, where's all this "Catholic guilt" we hear so much about? More seriously, the Church granted us the sincere plea of "mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa." This kind of acknowledgment of sin cannot be the sole purview of the lowly church going layperson- leadership has a duty to live it. Doing so would take them far in the eyes of the world.