The LA Times reports that some of America’s bishops feel they need more professional public relations help. Boston’s Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston apparently agrees, saying "We need more help and sophistication in our messaging."
We think that’s ridiculous. Shame on O’Malley for backing this irresponsible notion.
Each bishop has long had a PR department. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has long had a PR department. Almost every Catholic institution of any size – school, university, non-profit – has long had PR staff.
The problem is a lack of substantive reform, not a lack of professional spin-meisters. If bishops would listen more often and take more decisive action – especially in clergy sex abuse and cover up cases – they wouldn’t have to worry about public relations.
O’Malley’s right that last year’s bishop report on abuse, done with the help of a few individuals at John Jay College, was no public relations coup for church officials. That’s because it was largely a “garbage in-garbage out” document, devised and done primarily with public relations in mind.
An honest, independent accounting of the crisis – paid for by bishops but conducted entirely by independent professionals - would certain be “good PR” for the prelates. But we’ve yet to see that and no one’s pushing or planning for that.
O’Malley’s posting the names of predator priests on his website is a perfect example. He delayed doing this for years (though two dozen of his colleagues had already done so). Then he promised to do so but delayed for years. Finally, he belatedly and begrudgingly posted a very partial list with minimal information, using hair-splitting excuses for not being more prompt or thorough.
This delay and deception put and kept predators in ministry and made kids vulnerable. It was a problem of priorities, not public relations.
Yesterday in Atlanta, our group criticized O’Malley for his role in these recent cases, a role that no PR pro – however savvy or experienced – can “spin,” “clean up,” or “gloss over:”
1) In 2008 it was disclosed that, for the second year in a row, O’Malley was violating the US bishops’ child sex abuse prevention policy. According to other officials, O’Malley was failing to train kids how to avoid or stop being victimized. Every child was supposed to receive the training, yet only 20% of kids did. O’Malley also failed to discipline a single individual for flaunting this national requirement.
2) In 2006, in a case with disturbing parallels to many earlier Boston pedophile priest cases, O’Malley moved very slowly against and gingerly with a prominent Catholic hospital official who faces multiple allegations of sexually harassing employees. A high-ranking human resources official at the hospital “accused O’Malley of improperly interfering in the investigation to help the accused, giving him advance notice of the probe, providing him with an adviser, and telling of the reprimand before consulting with the board,” according to the Boston Globe.
The Cardinal’s actions “have made a mockery of the investigation. It is nothing short of shameful,” the human resource official wrote. “Perhaps most troubling” was what she called the "near absence” of concern for the women, complainants that she said was shown by the church hierarchy.
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