America’s Catholic bishops, Reuters reports, are launching a major new public relations campaign.
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.
If bishops, as Reuters reports, are worried they "are perceived as too confrontational," then here's a suggestion: stop attacking victims, witnesses, whistleblowers and others who expose child sex crimes and cover ups.
(When a Bronx priest was arrested last year for repeatedly abusing a 16-year-old girl, Cardinal Timothy Dolan posted on his blog a statement essentially attacking her and questioning why she didn’t immediately quit her parish job when the crimes started. Dolan’s callous post is still up.
We disagree with Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona, who reportedly urged his brethren to not “always be overly sensitive about criticism.” In our view, far too many bishops – who answer to virtually no one – ignore and discredit criticism, preferring to quietly and unilaterally make decisions with little or no real input.
But Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley is 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 protects predators and keeps kids vulnerable. It was a problem of priorities, not public relations.
Here’s the bottom line – you can’t ignore, minimize and conceal thousands of heinous child sex crimes for decades, then expect that a good public relation staff can magically make it all better. You can’t cause massive scandal, repeatedly promise reform, aggressively backslide, and then blame inadequate public relations for your troubles.
In truth, on children’s safety, the bishops’ problem is too much public relations and too little real reform.
Read more here: