Friday, September 30, 2005

Still in the Woods

Clout is a weekly column in the Philadelphia Daily News written by a guy named Gar Joseph. It covers the back-beat on the city's political and commerce fronts -- basically gossip for smart people.

The latest edition of the Weekly Gar has an archdiocesan flavor. Very noteworthy....
Public-relations 101

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia's response last week to the critical grand jury report on pedophile priests raises a question.

From whom is the archdiocese taking public relations advice?

Satan?

Can you imagine a response more harmful to the church than the name-calling and evasion issued by the archdiocese and its lawyers?

Two things we've learned from public-relations professionals over the years: When an institution screws up, the best response is the truth, and fast. Followed by an apology and some humility. As Jesus once said, "Blessed are the meek."

We checked with a couple of Catholic PR pros to see what they would've advised Cardinal Justin Rigali.

They didn't want to be identified - that would be bad PR - but here's what they said.

"There was no way to spin that [grand jury] report," said our first pro. "I would've tried to strike a tone of remorse, apology and expressed my concern over the plight of the victims. Then I would have stopped... Because, no matter what else was going on, you're left with 63 priests engaged in unspeakable conduct."

Our PR pro No. 2 thought Rigali stumbled when he suggested that the graphic nature of the grand jury report made it unsuitable reading for families.

"That just reinforces in people's minds the idea that the church is still trying to cover this up," the pro said.

This pro would've advised the cardinal to hold open forums at churches throughout the archdiocese to explain the church's corrective actions.

"As a Catholic," one pro said, "I'm embarrassed by the church's response."

In an interview with a suburban paper the other day, one priest -- who stunningly spoke on-record -- characterized Tuesday's meeting of the clergy thus: "To use Abraham Lincoln’s phrase, there was evidence of a house divided."

I can't emphasize this enough -- we are in uncharted waters.

Not since Archbishop-elect Dennis Dougherty (the First Pharaoh) slighted his inherited auxiliary bishop, John McCort, on the day before Dougherty's installation in 1918 has there been a division in the Philadelphia presbyterate of any public nature. None of us, lay or ordained, are used to this, but we'll just have to feel our way through.

For a couple weeks, we'll have to do it without the Boss. Cardinal Rigali is off to Rome for the Synod on the Eucharist which begins Sunday, and some are wishing he'd stay back to take care of more pressing matters at home.

-30-


4 Comments:

Blogger John Hearn said...

May Almighty God guide and protect His Church, and strengthen the faith of those scandalized by the sins of her children.

30/9/05 12:52  
Blogger Clayton said...

"gossip for smart people" -- isn't that an oxymoron?

30/9/05 17:28  
Blogger Fr. John said...

One of the unemphasized aspects of this scandal is that the Archdiocese has been (presumably) paying for such atrociously bad legal and public relations advice. If we must let lawyers and PR folk govern the Church, or at least govern how this Light of the Nations interacts with the modern world, at least let it be done well. But through decades of scandal, and now with scandal revealed, we seem to be guided by the keystone cops of PR.

30/9/05 21:09  
Blogger RightJack said...

Rock said:
"I can't emphasize this enough -- we are in uncharted waters."

Sorry, Rock - that just isn't the case.

Boston (among other dioceses) already sailed these treacherous seas and there was much to be learned from their foundering. Unfortunately, Philadelphia seems to be making the same mistakes - the first of which was not making some effort to come clean and beat the Grand Jury to the punch. Boston knew that the Globe was preparing its SpotLight series and did nothing.

Talk about hanging around while knowing that a Category 5 is about make landfall!

It is unbelievable that Rigali is in Rome for two weeks! There is only one place he should be and that's with his people.

These waters are chartered: Philadelphia seems to have left the charts on the dock.

1/10/05 00:52  

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