Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Crisis in Rome

Joe Ferullo’s blog on the National Catholic Reporter March 29 was titled “Crisis Mis-Management."

Joe, you wrote about the “grey suited men and women. . .” who have been practicing the “precision art called crisis management” since at least the Watergate Era. I would like to correct one thing in that statement – some of us wear the business uniform of Blue Blazer, TV-blue shirt, red tie and grey slacks! I just didn’t want to mislead anyone that we all wear grey suits.

Whether you are Catholic or not, I would encourage you to read what Joe had to say at: http://ncronline.org/print/17622.

Joe points out there are two “simple” Golden Rules: Get the bad stuff out there and get it out there fast.

It’s not quite that simple, but it’s not rocket science, either.

When something goes horribly wrong, or even a little wrong, the story will spread, potentially world-wide, quickly. The only thing that can slow it down is if there is something a little worse going on at the same time. Your horrible news may get pushed aside by someone else’s more horrible, or at least more bizarre news.

Either way, you have a choice – let someone else tell your story their way – or tell it your way, first. That part of Joe’s message is spot-on.

But the next step, and timeliness is equally important, is to take responsibility for what went wrong. So far, the Catholic Church and its worldwide leader have not done that, yet. Joe writes that “sounds counter-intuitive.” He compares what ought to be done to the natural instinct to “circle the wagons” and wait for the trouble to subside. There is a fallacy there, however. It is rare for a negative news event to blow over without at least causing some, often times, significant damage.

Now I’m getting a little jaded in my older age. After more than 45 years in the news business and helping clients as a so-called crisis communication expert, I’ve come to realize that most people don’t get as worked up about someone else’s misdeeds as the media and the pundits. In fact, I’m not sure that most devout Catholics are all that alarmed about allegations their spiritual leader, Pope Benedict XVI, failed to act years ago to stop sexual abuse by a local Priest.

It is a serious issue. No one should be allowed to hurt children, or anyone else for that matter.

But, it is not a new problem, and in several Catholic diocese across the United States, the Church has paid millions of dollars in settlements in civil lawsuits in recent years. I fear that if a Catholic church member does not know someone who was abused, this issue will be only a short-lived concern. That is not a slur on Catholics, it is today’s human nature, no matter what religious beliefs people have or do not have.

However, it still behooves the Roman Catholic leadership to take some basic steps to fix the perception of Priest child abuse as well as stop the problem itself, and explain what it is doing to make sure it never happens again, without swift and decisive action.

1 comment:

  1. You must have an awfully short memory, Larry! Don't you remember the uproar when it was the diocese of Louisville going through this? Or when the Voices of the Faithful in Boston started taking all the church donations from parishioners and paying them out to churches directly, since they felt the diocese could not be trusted? When it is your local priest, and your local churches involved, it's a totally different matter.

    I am a person who generally doesn't get too involved in political and social issues. I'm a registered Independent, just to make that point. But this issue got me so outraged I took to the streets in protest and appeared all over local tv and radio calling for the Bishops resignation. And I left the Catholic church and became Episcopalian as a result. (Just in time for the gay bishop dustup.)

    Here's my take on crises in the church...or any church for that matter. When a church goes through a scandal, it's a bit like a tree in a fall rainstorm. Like leaves, the people who have a sense of real connection will hang on and hope for a better day, and the ones with weaker links will just get blown away.

    The Catholic church has a top down, command and control structure not unlike the military, which often serves it well, keeping it from changing with every political wind. But it also makes it very opaque as an organization, and slow to change. The church has spent so many years denying, minimizing and refusing to take responsibility for the problem, that it has eroded the trust of its people.

    The church needs to apologize, and take decisive action to train and monitor its priests and any other person working on the church's behalf. As it stands now, each of the countries has its own policy, some strong, some weak, but none can act on them without the Vatican signoff. So even the efforts they are making are getting cut off at the pass, oftentimes. If Benedict would use this opportunity for some true reform, the church could really benefit. But they are too interested in protecting their flanks. In an age when church membership across all denominations is falling, no church can afford to do this.