Public-Relations Advice for the Catholic Church
...The press has not been kind to the Catholic Church for the last decade or two. By and large, they’ve recast the Church in the public consciousness as a supra-national entity whose evil tentacles exist solely to enable elderly men to diddle teenage boys. The coverage has been so relentlessly one-sided, one might fairly suspect that journalistic objectivity isn’t nearly as important to many writers as is to crush an ancient institution that stands in the way of the neo-dictators of modern public morality.
Clearly, the Catholic Church is losing the public-relations war in a catastrophic and borderline-suicidal manner. Whereas it’s considered bigoted to criticize Judaism and Islam, it’s open season on the Catholic Church. Placed eternally on the defensive, it has become the religious equivalent of the role that white males play in the culture wars—a target. If the Church doesn’t wish to continue losing, it may be wise to consider a different game plan. It needs to quit apologizing and instead launch a counteroffensive—a second Counter-Reformation, if you will.
Most devastating to the Church has been its sloppy and inept handling of sexual-abuse charges against its priesthood. At first it tended to treat all such allegations with the sort of impenitent blanket denial that is a hallmark of guilty criminal suspects. When that tack left the Church with a black eye and an ongoing PR nightmare, it switched strategies and began caving in to an escalating number of accusations with what appeared to be hush money for any and every accuser. This suggested weakness, which only made the sharks smell blood and continue attacking.
Whenever one starts with a blanket assumption of one group’s innocence and another group’s guilt, this invites certain psychopathic personalities who belong in the “innocent” group to make false accusations. This is especially true when the “guilty” group has deep pockets. Slowly—very slowly—many people are becoming aware that sometimes women falsely accuse men of rape and that ethnic minorities sometimes falsely accuse whites of hate crimes. In the reams of press coverage regarding priestly sex offenders, how often have you heard of false accusations? Even once?
And yet there are many such cases. In 2010, a California attorney filed a 10-page declaration in court claiming that an extensive investigation led him to conclude that as many as one-half of all sex-crime allegations against Catholic priests were either “entirely false” or “greatly exaggerated.” The evidence included failed polygraphs, accusers “significantly” changing their stories, false memories being implanted by psychiatrists, and instances of accusers suddenly emerging only after learning that someone else had received a large cash settlement.
And since many of their antagonists are of a secular socialist bent who’d like to portray themselves as the sole protectors of the poor and disadvantaged, why doesn’t the Church shed a layer or two of humility and more aggressively publicize its global charitable work? Why does it shy away from quantifying the billions it spends to feed the hungry and heal the sick? Why doesn’t it challenge the socialist types to demonstrate they’re doing remotely as much to uplift the poor? This may be a case where a fear of appearing “boastful” may detract from the Church’s viability in a modern world.
Maybe it’s time for the Catholic Church to cease turning the other cheek and to come out swinging instead. The problem may not be that it’s covered up its wrongdoing so much as it’s allowed the media to ignore all the good it’s done. It should definitely punish its wrongdoers, but it should also publicize its good deeds, because obviously no one else is willing to do it for them. If the Church continues operating in a mode of passive appeasement, it risks becoming the dodo bird of religions and apologizing itself into extinction.