Posts tagged with "sex abuse"


LA Archdiocese finds legal reality clashes with public rhetoric

Posted by Michael Heenan   on May 4, 2010, 12:04 pm

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The LA Times this week looks at the settlement between the Los Angeles Diocese and victims of sexual abuse by clerics, three years later.  A key element of that settlement, the release of personnel files for accused priests, remains unfulfilled and the archdiocese appears to be in no hurry to comply.

The story is here: articles.latimes.com/2010/may/03/local/la-me-church-documents-20100504/2

The archdiocese finds itself in a situation that is more than common in times of litigation:

The organization creates and delivers messages to convince its members/customers/stakeholders that it has learned from the crisis and that things will be different now.  Words like "transparency" take up prominent residence in all of the organization's communications.

Meanwhile, the realities of litigation -- and Legal's need to protect the organization from future lawsuits -- require actions that are the opposite of transparency.

So, you end up with an organization that is saying one thing and doing another. The spokesman is handed lines to read about "doing everything humanly possible" and "standing shoulder-to-shoulder with victims" while the litigation team is actively fighting against the very reforms the organization is touting.

The net result is an organization that looks deceptive and plaintiffs' characterizations that sound more and more accurate as time goes on. 

 

Tags: Catholic church, crisis communications, litigation, litigation support, message discipline, sex abuse

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Communications workshop at the Vatican

Posted by Michael Heenan   on April 30, 2010, 8:49 am

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The Wall Street Journal this week carried a fascinating look at the Vatican's attempts to get its vast and complex organization on some kind of message and unify its response to the never-ending scandal of child sex abuse by clergy.

The Vatican hosted a multi-day seminar on communicating through the crisis and has taken on Italian and American PR professionals for help.

The story is here: online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704423504575212104153681566.html (subscription required).

The Vatican faces the same kind of obstacles any organization does when trying to stop making things worse through poor communications in a crisis.  Its leadership is vast and largely autonomous from one another.  The top guy doesn't really talk to the communications guy much.  Hardly ever, in fact.

It's hard enough getting a mid-sized company with legal, marketing, operations, lobbying and PR divisions to read from the same page.  Imagine trying corral the communications of what -- from an organizational point of view -- is a coalition of kingdoms, each ruled by an autonomous figure.

But the independence of dioceses isn't necessarily the greatest challenge right now.  Until this week, there appears to have been no real attempt to get decision makers in the same room and come to some understanding of just what the organization is saying, or should be saying.  One attendee of the conference summed up the problem neatly:

"Communication staff cannot communicate a clear message if church leaders have not decided on the message in the first place," said Andrew O'Connell, spokesman for the Irish religious order Presentation Brothers.

That lack of a clear message is a millstone and it will sink you.

Tags: crisis communications, litigation, PR, priest, sex abuse, vatican

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Vatican waking up to PR reality

Posted by Michael Heenan   on April 18, 2010, 1:49 pm

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On his visit to Malta today, Pope Benedict XVI finally started to sound the right notes in addressing the nuclear issue of clerical sexual abuse.  As he had in the days leading up to the visit, he came across as genuinely remorseful and cognizant of the enormity of the suffering on the part of victims.  Read about it here: news.yahoo.com/video/world-15749633/19152240

If only he and the cardinals and bishops around him had simply adopted this tone and these messages when the latest chapter of the scandal began to swirl around them.  Instead, they spent weeks dismissing criticism as "attacks" on the pope and appearing unwilling to accept the responsibility most of their flock feels they should bear.

In doing so, they reinforced their critics image of them as insulated from reality and convinced that they answer to no power short of God.  Worse, they painted an image of themselves as more concerned with their institution's reputation than with the suffering that was inflicted.

Finally, by neglecting to communicate on this issue decisively, they left the door open for their critics and for crackpot conspiracy theorists. How much damage was done by the Italian bishop who suggested a Jewish plot lay behind the media inquiries on this topic?

Companies and candidates in crisis make these same mistakes every day.  They wait until the PR storm they've set in motion reaches hurricane speeds before taking remedial action.  Recently, when a retailer fired an employee for intervening in a theft, they saw media coverage of the event turn sour on them quickly.  They sought counsel and I suggested the following:

You're in a period of extended misery.  The fired employee is going to be profiled as a hero, given citizen awards and offered a job by your competitor.  A couple of weeks into this journey, you're going to find yourself sorely tempted to re-hire him in hopes of putting an end to the torture.  It will be too late.  Given all this, do you want to consider making that move today?


Tags: crisis communications, litigation, PR, priest, sex abuse, vatican

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