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?