PR Advice for the Vatican?

By Susan Finco, President, Leonard & Finco Public Relations

Will someone please step forward to help the Vatican and the Catholic Church with its current, or I should say ongoing, PR issue? It’s actually becoming painful to watch it playing out. It seems that every day there are new stories and new allegations and when the Vatican responds, it’s another fiasco and another round of controversy. Let me say up front that I believe the Catholic Church has done an incredible amount of good in this world, but I also believe that those good efforts are in serious danger of taking a permanent back seat to the issues now at hand.

The basic rules of crisis management are to tell what happened, why it happened and what you’re going to do about it. In addition, you should ALWAYS express concern, empathy or sympathy for those impacted by the situation. Then you repeat, repeat, repeat so that your audience(s) hear a consistent message. That doesn’t seem to be happening.

Yes, telling the truth can hurt – a lot; but it can also be the start of something bigger and better. It can restore damaged credibility, start the healing process and lay the ground work for better things to come with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment. People tend to respect those who say they’ve made mistakes, if that statement is accompanied by a genuine effort to correct or atone for what was or is wrong.

It’s understandable that church leaders feel besieged, but how they handle this latest round of allegations will determine how the church and its leaders are viewed in the future. The incredible public media interest may or may not be fair, but it is the reality right now. It’s a reality the church has to deal with if it wants to survive in the future.

What PR advice would you have for the Catholic Church and its leaders?