The Vatican’s abuse response: “a PR failure, carnage, nightmare and train wreck”

Just for fun when we’re talking shop, my PR friends sometimes like to evaluate escalating public scandals by asking each other: “What do you think might be the best damage control strategy for this crisis?” Here’s an example: over a 15-year period, our local Catholic Bishop Remi De Roo used church funds to invest in a failing horse-breeding venture, all without bothering to ask anybody for permission. In desperation, he then tried to secretly cover his horse-breeding losses with a real estate deal that also went terribly wrong – once again using the church’s money.

For the sake of clarity, let’s call this “stealing”. De Roo’s Catholic diocese was left with a debt of over $12 million to cover his losses. But the church never did press criminal charges against him.

It seems that as far as the Catholic church is concerned, wayward priests who choose to commit crimes – from stealing $12 million to sexually abusing minors – don’t need to face the same legal consequences that you or I would face. And from a  public relations viewpoint, my PR pals agree, that’s a disastrous perception.  Continue reading

Lessons from Toyota for the Pope

As a recovering catholic myself, I thought Michael Valpy’s column in The Globe and Mail this month should be required reading for the old guy in Rome who is running the world’s most out-of-touch religion. For his illuminating piece on ‘The Troubled Church: Catholics At Crossroads’, Valpy interviewed Gene Grabowski, a leading U.S. expert on consumer product recalls, in a  feature called Sex Abuse: Defences Unacceptable, Solutions Elusive.

This seemingly unlikely linkage – product recall plus catholicism – makes sense. Grabowski is a superstar in the world of public relations (he was named PR Week’s 2007 ‘Crisis Manager of the Year’ for his work on U.S. national recalls of pet food, spinach and 45,000 Chinese toy imports).

And issues management and crisis communication are part of an increasingly important focus in the field of public relations – whether you are in the business of marketing cars or marketing something called faith.  Continue reading