The Church and public relations

I’ve said it before in this blog: public relations is something that the Church still needs to learn to a major extent. The main reason for that is that it often seems that high-ranking prelates and other officials often don’t seem to realise how statements will be picked up and presented by the media. Case in point is Cardinal Bertone’s recent statement in Chile. Similar cases can be found throughout recent years.

Public relations consultant Richard Weiner gives some free advice to the Church. His three cardinal rules of crisis management sound like a very good approach right about now.

  1. Tell the truth
  2. Get out all information
  3. Do not attack the media

Points one and two speak for themselves, but I’m not sure everyone has kept them. Especially point two may have proven to be tricky. It’s so tempting to make a selection of the facts that you make public, in order to present the case as less serious than it is. Don’t do that. Be open, honest, because modern media will find out. We live in a society that has learned to speak out, that knows how to share information. No one has a monopoly on facts.

As for point three: the (secular) media remains the main source of information for the vast majority of the population. Don’t attack it, use it. Attacking the media will give aforementioned vast majority that you’re distracting them from the facts, that you’re trying to save yourself.

I think Weiner is correct in his assessment. He has experience in this area, since he dealt with the 2001-2002 abuse crisis in the United States, and so he knows what did and did not work.

So we, meaning all Catholics, not just the prelates, must try to follow the three rules Weiner lists. Does that mean not being critical? No, I don’t think it does. If the media evidently spreads faulty information, we should correct it. That is not the same as attacking the media. That may be very tempting sometimes. It certainly is for me.  But there is nothing to gain at this time.

We must all learn to use it, not only when it comes to the current crisis, but also in everything we do as Catholics. We are all part of the Church, and we all carry a responsibility to be open, honest and kind. I’ll certainly do my best to reflect those three virtues in my blog.


The Netherlands says no to abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage

… well, a small part of it does. The island council of the small Caribbean island Sint-Eustatius, currently part of the Netherlands Antilles and in the future a special municipality of the Netherlands, has unanimously accepted a motion that rejects the introduction of same-sex marriage, abortion and euthanasia on the island. The motion has been passed on to Parliament in the Hague. 

Clyde van Putten

Clyde van Putten of the Progressive Labour Party, who floored the motion, said that the “anti-social” laws do not belong on the island. “Previously, the Netherlands indicated that they would take the aversion against the laws, as it exists on the islands, into account. But later Parliament decided that those laws must also be implemented here. ”  

According to Van Putten, the people do not want these laws, and that they’ll cause “big cultural and emotional shocks”. If the island’s protest does not work they might take it up to the United Nations. 

Leaving the political ramifications aside for now, this development is an interesting reminder to the Dutch government that these so-called progressive laws are not the social gains that western liberal society presents them as. There are people – a lot of people – that see them for what they are: disruptive, disordered and anti-life. Harsh words perhaps, but when you come down to it, it is true. 

Dutch media have reported this in many places and the replies are usually of a haughty nature, looking down on these ignorant people who don’t know what’s good for them. I don’t think that that is necessarily a colonial attitude, but much more the unthinking attitude of most of western society that believes that the rights and comforts of the individual always trump the wellbeing of society and the dignity of life. 

General statements, to be sure, but the codification in law of measures like abortion and euthanasia, turn something that may sometimes be a way of healing or comfort into a right to be demanded by anyone at any time. It turns life, unborn and born, into a commodity to be traded, to be carelessly pushed aside when it doesn’t suit us. Life is a lot, but it is never a commodity, never a right, never ours to do with as we please.