Praise the Lord! And Pass the PR

Bless you father, for you have … learned from your mistakes.

Throughout the priests/bishops/cardinals sex-abuse scandal, crisis managers could see that the Catholic Church exacerbated an already incredible, horrible crisis by not commenting, not apologizing, not acknowledging, stonewalling until their righteous foes humbled them to submission; and, they clearly didn’t follow anyone’s crisis PR advice.

The above makes me a recovering Catholic, but I must credit the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for learning from that horrendous years-long performance and spending seven months planning, critiquing, rehearsing and launching what it did Jan. 20. That’s when the Obama administration released its new rule on making contraceptives free for all women, even those employed by Catholic institutions.

Yes, an estimated 98 percent of Catholic women use contraception; yes, the church’s rules are out of touch; but this entry isn’t about women’s health, it’s about effective crisis management. And examples of that are as rare as married priests.

This time, the bishops understood  their public relations options and advantages and they planned their reaction when their world was calm — pre-crisis. On Friday, President Obama offered a compromise to the uproar, heightened by the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, the bishops generated.

In short, Bishops 1, Obama administration 0.

I won’t recount all the first Times‘ story content about the bishops’ actions, but it reads like a primer from . The bishops [and presumably their PR team] nailed it.

They were ready. They thought through the scenarios. They produced messaging that every bishop delivered, knowing he would be asked as soon as the rule came out on Catholic organizations having to provide free contraceptives to their employees.

It’s a winning strategy. Observers need to learn from it. Heck, the Catholic Church in Rome needs to learn from it.


About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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