`Cardinal rules' of crisis management

A smart public-relations strategy could never solve a problem as serious as the cover-up of clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, but it would at least make Catholics and the public at large a little more confident in the management ability and good intentions of the present church leadership.Public-relations consultant Richard Weiner notes on Huffington Post that he tried to explain the "cardinal rules" of crisis management to representatives of the U.S. bishops when the scandal emerged in 2002:

Two members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops met with me and David Finn of the Ruder Finn public relation firm. We recommended the three cardinal rules of crisis management: tell the truth, get out all information, and do not attack the media. At our meeting, a bishop speculated that the issue may only be confined to a few dioceses and was not a problem in other countries. We recommended that they not trivialize or deny.

It's the advice that any public-relations professional would have given, and it is still obviously being ignored. The many prelates who've indulged in attacking the news media, some in very exaggerated terms, are defeating themselves.Pope Benedict is pleased that the College of Cardinals is standing with him, but the cardinals aren't helping him in this crisis if they trample the "cardinal rules" of crisis management: "tell the truth, get out all information, and do not attack the media."

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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