Mess up. Fess up and dress up. What needs to be done at the February Catholic conference in Rome
How does the Catholic Religion save itself?
It’s true. You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge. And the Roman Catholic Religion hasn’t acknowledged a lot of things in a lot of years.
Now before you tell me I am ‘anti-religious’ let me stop you. I was raised strict Roman Catholic and converted to Anglican Catholic about ten years ago. Both of my children were baptised in the Catholic Church and I still go to Worship most Saturdays. I believe in God and I believe in his Holy Catholic Church.
So, I’m not out to hurt you. I am trying to help you.
I know some may think that I am trying to sell copies of my book, Operation Wormwood, a crime thriller that deals with pedophilia where the archbishop is a pedophile. But Father Peter Cooke, a Catholic priest, is a hero. And yes, I do hope you buy my book and read it. But that’s not what this is about.
The answer to this question is simple. Mess up. Fess up. Dress up.
February 21-24, Pope Francis is hosting the world's bishops and representatives of religious orders at a conference in Rome to address the abuse and protection of minors. His Holiness wants Church leaders to have a full understanding of the devastating impact that clerical sexual abuse has on victims. In his strongest language to date, Pope Francis has told those who abuse minors to hand themselves in to civil justice authorities and "prepare for divine justice.”
What he really needs to do is stand on the balcony of the Vatican with a new set of the Commandants for his clergy to follow. This has to supersede all other law including Cannon Law. Only then will people come back to religion.
Let’s also not fool ourselves and think only the Roman Catholic Church has this issue. Churches from every religion are closing down at an alarming phase.
To find out why, we first have to admit we have an issue.
Why did our mothers drag us to Church every Sunday? Well, they probably wanted their family to be part of a community of faith that helped them find meaning and purpose in their lives. Basically, they wanted us to be good people. They encouraged us to get involved in Church activities that were rewarding and had a positive impact on us as a family and a community such as the Christmas pageant and weekly choir.
The issue is mothers and fathers just don’t trust any religion to do that anymore.
Why is that? Well let’s look at the history.
Religion does not do well when it comes to communicating what they are doing in the community. They still live behind that veil of secrecy. The public has a generally ambivalent attitude toward religion in general. Basically, they’ve lost faith.
Religion has historically turned its back on victims of sex abuse and their supporters. They have encouraged others to do the same to those who speak out. That’s just putting it in a nut shell. I could write a book on the background of the issue.
What should the Catholic Religion’s objectives be at this point?
They need to get a strategic crisis plan in place by the time that February conference ends. This can not be a ‘we formed sub-committee who is going to come back to us with ideas.” This has to be a “Here’s the plan, now do it!”
They must help people find meaning in religion again and give them a reason to get involved in activities. They must show the benefits and how rewarding it can be for themselves and their families.
They need to apologize to the victims of clergy abuse and offer them help. Listen to them. Make their suggestions part of their recovery strategy.
Who’ going to listen?
This strategic crisis communications strategy has to hit the target. The Catholic Religion must reach out to people who may be seeking a faith community, meaning and purpose in their lives. Young families who are seeking to teach their children about faith and morality. People who have been shunned because of gender and sexuality.
What should the message be?
The Roman Catholic Religion has to create a welcoming, inclusive, open, and family oriented Church. That means everyone. Not just straight people. The Church has to be open to the LGBTQ community.
The Church has to be a place where people who are hurting and struggling can find meaning in their lives. That includes victims of sexual abuse by clergy.
The future of any religion is young people. The clergy has to find better ways to minister to youth, new families and parents who need help.
Catholic Parishes must be a safe place to seek answers to complex questions about religion, life, and personal identity.
But think before you go running out to the masses.
You can’t say “I’m sorry” shake hands and think we’re all good now. When you’re asking parents to get their children involved with Church activities, the sexual abuse history will be in the forefront of their minds, and who could blame them? Clergy must encourage parents to stay during children's activities and demand letters of conduct from those who supervise children's events.
Those who are innocent but painted by the sins of the past will welcome this. But the old guard will see it as a challenge to their power. And powerful they are. They have controlled the Catholic Religion for centuries. Even Moses won’t be able to part that sea.
So what should the strategic crisis communication strategy look like?
It has to have tangible tactics. It can’t say foolish things like “We will eradicate pedophiles by 2020.” Pedophiles are everywhere, not just in religions. They are experts at entrenching themselves where children are. Interesting fact, priests are not even in the top ten professions for pedophiles.
The number one tactic has to be to give women a management roll in the Catholic Religion. Women have to be able to become priests, bishops, cardinals even Pope! The Virgin Mary is the most powerful religious figure, but today, she couldn’t even say Mass.
Women are the ones who bring their children and husbands to Church. Mothers are the ones who push religion. Work with that. Let them help. The Anglican religion has allowed women to say Worship for years and they are still standing.
Which brings me to another ‘Come to Jesus’ thought. Make it a priority to bring the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches back together. Have levels of priests and nuns. Ones that can marry, and ones who don’t. Neither holds a higher position than the other. Why have a Roman Catholic Priest in a rural area saying Mass to a congregation of twenty people, and an Anglican Minister across the street saying Worship to a congregation of twenty people? Why not have one give a Worship for forty people. You’ll save on heat, light, and everything else that’s closing down Churches.
Hold a yearly abuse healing conference until people tell you to stop.
Ask internally for ideas. Remember you can’t build a house from the top down. Your front line will have the best ideas. Tap into their ideas and let them know they are also being heard.
Work with the media. Give your people fact sheets, speaking notes, question and answer documents, media lines, public service announcements and other promotional material so everyone is singing from the same hymn book.
Embrace social media. Update web sites. Re-educate people on the new information, seasonal information, Church bulletins and relevant information.
Hire professional communication people to write and execute the strategy once it is complete and create an action plan that is to stay on time.
Focus on youth. So many families are struggling with issues like drugs, alcohol, bullying, sexuality and social issues. Young people need a safe place to fall and a push in the right direction.
Put your money where your mouth is not the collection plate.
Every good strategic crisis communications strategy needs a budget to work. The Roman Catholic Religion, the Pope and religious leaders have one shot at this. Don’t miss the bullseye because you didn’t want to spend the money. You get what you pay for. So get the best. (I am for hire. Not like you have a better offer.)
How do you know it’s working?
The only way to know the strategy is working is to evaluate it at every corner.
Monitor your Churches to see if people are coming back. Check their ages to ensure you are reaching young people. Monitor media and correspondence.
Like I said, I could write a book on this issue. I’m sure once the report on the February conference is released, if it’s ever released, it will be thicker than the Bible. This blog is the beginning of a road map to say, ‘this is how you get there.’ Any strategy is just a map that outlines your next steps.
At this point in history the Roman Catholic Church does not need spin doctors. They’ve been spinning their wheels for too long. They need traction to get them on the road to recover.
Basically. Acknowledge your problem and change. Mess up. Fess up. Dress up.