Sunday, April 11, 2010

Lack of Vatican communications strategy on scandal baffles pope's U.S. defenders: Meantime the campaign against the Pope ratchets up

Michelle Boorstein in The Washington Post has a good post on the communications problems experienced by the Vatican and the problems the Vatican faces in rebutting the tsunami of allegations against the Pope and the Vatican.

"The Vatican spokesman doesn't regularly discuss the clergy sex-abuse scandal with the pope. Its communications council's next meeting is in February (on the agenda: "the Internet"). For American defenders of Pope Benedict XVI, it has been frustrating to watch an apparent lack of a communications strategy for dealing with the scandal.

"My best answer would be a primal scream," Russell Shaw, who was the U.S. bishops' spokesman in the 1970s and '80s, said when asked about the Vatican's recent dealings with the public. "It reflects a totally inadequate understanding and mind-set as to the whole subject of communications."

Facing a torrent of cases in Europe and a new effort by survivors' advocates to highlight unresolved cases around the world, members of the pope's inner circle have said things that have only drawn more criticism, like the priest who on Good Friday compared criticism of the Church's handling of the abuse crisis to violent anti-Semitism.

Most American organizations facing such a barrage of negative news would long ago have pulled together a crisis management team and made top officials available for interviews to explain their point of view. But the Vatican said such an approach is too commercial for the Church to adopt.

"We are not a multinational enterprise, this is clear," the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said in a telephone interview. "The normal situation of the Church and the Vatican is to help the people to understand the teachings of the Church and the documents of the pope and not to sell particular products."

On Friday, however, Lombardi released a statement that appeared to be trying to change the conversation. It said the Church wanted to emphasize its cooperation with civil justice systems and a desire for "reconstituting a climate of justice and full faith in the institution of the Church." Benedict, he said, "is ready for new meetings" with victims of clergy sexual abuse. "

It should be noted that the opponents of the Pope`s visit to England, Wales and Scotland are using the scandal to oppose the visit of the Pope to the United Kingdom.

The latest attempt to "ratchet up" the scandal is the threat by the radical atheist campaigner Richard Dawkins to arrest the Pope during his visit to the United Kingdom for "crimes against humanity".

Apparently he and Christopher Hitchens have engaged the barrister Geoffrey Robertson QC to to present a justification for legal action.

Robertson was a U.N. appeals judge who delivered key decisions on the illegality of conscripting child soldiers and the invalidity of amnesties for war crimes. He believes it could be time to challenge the immunity of the pope — and Britain could be the place. He wrote a legal opinion on the topic that was published last Saturday in the British newspaper the Guardian.

American readers will probably laugh this off as the work of English eccentrics and the ignorant. However they could not be more wrong. These are very serious attempts to derail the Pope`s State visit to the United Kingdom by legal means.

Please remember Augusto Pinochet's arrest and trial in the United Kingdom.

More recently the former Israeli minister Tzipi Livni and other former Israeli ministers had to cancel visits to the United Kingdom after British Courts issued arrest warrants for their arrest.

Perhaps Mr Robertson should use his talents and influence to better effect in combatting real dangers to children caused by the UN Peacekeeping forces. In this connection see the post Still No one to Turn too. below