US Bishops Must Master the Sound Bite | David F. Pierre, Jr. | Catholic World Report
Going on the media offensive and strengthening public relations will protect children and educate the public.
Last August in Omaha, Bishop Daniel Conlon of Joliet, Illinois delivered a speech entitled, “Help for Bishops in Rebuilding Trust.” The talk was designed to encourage the lay faithful in speaking up about all of the progress that the Catholic Church has made in providing safe environments for children and protecting kids in light of the abuse scandals.
“You may be in a position to be pastoral assistants to bishops in binding up the Church’s wounds and restoring trust. I hope God calls you to that task and equips you for it,” Bishop Conlon said.
However, more than halfway through his speech, in which he pointed out the urgent need for lay people to spread the Church’s message, Bishop Conlon quipped that the “credibility” of bishops was “shredded” when it came to the issue of child sex abuse.
Media outlets immediately jumped all over the opportunity to report that a Catholic bishop had announced that the bishops’ credibility was “shredded.” The bishop’s remark had all the traits of a terrific headline; “R. Daniel Conlon, Catholic Bishop, Says Church’s Credibility On Sex Abuse Is ‘Shredded’” read the headline on David Gibson’s report for Religion News Service.
Never mind that the words were frequently taken out of their original context—Conlon’s larger point was about empowering lay people to fulfill the Church’s role of reaching out to victims and promoting a message of healing. The enemies of the Church had all of the ammunition it needed, and the damage was done.
The importance of the sound bite
Conlon’s episode serves as an invaluable lesson to the Church when it comes to making speeches, issuing off-handed remarks, composing articles, and dealing with the media. We live in a culture of the sound bite, and the enemies of the Church are ready to seize on this.
In a sound-bite culture, context and honesty are easily thrown aside. Bishops and spokespeople need to understand that many in the media are always seeking out anything negative with which to hammer the Catholic Church. Words must be chosen extremely carefully. The Church’s enemies don’t give a rip about context or if you “meant something else.”
Many enemies of the Church have become masters of the sound bite. David Clohessy, the national director of the anti-Catholic group SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) continually rails against bishops who allegedly “ignore, conceal, and enable heinous child sex crimes.” The words make a great sound bite; they look good, and they catch people’s attention. Journalists love this, and many could not care less what the actual facts are.
Catholic officials and diocesan spokespeople need to utilize strong, concise, and engaging sound bites. Such a strategy will not only fortify the Church’s struggling public relations, but it will also educate the public about the unrivaled advances it has taken to protect kids.Continue reading at www.CatholicWorldReport.com.