GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - Public Relations guru Jon Austin offered some advice for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis Thursday. The embattled Church has been dealing with mounting cases of alleged priest/sex abuse of children.
"When it is an issue of such depth and severity," said Austin, "the CEO, or in this case, the Archbishop, needs to be accountable, needs to be accessible, needs to be visible leading the organization through this situation."
Austin said the church's reaction to exposures of the scandals have been misguided.
"What you are getting is statements that sound like they were written by a lawyer because, probably in large part, they were. They need to sound more like they are coming from people, people who believe and espouse and support the mission of the Church."
Austin, who was once Communications Director of Northwest Airlines, said the Church's approach has been too corporate.
"Flights would get delayed or bags would get lost or planes would break down or things like that and what we found, frankly, was that people were understanding that bags get lost and planes get delayed and bad weather happens," said Austin. "What they were less forgiving of, and I think it is true in this case, too, is how do you recover from that? Yes, bad things happen. Yes, there are bad priests. Among the many, many, many good priests, there are occasionally bad priests. People to a large degree can accept that and even when bad things happen from that. What they have a bigger trouble accepting is when the organization, the Archdiocese, or an airline does not do a good job of recovering from that."
Austin offered a three-step prescription for the Church's ills.
"Be in the first person. Do not hide behind the institution. Be in the first person with all your communications. I, we, us.
Be open, be accessible. Make your people available to be commented. Make them available to respond to phone calls.
Be predisposed to communicate. How do we do more? What is the most we can do? Not what is the least we can get away with in terms of communicating?"
Austin said the alternative is years of having case after case of such abuses and allegations developed by attorneys who are "a step or two ahead" of the church leadership.
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