As any academic will stress, public relations is a very broad term. For most people, it is less about providing information exchange with people, rather is has become all about spin.
Despite many claims, the Catholic Church denies it retains the services of PR consultants. It may be said that many CEOs and politicians have become skilled PR professionals in their own right, especially in the latter definition.
One of the points of PR advice is to distance a person or organisation from his/her or its actions. How often does one see the statement that, “a spokesperson said…?” The spokespersons for Cardinal Pell and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference have become the Chairman and CEO of a new Catholic body established especially to respond to the royal commission.
In a press release dated 12/12/12, The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) and Catholic Religious Australia (CRA) announced the establishment of a national coordinating body, to be referred to by the lofty title of The Truth, Justice and Healing Council. This body is intended to oversee the Church’s “engagement with the royal commission and the pastoral and other ramifications that have arisen from the sexual abuse scandal” (Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Office of the President, Media Release, 12 December, 2012).
As one knows from PR101, bodies like this need to be headed by an appropriate power figure who does not carry official titles that give away the relationship with the funding body. The chairman of this council is to be Mr Barry O’Keefe (pictured below), a former Chief Judge of the Supreme Court of NSW.
His sidekick, Mr Francis Sullivan (pictured below), will be given the title of CEO and will work on a daily basis to provide, “expertise, wisdom, and guidance over the course of the royal commission.” The last part of this quote is a fair indicator of just why this unit, a PR unit by any other definition, has been established. To date, no other organisation has come up with a similar body.
The council is billed as being a lay body, at least in its leadership. It is due to have 10 members, eventually. To date, the only other appointees have been two unnamed Catholic Bishops, and a leading nun. Hopefully, there would be more lay appointees, if they wish to have any credibility at all about it being a lay organisation.
A disturbing feature of the role of this body will be relating to former victims of abuse. This is typical of the approach of the Church in general, whereby it tries to get victims to come to it first before contacting police or other authorities. It is not necessary to say anything further on this tactic, as there is plethora of other comments about it.
As a final comment, the PR nature of this body is given by the fact that it begins with, “media release” and ends with, “media enquiries, James O’Farrell, 0437661030 (no sms please_”.
TOMORROW: The head of the PR unit
That’s all I can say
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)