Image: Catholic Education PR man, Mark Rix, with his mother, at a school function (Image Source: Catholic Education Office)
They’re no fools, these officials of the YMCA (formerly known as the Young Men’s Christian Association). When they found they had a “management issue” with a paedophile staff member, they went to the acknowledged expert in the field of “managing” paedophile-related publicity – the Catholic Church.
Image: YMCA official, Phillip Hare (left) and PR man James Ellender (Image Source: Sydney Morning Herald)
The advice from the Catholic Church was sought by YMCA marketing and communications manager, James Ellender (pictured above), just before child care worker Jonathan Lord was jailed for 10 years with six years’ non-parole for indecently assaulting 12 children he cared for as part of his job with the YMCA.
A confidential briefing by Mr. Ellender, to the YMCA board, titled “Public Relations Crisis Management” was tendered to the enquiry this week. In the briefing, he indicated that, because the Catholic Education Office had experience with similar incidents, the advice from it was “timely and valuable”.
The advice came from the Catholic Education Office PR man, Mark Rix (pictured above). Rix had “walked” Ellender through some “case studies”.
Ellender reported that Rix had “indicated for us to expect the worst.” He went on to say that, in Rix’s experience, “this is the worst possible situation for an organisation to deal with, and we [the YMCA] have a lot to consider.” Rix advised the YMCA to “remove itself from the crisis and separate the organisation from Jonathan Lord”, who had worked there for two years.
Rix advised that, based on the Catholic Church’s experience, it was “pivotal to separate the actions of the individual from our organisation” and ”shut it down in the media as quickly as possible”. The YMCA took the advice, releasing a statement that: “The YMCA is not the issue in this matter, but that of grooming and the abuse of trust and position of authority by John Lord.”
YMCA officials have, indeed, even said that the organisation and its staff were as much victims of Lord as were parents and children. [The enquiry appears, from its deliberations so far (see previous posting), to be somewhat accepting of this line of reasoning, that it is just a case study of a genius at grooming, rather than all about the YMCA, with the outcome that procedures will be developed to protect such organisations from paedophiles like Lord.]
Then there was the matter of which official should front the media. The PR advice from the Catholic Church was to “not necessarily use the CEO”, but rather it would be best to use a “tall, strong man…..displaying strength.” YMCA official Phillip Hare (pictured above) seemed to fit the bill.
Hare advised the board to employ a specialist PR consultant, before Lord went to trial. His report states that “The specialist PR support will be able to provide the YMCA expertise to ensure the YMCA spokesperson is well scripted, trained and supported through the interviews to follow the court hearing. The spokesperson will need to be at the court and be prepared appropriately with body language, dressed to match the environment, using the right language and being somewhat in control of the interview.”
Finally, Mr. Ellender recommended that “As soon as we can, it is critical that we get back to normal – normality is the key – look at QANTAS. Are there any back stories that could come back to bite us? If the [Jonathan Lord] case drags out, could the media shift their interest to something else YMCA- related?”
Spin was obviously more important than helping victims and parents. This has been the benchmark for the Catholic Church in the past, and it appears that the YMCA became an enthusiastic follower of this process.
[Postscript: Cardinal George Pell has not been called before the enquiry to explain Mr. Rix’s advice, or anything else for that matter.]
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TOMORROW: Wind-up of session 2
That’s all I can say
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)