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A PR blunder by the Irish bishops' conference

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Apr 26, 2012

Last week the PR office of the Irish Catholic bishops’ conference demanded an apology from a popular radio personality, Ray D’Arcy, for his attack on the Catholic Church. Bad idea.

D’Arcy, whose Today show claims nearly a quarter-million listeners, had said that “the Catholic Church, in many ways, has f•••ed up this country.” Martin Long, the spokesman for that Irish bishops’ conference, called that statement “grossly offensive and factually inaccurate.” He added: “All those who hold the Catholic faith dear are deeply insulted by this appalling language.”

Appalling language, yes. Grossly offensive, yes. But when he said that the statement was “factually inaccurate,” Long was begging for trouble. Why on earth would a PR man ever let himself be drawn into a debate over whether or not the institution he represents had (ahem) “messed up” a situation? How can one possibly win that debate?

It makes matters only slightly worse that in his demand for a retraction, Long reminded the broadcaster that the Catholic Church has made great contributions to Irish society, “particularly in the areas of poverty, social justice, health, and education.” Anyone who appreciates the glorious history of Catholicism in Ireland realizes that this is a poor summary of the Church’s magnificent contributions. Anyone who doesn’t appreciate that history—and we can safely assume that Ray D’Arcy falls in that category—will not be convinced.

Quite predictably, D’Arcy stood his ground. He apologized for using inappropriate language on the air, but insisted that his fundamental point was accurate. By demanding an apology, the Irish episcopal conference succeeded only in giving D’Arcy the opportunity to rephrase his argument, and deliver it again.

Rather than boosting the ratings of an on-air personality with an animus against the Catholic Church, the Irish bishops’ conference would be better served by some statement (or better yet, some action) reining in the dissident Association of Catholic Priests, whose members have now gained an international audience for their regular public statements questioning the doctrines and discipline of the Church. Unlike radio broadcasters, priests are subject to the bishops’ authority. Yet regarding the damage done by the Association of Catholic Priests, as one perceptive Irish commentator has noted, “the silence of the Irish hierarchy is deafening.”

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