Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

A publicity stunt: ludicrous yet successful

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 20, 2011

The headline of a Time magazine story poses a question: “Could the Vatican Go to Court for Human-Rights Abuses?”

The answer is simple: No.

Every informed observer agrees that the International Criminal Court is not likely to pursue human-rights charges against the Vatican. International-law experts say that the bid to prosecute the Pope for “crimes against humanity” is going nowhere. Even the people who brought the charges—on those rare occasions when they step off their soapboxes—acknowledge as much.

And yet Time is still asking the question. Why?

Time quotes the Vatican as saying that the legal complaint is a “ludicrous publicity stunt.” (Time doesn’t bother to cite a source for that quotation—a highly undiplomatic comment, albeit an accurate one.) Since the legal complaint is DOA, it’s hard to see what other benefit the hope to gain, aside from publicity. So Time enlightens us:

And yet, while few experts give the case much of a chance of success--or even believe it will make it before the judge--the fact that it's even up for discussion is testament to the success that victims groups have had in bringing their cause against the church before the law.

Right: it’s up for discussion. But Time just reported, earlier in the same sentence, that it’s very unlikely the case will come up for discussion at the International Criminal Court.

Where, then, will this case be discussed? In Time magazine, and in other media outlets with a similar editorial outlook. The Vatican’s accusers can’t expect the International Criminal Court to take up their case, but they could expect the mainstream media to be sympathetic. So it’s more than just a publicity stunt—the topic is legitimately “up for discussion”—because..because… because

Because the publicity stunt was successful.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: polish.pinecone4371 - Sep. 23, 2011 12:01 AM ET USA

    Yet, I have to wonder. For all those who keep insisting that it won't happen (btw, the "ludicrous publicity stunt" quote was made by Jeffrey Lena), I wonder whether or not the ICC will take it up just as a way to get at the Catholic Church. Sure, they have no jurisdiction, but has such a "minor" detail stopped the Church's enemies before? If it was another venue with no media involved, I'd be slightly more assured. But Media+SNAP+Catholic clergy sex abuse+ICC=dangerous combo.

  • Posted by: Defender - Sep. 20, 2011 7:47 PM ET USA

    "...and inquiring minds want to know." It used to be that one could generally depend on the major magazines to remain somewhat non-partisan. I guess they can't afford to anymore, so they have all turned into "national inquirers" - keep that circulation up, costs down, etc. As for the truth and/or fairness...what's that?