A bishop disciplined: why keep it quiet?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jul 19, 2019

In our CWN news coverage of the Vatican’s disciplinary action against Bishop Bransfield, we called attention to the fact that the announcement was made late on a Friday afternoon in July. If you’ve ever devoted any time at all to the study of public relations, you recognize the significance of that timing. If you’re obliged to release a story, but you’d really rather bury it, the best possible time for the announcement is usually a Friday afternoon in the summer, when millions of people are already headed for the beach and won’t be paying much attention to the news for the next few days.

So it’s reasonable to conclude that the Vatican, and the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, and Archbishop Lori of Baltimore (who’s in charge of cleaning up the Bransfield mess) don’t want much publicity for this story. My question is: Why not?

It’s sad that a bishop misbehaved, but that misbehavior had already been splashed across the headlines. The story today is that he has been punished. Don’t Church leaders want to restore public confidence? Don’t they want to convince us that the corruption is being rooted out? In the secular world it’s unfortunate when a crime is committed, but capable prosecutors know enough to call a press conference when they make an indictment or secure a commitment. That sort of publicity helps to secure public confidence. Why wouldn’t a prosecutor want as much publicity as he could gain from a conviction?

Unless, on his list of priorities, restoring public confidence still didn’t rank as high as minimizing embarrassment for the perpetrator.

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 CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: WNS3234 - Jul. 27, 2019 1:12 AM ET USA

    There's a great line from a great scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," as the location of the Ark is revealed for the first time. The floor is carpeted with asps and the dialogue begins, " Salah: Indy! Asps, very dangerous! You go first." That seems to be the disappointing disposition of many bishops regarding material corruption. IMHO its companion is the "Nothing is too good for the sons of (pick a nationality) peasants. Jesus' outrage and actions toward the vendors in the Temple seem to fit.

  • Posted by: Cory - Jul. 20, 2019 12:01 AM ET USA

    Or the prosecutor is in bed with the criminal in some way. The more attention is drawn to the criminal, the more attention is drawn to the relationshp between the prosecutor and the criminal.

  • Posted by: MWCooney - Jul. 19, 2019 6:28 PM ET USA

    In this particular case, at least, there also could be the matter of those who will be personally embarassed by their links to it.

  • Posted by: SPM - Jul. 19, 2019 5:45 PM ET USA

    But it is late July and everyone at the Vatican is rushing to leave Rome; in fact it is a surprise anyone is still there. The same thing in D.C. So I am willing to accept as plausible that this was announced on a Friday afternoon because it came down on Friday. If the nunciature held it to Monday, and it leaked, it would be hailed as sign of a cover-up. Given the leaks in the case already, I am sure if it was sitting on someone's desk for a week it would have already leaked.