On Palm Sunday the Pope began Holy Week by suggesting that the Church would ‘not be intimidated' by the child abuse scandals in which it had become embroiled. Suggesting that the abuse claims were part of a conspiracy, the Pope said: ‘From God comes the courage not to be intimidated by petty gossip.'
To allude to extremely serious, and in many cases proven, child abuse claims from Ireland, Germany, Austria, Holland and Brazil, as ‘petty gossip' would seem to be complacent at best.
Indeed, in the UK, which hasn't even been part of the scandal, PRWeek's research (page 24) reveals a major loss of public confidence in the Catholic Church. More than 80 per cent of respondents, both Catholics and non-Catholics, said the allegations had damaged the image of the Church. Even worse, 44 per cent of Catholics said the scandal would deter them from sending their children to church.
The Pope himself has been drawn into the row, having apparently been present at a meeting where Church officials decided to allow an alleged paedophile priest to continue working. He - and the Vatican - appear to see such stories as evidence that there is a conspiracy against him.
But this is a gross misunderstanding of how the Anglo-Saxon media work. If they sense a cover-up, they will not let go. And it looks like there have been myriad cover-ups. How else could one priest - Father Lawrence Murphy - allegedly molest potentially hundreds of boys over a 25-year period?
The Church does not seem to realise that, in the UK and the US at least, we have moved from an age of deference to one of profound mistrust of institutions, particularly those that do not feel accountable for their actions.
Thankfully there are some voices of reason within the Vatican, and Father Federico Lombardi, the Pope's spokesman, at least admitted that the response of the Church was ‘crucial'.
As ReputationInc CEO John Mahony argues, the Church needs to go much further and beg for its followers' forgiveness. More importantly, it needs to conduct a far-reaching review of its structure and personnel. Organisations do not come much bigger and more fundamental to people's lives than the worldwide Catholic Church. And no allegations are more serious than the systematic abuse of vulnerable children.