The harm and pain caused by the sex abuse crisis can never be undone. People were harmed by the very people that should protected them: physically and spiritually. Anyone who sexual abuses a child should be put in prison. Period. But there comes a time when the sins of those who came before should not be laid on the backs of priests who were not part of the abuse crisis or weren’t even alive when it happened.
If you have watched local news lately, you know how desperate local media outlets are for a hot story. A cat running up a tree becomes a live shot from their satellite truck. One story local media just licks their chops to write, is about whether or not concerns from dissident Catholic groups regarding sex abuse are accurate. The local reporter might not take a clear side, but they will almost always leave the audience begging the question, “IS the sex abuse crisis still going on?”
One reason for these stories, are the attention seeking, obsessive, and increasingly irrelevant groups like the so-called Voice of the Faithful, Call To Action and SNAP. These types of groups have refused to look at the evidence which shows that children are safer with a Catholic priest than the local school teacher or community counselor, and if you asked the local reporter about that evidence, they would probably have no idea what you’re talking about.
These reporters and dissident Catholics act as if what was a serious problem in the 60s, 70s and 80s is still going on, and act as though there is not a completely different system in place to fight sex abuse.
The Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth, ratified by the US Bishops in 2002, has been around for a decade, and many claim that it demonstrated the resolve of the Bishops to break the cycle of abuse and lacking transparency. The exception is being held up as evidence of continued lack of transparency or shuffling abusive priests from one parish to another, rather than the rule. Does abuse still happen? Yes, in every profession on earth, abuse of various sorts happens. What actions the organization takes to curb and stop that abuse, and its continued commitment to those standards is what demonstrates the organizations credibility.
One solution to this poor branding: content marketing
Content marketing is essentially the building up of digital content (text, video, podcasts, etc), to create a wealth of information that is easily found in search engines. When people do research on a particular subject, the more highly reputable/focused/read/commented/shared your work is, the higher search engines will rank you.
Here’s an example: when I searched “New Roman Missal,” in Google, here are the first few results…
It’s safe to say the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is doing a great job at cornering the online search market when it comes to the new edition of the Roman Missal.
Please understand what Content Marketing IS NOT. Content Marketing is not paid Google searches (Adwords). Content Marketing is using good Search Engine Optimization techniques and highly relevant content to increase your chances of appearing high in a search.
What does this have to do with the sex abuse crisis? EVERYTHING.
When I searched “Priest Sex Abuse” in Google, here are the first three results…
Wikipedia makes sense…but SNAP???? Why in the world is their content more relevant? Are they read more than Catholic newspapers, bloggers, etc?
SNAP (the second result) is an anti-Catholic group who has spent years protesting the Church under the banner of protecting children from pedophile priests. The problem? They wouldn’t be satisfied no matter what the Church does. Not only that, one of their psychiatrists is a pedophile himself. As documented by Bill Donahue of the Catholic League, “Dr. Steve Taylor is a psychiatrist who is sitting in aLouisianajail awaiting transfer to a state prison. He pleaded guilty last April to 23 counts of attempted possession of child pornography. He is not just an ordinary shrink with a sick appetite—he worked with SNAP for years.”
I’ll guess the local news media hasn’t interviewed the region SNAP representative about that little bit of news, have they?
The reason SNAP appears so highly in searches is because: 1) They cornered the market on abuse claims (both accurate and false), 2) They product content with the right key words, and 3) Catholic news organizations and bloggers aren’t producing enough content using these types of phrases and engaging this issue. We just want it to be over. But until it’s over, it aint over.
SNAP’s credibility is obsolete. But they’re constantly held up by local media as “experts” and whistleblowers of sex abuse. But when their own sex abuse psychiatrists is trolling for child porn, why isn’t their credibility questioned by the media? As you can see, they are guilty for the same types of crimes they abhor.
How dioceses and parishes can leverage content marketing
Since much of this post is about sex abuse, let’s take a case of a priest who is falsely accused of sex abuse, or a case of a priest who committed some other act that was not sex abuse, but is being attacked as though it were abuse.
A Diocese could write a series of blog posts or news items about how in the recent concern regarding Father “Joe Smith”, the findings produced by the local authorities, and the proactive and comprehensive Safe Environment Program protocol showed Father Smith to be guilty of no wrongdoing (or no evidence of sex abuse). Other posts could speak to fact that the recent allegations, which were found to be false, highlighted that there is increased need to understand the full scope of the Safe Environment Program and how it works. Those posts would then highlight what is already made publicly available at each diocese in the nation—namely, the Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth, and the local diocesan policy relating to the measures taken to prevent child abuse and the procedures for when a claim is made.
If the internet were inundated with dioceses and parishes talking about how successful their latest training were, how much the local diocese spent on fingerprinting volunteers and staff, the experience of Safe Environment instructors, and more, over time the comparison of positive exposure of diocesan preventative measures regarding sex abuse versus negative exposure would essentially force local news media and the public to see reality–that the Catholic Church of today is not the Church of the 60s…and SNAP and similar groups would fade into SEO obscurity (along with every other variant of obscurity).
Secondly, by spreading this content through Facebook, Twitter, blogs, email lists, etc, the content would instill confidence amongst the faithful because few things are more admirable than admitting the past and providing for a positive future.
The need for the Catholic Church in America to leverage Content Marketing does not speak to a lack of resolve on the part of the Bishops to take the issue seriously—no other organization in the world has a better abuse prevention program than the American Catholic Church—but it speaks to the need of the Church to understand what new medias offer that traditional medias do not.
What say you? Would this technique help rebrand the Church and open more doors for evangelization?