The Vatican, embattled in recent years with constant allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests and tales of dreadful internal mismanagement, must lately be thanking God. With news of the current Pope’s retirement comes an opportunity to change the course of the Vatican’s poor pr.
Ever-increasing news of child sexual abuse has been altered only by dismissals of church officials who covered up the crimes and hid the criminals – in this case, priests. Additionally, the Pope’s own butler leaked secret, and embarrassing, Vatican documents in a case the media gleefully dubbed Vatileaks. For a long time,news coming out of Rome has been less than positive.
All that could change with Pope Bendict XVI’s announcement on Monday that he will retire – the first Pope in over 600 years to do so. While the Vatican couldn’t stop at least a few whispers that scandal, rather than failing health, was the reason for the Pope’s dramatic decision, most of the media coverage has been speculation about who the new Pope will be. Anything is possible – including positive press – if the Vatican continues to handle this opportunity wisely and keep the focus on renewal and succession.
THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for the Vatican’s handling of the announcement that Pope Benedict is retiring.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Shift attention from the “why” to the “who.” With church officials offering near sports-level speculation as to candidates for new Pope, the Vatican has the proverbial ball. It can keep it by gearing up for the nomination, a major religious event filled with ancient process and grandeur that generally has the world holding its breath for signs of white smoke. A resignation can send any organisation into free-fall but on this occasion the Vatican might have the chance to turn a PR page and put some of its most recent embarrassments behind it.