The Vatican's Epic Fail – UPDATE

Oh, for crying out loud!

See here

and here

and here

and here

and here

Honestly, do I have to go to Rome and storm the press office of the Holy See, and sit the curia down and pull their hats off to smack them upside the head? Must I bang on their desks and say:

“stupido! Stupido! PR IS NOT ROCKET SCIENCE! On the rare occasion where you’ve done something that will bring you a cautious measure of good will, or at least less-hostile reportage, you don’t tie it in with a controversial issue and allow nonsense equivalences to be drawn by people who do not move beyond headlines and soundbites! You create a two-part report and you release the primo, the most important story on its own! You follow up with the second half of the document and discuss the rest of it–the Eucharistic, Reconciliatory and Sacramental stuff–next week or the next week, or the week after! Stupido! Where did you study communications? You don’t make it easy to be attacked! You don’t hand the culture fodder for a thousand cheap jokes and unending distortion! You don’t take norms addressing and correcting the biggest, most egregious failure of the church, and allow the world to portray you as wholly equating it with women becoming non-Catholic priests while drifting down the river on boats! Trying to counter the narratives that develop from boneheaded decisions like this–trying to explain the fullness of the norms or the degrees of seriousness addressed here–against the tide of negative publicity and cynical assumptions is like spitting into the wind! FAIL, Curia! This is a FAIL! EPIC fail!”

Can you hear my hand slapping the polished surfaces of their desks in angry frustration? Every italic, another slam.

Damn straight.

I just may. I just MAY to go Rome and do exactly this. Loud, loud pounding. Yelling in Italian. Stupido! STUPIDO!

Watch this space, for details!

And read John Allen

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Neal Dewing

    Surely, surely some trendy high-dollar PR flack has had a conversion experience and would be willing to go to the Vatican to manage their press office. He might even do it pro bono; name a stained glass window after him or something.
    Surely this person exists.

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  • Karen LH

    I get your point, really I do, but I don’t care if the Vatican doesn’t get PR. In a world that cares about nothing but PR, I find it kind of refreshing that the Holy See gets the substance right and then completely bolluxes up the PR.

    Besides, even if they got the PR right, the media would still choose to misinterpret what Rome does, because that’s what they want to do.

  • Ismael

    Yeah sometimes the Vatican PR people are quite daft.

  • Bill

    This will only justify the talk that the sex scandal is not a priority in the Chruch.

  • Dan

    I suspect that such attempts at “PR” would not make any difference in the secular media. I have seen no measure of good will in response to anything “the Vatican” says or does. At this point, I find PR to be irrelevant.


  • Cailin

    Why should it make any difference, the media’s take on Vatican news is usually negative anyway. Delighted with the Vatican press release on women priests. About time. We have enough bullies out there pushing good men around with strange feminist beliefs. God forbid they would have got into the Church. I mean just read the article above, oh such anger….typical of dominant women.

  • Joe Giardina

    Forget the PR….even if the pope dragged a heavy metal cross around Rome in the summer sun they would never be satisfied. And who really cares WHAT they think anyway. All they focus on these days besides the “sins” of the church is the brutal killing of unborn children (they favor it as do most American catholics), homosexual marriage (ditto) and contraception (double ditto.)

    The Church needs to work towards a “smaller church.” It needs to weed out the heretical priests and bishops NOW ! After all, isn’t it curious that heterodox clergy are the cause of the abuse problem. Close down the national Bishop’s conferences and fire their entire staffs. Choose orthodox priests as bishops as this wonderful pope has been doing, men not afraid to stand up for the truth. The Church needs to do a better job of Cathesis than it did for the past 40 years. Clean up the liturgy.Besides PR forget ecology, politics, etc…..SPREAD the GOSPEL !!!!

    The average “catholic” doesn’t have a clue as to what the Church even stands for.

    Then after 25 years people will forget that there even was a New York Times.

  • Jack B

    Great list. To improve PR, add one item that must be included in the next update of the gravest delicta – Profound Vincible Stupidity. This is clearly more serious a problem than the apostasies floating around these days.


  • teo matteo

    Elizabeth… please… its going to be OK…. its OK… Dan is right…. no matter how they did it when someone wants to slam you they will … so … its OK… Hey, our Lord didnt have a strong PR department either…..

  • Raymond J. Ryan

    I am soooo thankful the Vatican ignores rants such as this. Let us be calm, cool and quietly respectful, even in the small stuff-God bless us all. Raybo

  • Cy

    Ms. Scalia,

    I think you need to re-caffienate this morning.

    I am a fan of your blog, but I think you’ve gone overboard today somehow. You’ve lost your moorings and gone all Lutherian on us. Are you going to nail your special wisdom on the Holy Doors of the Church?

    Sure it is possible that Ms. Scalia knows better than the Church… but then again perhaps maybe the Church knows better. Perhaps Ms. Scalia is missing something and should discern the acts of the Church?

    Stupido? That would be the mistaken act of a Catholic blogger acting like a Protestant, and adding gasoline to a cultural brushfire menacing the Church.

    [Yeah...I am really serious when I say I am going to Rome to smack the curia around. That was said totally seriously, with no tongue in cheek at all. -admin]

  • Marcel LeJeune

    PR DOES matter. The way the Truth is communicated is second only to making sure the truth is communicated.

    I want to cry every time they mess up a media release, an interview, etc.

  • Don

    Of course, this was not a news release, it was an updated list of revisions to canon law regarding “delicta graviora”, or “grave crimes” against church law. It also contains a list of other “delicta graviora” concerning the celebration of the sacraments, not just about the sacrament of Holy Orders. When media types are looking to lambaste the Church, as is usually the case in the English speaking media, no amount of “Vatican PR” will help.
    As well, it is probably best to remember that the ill-informed news reports that will say that the Church equates the sexual abuse of minors to that of mock ordinations of women, will actually only convince those who still read newspapers or listen to news and who also dislike the Catholic Church. Those who are either supportive of the Church or simply apathetic will likely take the view of a lapsed Catholic friend of mine who says “Whenever I see news reports about the Pope or Vatican I ignore them and if the story is still around after six months then I know there might be some element of truth to it.”

  • cathyf

    I had the same reaction over at Deacon Greg’s place yesterday, and it was pointed out by several commenters that in fact the problem is that none of this is new. This is a decade’s-worth of various and sundry canon law changes — some tweaks and some earthshaking — which were new and news when they became official Church law whenever they became official Church law. All at different times, not together.

    The PR problem is that somehow this turned into a press release which did not have the obvious accurate headline, which would be: “Catholic Church Reprints All Of the Canon Law Changes From the Last Decade In One Place — Now They All Have the Same Fonts And Margins!”

  • CV

    Epic, EPIC, stupidity on the PR front. Yes, PR matters, a great deal.

    I have worked in that particular field for more than 25 years and one of my own PR gurus was fond of saying that PR stands for “personal relationships.”

    Conflating these two hot-button issues in one head-scratching announcement will only serve to hurt those who already have damaged relationships with the Church (and that means with Christ Himself). And it could very easily have been avoided.

    The expression “own worst enemy” comes to mind.

  • expat

    I think this stupidity may have resulted from the German response to its recent sexual abuse cases. The remedies suggested and given wide coverage in the news included ending the celebacy requirement and the ordination of women. The Vatican was probably trying to say they would clean up the abuse problem but not change the priesthood. There is for them a logical connection that escapes everyone else. They truly do need PR help.

    I should also mention that the Lutherans had a woman as head of their Bishops Conference. This gave the progressive feminist types something to use against conservative Catholics. She has since stepped down because of a DUI offense during Lent after she suggested that others give up drinking during this time.

  • Ruth Ann

    I’m with you on this one, Elizabeth.

  • Peter N. Névraumont

    “Typical…dominant women.” What a concept. Today’s blog by Elizabeth Scalia—surely a threat to the entire structure of Western Civilization—was exactly what I thought when I read the news story this morning.

  • Susan

    On the positive side, I am thankful that the Vatican doesn’t try to be spin masters in order to please the public. I would hate to see them slowly fall into the subtle traps of PR over the years.

    As a conservative Christian, I am very thankful for the stands the Vatican takes and for being a bulwark against the encroachments of worldliness we see in so many churches/denominations. It’s wonderful when one can count on the Pope to be Catholic. :)

    And after saying all that, I am very sorry for the tribulations and trials ya’ll go through for being true Catholics. You are greatly appreciated and admired by many Christians outside the Catholic Church. Thank you to all of you.

  • Tim Andries

    After shouting “stupido”, I would smack them again and add “assa matta for you!?” I quess one of these days the Church will figure out that …NO the media dosent understand you and they dont care either. Secondly, “Come on guys !!!” (ie-read cardinals, bishops and perhaps the Holy Father)- with all due respect lose the fear of sounding forcefull. Listen to your onwn words, proof-read your statements. Believe it or not thats what your faithful would really love to hear for a change.

  • Left Coast Conservative

    Are you collecting money for a plane ticket? Do you want some company – although it would be a bit more expensive coming all the way from the Left Coast . . .

  • Dymphna

    Thank you SO much for this post!! I get either two reactions to the stupid PR moves by the Vatican. Either, “real” Catholics mustn’t criticize the Church, or look what the evil Catholic church is doing now.

    It’s getting where I’m afraid to sign into my Facebook page.

    [Oh, should see my email. The "good" Catholics are hysterical because I've dared to criticize (and all of them seem to think I have criticized the Holy Father, which I clearly have not, so I am not the one lumping the pope in with the curia), the "smart" Catholics are either telling me it's about time that i've finally opened my eyes, and the "too smart to be Catholic" are telling me I am still an idiot. It's all so edifying. Then the victims are writing, explaining how once again, they feel like the curia has been completely insensitive to their plight, by "lumping the sex-abuse norms in" with the rest of it. THEY have a point. The norms on sex-abuse and molestation deserved to be released on their own, separate from the rest, as I say here, because is something that addresses the leadership's own failings. It should have been released a week earlier, or a week later, not WITH the rest of it. Where clarity and positive relations were absolutely necessary, it's been muddled up. -admin]

  • newguy40

    Sorry, disagree with Anchoress about the PR need.

    Posting links to CNS and Telegraph and Deacon Greg only confirm that you are looking in the wrong spots. Support the Pope instead of criticizing the curia.

    Perhaps if the early Christians had a better PR department, Nero would not have tortured and killed them?

    “Not Of This World”… Remember?

    [I do support the Pope. The curia laid this egg. We may be "not of the world" but even John Paul II said you have to deal with the world "as it is." -admin]

  • UrbanRevival

    Hmmm…..or this just might be an epic “cunning like a fox.”

    Either way, you should go!

  • cathyf

    To me the utterly cluelessly classic “deserves a smack upside the head” moment was some years back — 15, 20 years or so I think. It was a straight news feature on Catholic sainthood, and the subject was the church naming some saint a doctor of the church. The reporter called someone in the vatican office for saints, and asked for an explanation of what a “doctor of the church” is. And then reported in the story that the response was that the church’s saint making process was secret.

    Ya know, there are days when I think that one reason that Christ has his resurrected body in heaven is so he has a physical palm to put his physical face into.

  • Baron Korf

    “Stupido! STUPIDO!”

    exactly, when will reporters stop using Vatican/Vatican City/Rome/Roman Curia/Holy See/Pope as synonyms.

    Stupido! STUPIDO!

    hehe. =P

    [You'll note, I left the pope out of it -admin]

  • kelleyb

    ~~~~sigh~~~~it is that kind of day~~~~sigh~~

  • elmo

    Pubic Relations was started by people wanting to manipulate public opinion on some pretty ugly subjects — Nazi genocide and anti-democracy in Latin America. I think it’s a good thing the Church stays away from PR.

    The secular press (which is also about manipulating public opinion) and the Vatican just don’t mix. People who want to understand the church’s reasoning will look for answers. Those who want to bloviate, criticize and conduct their own magisterium will continue to do their own thing. In the age of the global internet, the secular media doesn’t have the same power it once had to sway people’s opinions — at least not longer than a news cycle or two. There are surely better ways to spend one’s time than to angst over how the Vatican handles the media.

  • Ironic Catholic

    I’ve only heard about this but–
    Have you seen that statue in Rome of Catherine of Siena, kneeling before the Pope and shaking a finger at him (telling him to hightail it back to Rome from Avignon)?
    That’s YOU, Anchoress. Good job.

    p.s. You all, PR absolutely can matter. St Paul knew that. His letters were the first PR–tell the truth, and do it so people will hear it.

  • Tim Andries

    so no one gets the wrong idea, Im not bashing the Pope, I love him!! True this is the curia’s problem. I don’t pretend to be a “poster boy catholic”, Im not. Simply put I agree, Rome needs to a much better PR job.

    I would never in all honesty wish for the heavy burden and cross that the Holy Father or Fathers have to carry.

    [Yes, it is a burden I cannot even imagine a man carrying, without supernatural help -admin]

  • Cy

    Eucharist + PR = Protestantism.

    No thanks. Rome is home.

    If not, “to whom shall I go?”

    [Right. Expecting the curia to have enough sensibility to handle an extremely dicey, hurtful and church-shaming episode, and its long-in-coming-solutions with sensitivity and just the tiniest bit of savvy...that makes me a protestant. Excellent reasoning. -admin]

  • Theo

    I’m a little taken aback to find a rant like this on First Things, which I thought was above this sort of thing. Frankly, I hope the Vatican never learns “PR.” Imagine the scandal of the Church putting spin on everything, trying to do damage control like a cheap politician. I’d rather they lumber around clumsily with the truth. And both pedophilia and women’s ordination are problems, for different reasons – and neither we nor the Church should have to apologize for addressing both.

    [I don't say apologize for addressing both. Both NEED addressing. But is it "spin" to simply take the most urgent issue of our era and address it singularly, instead of lumping it in with other things? Really. I wonder...if someone hurt you terribly - tore your life apart - and then made a sort of general, "well, I have this list of things to address, and you're one of them"'d be fine with that? -admin]

  • Dymphna

    People are saying “the Vatican” (read “the Catholic Church”) are equating so-called women priests with pedophiles. This is causing (more) scandal in an already scandal-laden church and it is adding fuel to the fire of those who either have left the Church or are about to leave.

    The reaction of some is pretty much “Who cares? We will have a smaller church.” Well, when one by one, most of your (ok, *my*) family has left the church over these types of scandals, *I* care. It is sad. It is embarrassing.

    Somehow, the message needs to get to the curia that this sex abuse crisis has torn into the very heart of Catholics and that this, at least on an emotional level, touches a majority of people in the pews.

  • Cy

    Lord save us from a “savvy” savior!

  • elmo

    Ironic Catholic: St. Paul and the field of public relations have nothing in common. PR has its origins in the 20th century as a way of massaging people’s minds to accept genocide and corporate control of other nations. St. Paul wrote letters specific to the communities he founded and whose members were like children to him. His letters were written to teach not manage opinion, and they were not always understood or accepted by Christians; sort of like the curia today.

  • AMDG

    “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves” Mt. 10:16

    Anchoress, you are absolutely right. This isn’t about “spin”, a ridiculous argument, but about not conflating one issue with another. Being a Christian doesn’t not mean being oblivious.

  • Lank

    It’s idiotic heretical headlines like this that make me skip the story and go straight to the comments section. Catholic bloggers have no class and no loyalty.

  • OldLineStateDad

    I thought heresy had to relate to materials theological. Condemning Anchoress for her criticism of the all too fallible people in the Vatican’s PR department is a bit much. It’s one thing to slip up in a press release. It’s another entirely to hand your enemies a gas can and a match. The Vatican made a enormous unforced error with this-its not a horrible or disloyal thing to point that out.

  • Leo M

    I completely agree that this is a disastrous PR (or, if you prefer, evangelical) failure on the part of the Vatican, but… honestly, do you think that had the Curia not done this anybody’s mind would be at all changed on the matter? If your mind is subject to influence by the manner in which Vatican officials organise ecclesiastical norms, you’ve got a very sorry excuse for a mind.

  • Tony Layne


    “It’s idiotic heretical headlines like this that make me skip the story and go straight to the comments section. Catholic bloggers have no class and no loyalty.”

    It’s obvious you skipped the story, otherwise you wouldn’t have made such a graceless and irrelevant comment. Anchoress is no less loyal than St. Catherine of Siena, and her blog is one of the classiest out there. Figure out what’s going on before you start snarking, a**hat.

  • Dan

    I don’t see how one can say “I’m not being critical of the Pope, just the curia” when this document was only possible because of the Pope’s approval and at his direction. The CDF has no authority to make laws, unless specifically mandated by the Pope.

    If those who are upset by the combination of grave crimes in this document were also upset when the original Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela was published in 2001, then you have more credibility, in my view (for whatever that is worth).

    I also find the notion that priest sexual abuse is the “most urgent issue of our era” an exaggeration.


    [well, if you think the priest sexual abuse scandal is not the most urgent thing that needs addressing, because it is a true sin of the church's own involvement, then...I am amazed, but whatever. I CAN say that I am criticizing the curia and not the pope, because they are the ones who release this as they have. I don't actually have a problem with the content. I have a problem with the release...and that's not the pope's decision. It's the curia's. -admin]

  • AMDG

    What Tony Layne said.

  • Ironic Catholic

    “It’s one thing to slip up in a press release. It’s another entirely to hand your enemies a gas can and a match. ”
    Good one, OldLineStateDad.

  • CJOM

    This is a really good piece and thank you for the honest response. Last week there was a suggestion doing the circut that the ordination of women would find a way into this document and, like many of the previous comments, I was thinking, “no, they have learned from the previous skirmishes to deal with one issue at a time….” Well, what do you say…..what do you say when they then go on the attack claiming it is all a left wing media attempt to discredit the pope and the church. I felt so sorry for one of our good church communicators here in Canada this morning on the CBC trying to put a context to the text despite a hail of well made, well reaserched points that make it sound so…..stupid. One day you feel that you are finally moving forward, the next, we have taken ten steps back. If you set up a fund for that trip I will be happy to support you and have a supply of soothing clove balm to offer as a way to calm the sting of the slap. Good work.

  • Joe

    The Anchoress is giving out pearls.

  • Mike K.

    Elizabeth, you must have been inside my head after I read the initial story. This is EXACTLY what I was thinking.

    And for all of you who now consider Ms. Scalia a “heretic” or worse, let’s go back to the Acts of the Apostles. Remember that the recently converted Saul/Paul was critical of Peter over the question of how and to whom the Lord’s Word should be preached/taught? Remember the circumcised vs. uncircumcised argument?


    We all have weaknesses. The Holy Father is infallible on issues involving faith and morals. He is NOT infallible when it comes to PR, and neither is the Curia. Those who are attacking Elizabeth for this post should think about this:
    - She has not attacked or challenged the Gravia Delecta document, only how it was announced.
    - She has not challenged the authority of the Holy Father or the Curia.
    - She has not denied a tenet of the faith.
    - She has called the Curia stupid for not knowing how to handle public relations.
    - Re-read the Gospels. See how the Lord Jesus responded to, and dealt with, different audiences. He tailored his message. Isn’t that a form of good PR?
    - Finally, remember that BLIND loyalty is worst than loyalty.

    Elizabeth, I’d join you on your mission to the Vatican if I could. I’ve been out of journalism for ten years, but I’ve seen enough stupidity in my days as a reporter and since then to more than support you in your effort.

  • Richard

    I say a lot because I’m not wise. I’ve heard the sign of wisdom is brevity. I lack this, but I will comment, hopefully charitably.

    Why should it matter how the world sees us? Those who care about the Truth will search for the Truth and go beyond sound bites and headlines. By God’s grace they certainly will.

    Why does God allow stupidity? Probably the same reason He allows suffering. It’s about the manifestation of His glory through His justice or mercy, and if that means the conversion of people even with a PR “screwup” like this, then greater glory to Him. St. Thomas Aquinas and St. John Vianney are in the same boat. I love that.

    Even so, why worry since we’re in the hands of Providence? I don’t intend to give an impression of fatalism. It’s not that we “don’t” do this, this, and that, but instead that it has happened nevertheless, and God, in His infinite wisdom and love, has allowed it to happen. What is there to worry about? It’s all in His hands, under the guidance of His wisdom. We may look at this now and be shocked and dismayed, but let’s put ourselves in Job’s shoes and take a wild ride on the side of eternity. Maybe this bad PR is precisely what God wants to happen…

    And yes, I agree with that statement that Truth must not only be spoken but be stated winsomely, but fact is, we err and what a happy fact indeed that God may not only set us right but provide something superabundant, like His Son to the Fall. His glory knows no limits!

    Stupido? Perhaps so. Give the enemies of Christ all the wood they want for their fire. It will amount to a spark and even less. Give them a match and gas, and why worry? God draws all whom He draws (didn’t Jesus say the Father gives to His Son, and Jesus will not lose a single one?), and the powers of Hell shall not overcome His Church. Certainly, then, much less so the secular media even with their so-called ammunition.

    God bless you for your work. I love your writing.

  • Foxx

    PR dosen’t need their desks slapped, they need their heads slapped. Preferably hard.

  • Dymphna

    CJOM–you are absolutely right. It is one thing to find yourself engaging in apologetics regarding the faith and quite another to find yourself struggling to make sense of something like this to others whether it be a television audience or one’s own family.

    And, Mike, you said it before I could. It is NOT wrong to criticize members of the church hierarchy when they fail as human beings. Even the Pope. He is only infallible in matters of faith and morals. This attitude of “never criticize an ordained member of the Church” got us in this cover-up situation in the first place.