Catholic Church pushes PR overhaul in wake of priest abuse scandals


December 24, 2018

By Kevin O’Connor

Vermont Catholic leaders had talked for hours about the rise in priest misconduct headlines and fall in parishioner attendance when a woman, listening to the recent strategy session to forge a better future, asked a question: Why weren’t they spending more time proclaiming the good news?

The 72 parishes of the statewide Roman Catholic Diocese support more than 170 nonprofit organizations that serve the hungry, poor, sick, homeless or imprisoned, a new survey reveals, with many churches also offering their own emergency aid, soup kitchens, food shelves and thrift shops.

Members of the state’s largest religious denomination, understanding yet weary of seemingly nonstop coverage of child-abuse claims against past personnel, fear the public is forgetting the church has a good side.

“The stories we’ve given the media have been bad ones,” Vermont Catholic Bishop Christopher Coyne says.

Just this past week, the church settled yet another lawsuit involving a former priest, bringing the total number of publicized cases to more than 40 over the past two decades.

In response, Coyne, who just stepped down as communications chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is stepping up his statewide public relations efforts. Visit a parish anywhere from Burlington to Brattleboro, for example, and you’ll find copies of the new quarterly Vermont Catholic Magazine, with 80 glossy pages spotlighting parishioners’ charitable efforts.

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