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Timely challenge to influence Vatican

May, 2013

When Pope Benedict XVI surprised the world and resigned there was a rare opportunity for Roman Catholics seeking changes within the church to voice their opinions, spark debate and try to influence his successor.

Following a personal recommendation, the international Catholic Scholars’ Declaration on Authority in the Catholic Church asked Maxim to promote their call for a more collegial system of governance within the church.

Timescales were tight and the national and international media were saturated with news concerning the unusual circumstances of a Pope resigning and speculation about his successor. In addition, allegations followed by denials followed by the resignation of leading Cardinal Keith O’Brien kept the headline writers busy.

An international stage

Account director Delphine Houlton said: “This was the first time that the Maxim team had used its skills to raise the profile of a significant religious organisation on an international stage.

“The limited time frame made it a particularly interesting challenge and we once again demonstrated how sound PR skills really work – whatever the sector, whatever the campaign.”

The Catholic Scholars’ Declaration on Authority in the Catholic Church was launched in autumn 2012 – marking the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. It called for the church to abandon its top-down approach to authority and establish new ways of governing in which the voices and concerns of Catholics in all areas of the world could be heard within the Vatican.

Maxim immediately worked with the client to place letters signed by leading Catholic Scholars in the Independent and the Irish Times and circulated to US media and in the National Catholic Reporter Today. BBC Radio 4 Sunday programme pursued the theme with interviews with a leading UK Catholic Scholar.

This was quickly followed by an event at the House of Commons, attended by UK supporters of the Declaration, where Baroness Helena Kennedy, Lord Hylton, and Professor Ursula King publicly signed the Declaration on behalf groups of people they felt were not adequately represented within the Church.

Catholic Scholars Declaration signing. John Wijngaards, Professor Ursula King, Lord Hylton, Baroness Helena Kennedy of the Shaws.jpgCatholic Scholars Declaration signing (L-R): John Wijngaards, Professor Ursula King, Lord Hylton, Baroness Helena Kennedy of the Shaws

Live coverage of the signing was broadcast on Scottish TV with post-event coverage by BBC Scotland. The Press Association attended and issued coverage. Articles also appeared in a range of national publications including The Herald, The Independent, The Evening Times and The Daily Record.

Online coverage

Meanwhile, the story was also spreading through religious blogs worldwide either reproducing sections of the Declaration, newspaper articles, or comments from signatories and supporters and religious publications.

Our client, led by Catholic Scholar John Wijngaards, also worked hard to spread the word with direct emails to electing cardinals receiving more than 22 direct responses.

One very active supporter, keen to see women given a stronger voice and representation within the Church, staged a campaign in Rome as the Conclave gathered and matched grey smoke issuing from the Vatican with pink smoke – achieving excellent broadcast coverage on EuroNews.

By the end of this very short campaign the number of international Catholic Scholars adding their signatures to the Declaration had risen from 160 to more than 200 from around the world. And our client had made strong links and new relationships with like-minded Catholics in many countries.

posted in: advice, media relations, public relations, reputation management,

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