The United State Conference of Catholic Bishops

The most recent sexual abuse scandal started late July 2018 when it was announced that Archbishop Theodore McCarrick would be stepping down from appointment as Cardinal because of sexual abuse allegation, something that had not happened to a Cardinal in the United State. McCarrick was the Archbishop Emeritus of Washington as well as a former Cardinal priest of Ss. Nereo e Achilleo, the former Bishop of Metuchen and the former Auxiliary Bishop of Metuchen. When it was publicly addressed that there had been several credible accusations of sexual abuse committed by McCarrick, he was forced to resign from public ministry and from the College of Cardinals and then sentenced to enter a life of prayer and penance at St. Fidelis Capuchin Friary in Victoria, Kansas, (Rousselle, 2018).

Around the same time, in August 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury report was released that investigated abuse in six dioceses out of eight in the state. The Washington Post among many secular publications reported that the grand jury had been working on it for two years, and it covered a span of 70 years. The grand jury found more than 300 priests participating in sexual abuse in the six dioceses; even more in the church leadership have covered for these known abusers. More than 1,000 children have fallen victim to these men of the cloth, and the grand jury report supposed thousands more may have also been sexually abused during the observed period of time (Boorstein & Gatley, 2018). These findings effected the environment of McCarrick’s case as well as the corruption in Pennsylvania, requiring the Church to be even more cautious on how they publicly handled the situation to be viewed by its many followers in the country.


The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is the leading body of the Catholic Church in the United States and serves as the link between the laity and the Vatican. According to its official website and under civil law, the purpose of USCCB is “to unify, coordinate, encourage, promote and carry on Catholic activities in the United States; to organize and conduct religious, charitable and social welfare work at home and abroad; to aid in education; to care for immigrants; and generally to enter into and promote by education, publication and direction the objects of its being,” (n.d.). When the Church has important news, often the topic will either come from or be addressed by the USCCB. Its leadership role for the Church means each statement made is representative of the U.S. Church.

Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston-Houston is the president of USCCB, and thus, he is the one who delivered the statements being used as artifacts. Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo has addressed the public on many an occasion from July 2018 to October 2018, amounting to eight total official statements on the recent sexual abuse crisis. The official statements are representative of what the majority of bishops and cardinals have put forward. Also included in this list of artefacts is an official statement made within the same time frame from the USCCB’s Administrative Committee on the same topic. Although the statement differs in that it was not delivered by Cardinal DiNardo, it still is representative of the sentiments of the USCCB and, therefore, is included as an artifact, bringing the total to nine. These will give the best idea of how the church hierarchy works to repair its image and that of the Church as a whole as well as correct its previous transgressions.

Review of Literature

Genre Criticism

Benoit (2005) explained that genre criticism is a rhetorical criticism that looks at a genre of works such as State of the Union Addresses, eulogies and valedictorian speeches. When multiple works that are meant for the same purpose share a number of similarities, they are linked together in a genre. Researchers then can observe the generalizations that spring from the particular genre to better study more individual works within the genre. However, these generalizations are not immune to exceptions, and some works can vary from others within the genre. Common areas of study are the relationship between situation and genre, between purpose and genre, and between genre and other elements.


Apologia is a genre of discourse that is as old as the study of rhetoric itself. Downey (1993) has well-documented the history and evolution of the genre from its beginnings in the Classical Period in the time of the Ancient Greeks, all the way through the Contemporary Period and the 1960s. It was a common method of communication before it was even characterized as its own genre in rhetoric. Much of apologia can be defined and categorized by its underlying parameters and concepts, which define the genre.

Because of these clear commonalities across apologia, Ware and Linkugel (1973) argued for the inclusion of the long-standing practice to be included as a rhetorical study of genre criticism. The authors claimed that “In life, an attack upon a person’s character, upon his worth as a human being, does seem to demand a direct response. The questioning of a man’s moral nature, motives, or reputation is qualitatively different from the challenging of his policies,” (p. 247). Similar to its beginnings in Ancient Greece, apologia is often a self-defense type of discourse. However, it has since expanded from predominately oral delivery style to a mixture of mediums such as press releases or official statements on a company’s website, all designed to defend one’s character.

Some of the roots of contemporary apologia can be trace back to Robert Abelson. Abelson (1959) defined four ways that we as humans attempt to resolve dilemmas of belief: denial, bolstering, differentiation and transcendence. Denial simply meant the accused claimed they did not commit the act. When bolstering, the accused would play up the good they had done previously to dismiss the possibility of them doing something wrong. Differentiation meant the accused distanced themselves from the accused act. Finally, transcendence relied on the claim that the accused had some higher purpose for the action. The first two are referred to as reformative because the accused does not try to change the audience’s understanding, whereas the latter two are known as transformative because they are designed to change the situation. These were all methods humans employed with the goal of separating ourselves from an accusation and shifting the blame in some way to reinforce that separation.

However, these were limited in what they covered. Other researchers took note of apologia as a genre that could be analyzed and sought to make a stronger definition with more and clearer characteristic as well as to identify more strategies used by those in need of some form of self-defense.

Image Repair and Benoit

Image Repair Theory was conceptualized by William Benoit as a way to expand the genre of apologia. He analyzed communication that came from organizations or companies during times of crisis, scandal or any cause of damaged reputation. He noted there were similar aspects that all the organizations used in their communication to try to repair a declining reputation. Benoit (1997) then categorized the characteristics and defined them in his image restoration theory. There are five main strategies used to attempt to repair image: denial, evasion of responsibility, reducing offensiveness of event, corrective action and mortification. As Table 1 shows, many of those strategies can be further broken down; in the case of denial, a company can either simply deny that it did not do it or can shift the blame to another company.

A well-constructed response to a crisis will use at least one of these strategies. A key assumption of Image Repair Theory is that if the correct strategy is used in response to an offending act, then the accused’s image should be successfully repaired. If the wrong strategy is selected, then the attempted-restoration will fail and the accused either can try again with a different strategy or will not be able to restore their image to the level it was before.

Image Repair Applications

Benoit and Henson (2009) used Benoit’s own theory to analyze President George W. Bush’s address to the nation following his slow response to Hurricane Katrina. They concluded that his use of bolstering, defeasibility and corrective action strategies did not succeed in repairing his image, as was reflected in the public evaluation. To bolster his image, Bush framed himself as a man of faith and compassion. Then, Bush described Katrina as an abnormal hurricane that the normal disaster-relief system was not prepared to handle. Finally, Bush addressed what the government was already doing, how many people were helping, the government’s intentions to continue helping, and how the government would improve. The authors concluded that Bush should not have attempted to evade responsibility or reduce offensiveness; rather, he should have used mortification and admitted the fault. This article demonstrated how to analyze a failed image repair as well as the benefits of having responses of the public to look at as a measure of how effective the strategies used were.

Len-Ríos (2010) applied Benoit’s theory of image restoration to examine the communication strategies employed by Duke University following the scandal involving the men’s lacrosse team. The team had an off-campus party with underage drinking and two female dancers one of whom was allegedly sexually assaulted and raped by three members of the team. Len-Ríos found that Duke used different defense techniques for the athletes and the reputation of the university. The university used simple denial and mortification to defend the athletes, but used bolstering, separation, corrective action and attacking one’s accuser to defend its own reputation. This showed that the same case can separate individuals from and organization and utilize different strategies for each.

W. Harlow and R. Harlow (2013) used a more critical approach when applying Benoit’s image repair theory to BP’s response to the Deepwater Horizon Incident. The paper elaborated on the popular claim that BP’s response strategies explaining the action to resolve the problem and compensating victims were ineffective. The paper also largely focused on the long-term response and results. However, the recency of the event as compared to the publishing of the paper impacted the depth it could go into in terms of the response and results.

Xifra (2012) believed that image repair theories in apologia like that of Benoit’s often miss out on other elements such as the context, structural factors and culture, going as far to even suggest that image may never be fully repaired regardless of the strategy chosen. It could, therefore, be interpreted that Xifra was arguing for an expansion of the apologia as a genre. Although Benoit’s strategies were not the only way to define the genre, his points overlapped with many other apologia-related theories in communication. However, when using genre criticism, a piece of communication does not have to match every generalization to fit in a genre. Sometimes going beyond the genre is what allows the piece of communication to stand out in a positive way. In Xifra’s opinion, there was a reason authors give background to a story: it provides context to why an audience receives the communication the way they do.

Oles-Acevedo (2012) examined how Hillary Clinton used a combination of denial and reducing offensiveness to repair her image from the 1990s to a prominent political figure in the 2000s. Oles-Acevedo also made note that using a combination of image repair tactics worked better. At first, Clinton used denial to try to save her image after the many different scandals she and her husband were involved in. She denied the accusations of cheating, lying, obstructing justice, and wrongdoings. However, denial alone was not enough, especially as there were sometimes damning facts. The author noted she paired denial with a narrative by saying the scandals were just conspiracies from the Right. With this idea planted, she was able to then add reducing offensiveness the mistake was minor and mortification relying on past good reputation in order to repair her image. This illustrated the importance of using a combination of strategies outlined by Benoit as long as other rhetorical strategies, such as narrative, beyond the genre of apologia in order for the best chance of image repair in some cases.

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