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PR firm represented Boston archdiocese in sex abuse scandal

Published: February 13, 2009
Section: Front Page


University President Jehuda Reinharz announced last week that the university’s senior administration had employed the services of the public relations firm Rasky Baerlein in order to help handle the media storm after the Board of Trustee’s authorization to close the Rose Art Museum.

According to an e-mail from Reinharz to Faculty Senate chair Prof. William Flesch (ENG), the firm is being employed for a two month period with the aim of “[assisting] the senior administration in strategically crafting the overall university messages that are needed to communicate…that we are a strong institution.”

In reality, the university is working most closely with the president of the public relations firm Joseph T. Baerlein, who, according to his profile on the Rasky Baerlein website, specializes in “crisis management.”

Rasky Baerlein has a long history of being employed for crisis management—or, as their website describes, “control[ling] the message before it controls you”—in the Boston area. The firm’s most notable client in this field is the Archdiocese of Boston.

The Archdiocese employed the public relations firm in Sept. 2004 in order to help them manage the media storm following the Boston Catholic Church’s sex scandal which made headlines across the country when the story broke in 2003.

Current Boston Archdiocese secretary of communications Terrence Donilon wrote in an e-mail to The Hoot that the archdiocese employed the firm “because of their professional integrity and expertise and their desire to serve us in helping to rebuild and heal the Archdiocese of Boston.”

Since joining up with the archdiocese, the firm has guided the Church through legal settlements with sexual abuse victims and the closing of Boston area catholic schools.

While Donilon wrote that he regards the firm as “trusted communications advisors,” Brighton community members were less than pleased in 2005 with the firm’s announcement that the Archdiocese was rejecting the community’s bid to buy the Our Lady of Presentation School rather than have it closed.

Then Boston city councilor for Brighton Jerry McDermott told Erin Smith of the Alston-Brighton TAB that while he was upset with the decision, he did not believe the announcement was handled properly.

“‘For [the Archdiocese] to send this curt, five sentence response, who’s ever [sic] advising them should be fired,’ said McDermott. ‘Rasky Baerlein should be fired. It’s just been one public relations disaster after another.’ ”

On their website, Rasky Baerlein explains that they “have a successful track record and are renown in managing the media process, influencing public opinion and controlling the situation to our clients’ advantage.”

Betsy Kelly of Rasky Baerlein refused to disclose the details of the firm’s relationship with the Archdiocese.

While the Boston Globe reported in April of 2005 that the firm was a temporary addition to the Archdiocese’s communications team, Donilon wrote to The Hoot that Rasky Baerlein is still being employed by the Archdiocese.

Senior Vice President for communications Lorna Miles did not respond to requests for comment by press time.