Amanda Skofstad, public affairs officer for the Episcopal Church, was hired for the position in April 2021 after stints in media relations with Notre Dame University and Ave Maria Press, a Catholic publishing company. But after her recent comments about Todd Ousley’s Haiti debacle, we believe it is time for Amanda to resign.
One of the challenges in media relations, which often is more art than science, is knowing when to hold the party line and when to take a different approach.
When the latter happens, the media relations person needs to have sufficient support from their internal clients to have the required difficult conversation. And not just to have the conversation but for clients to take the advice offered, as in, “this is a really bad idea, and it’s going to come back to bite us.”
Of course, there’s a related issue: the media relations person has to have the integrity to say, “That’s not something I’m willing to put out there. It undercuts your credibility and mine, and it will cause harm to the organization.”
Swirling amid this paradigm are Skofstad’s comments about Ousley’s doing business with a Haitian priest wanted on charges of arms smuggling. Here’s what she said:
“The point of the letter was to address the need for a synod to elect or re-elect members of the standing committee,” Skofstad said. “Since the current occupant of the office of president of the standing committee is Vil, the letter could only be addressed to him. Any use of the letter to promote political agendas within the Diocese of Haiti would be a misuse of the letter.”
Whoa. That is flat-out wrong. And it demonstrates terrible judgment.
The point is not about holding a synod. The point is that the church must not do business with alleged arms traffickers who are wanted fugitives. In other words, if you’re on the lam, you are not an officer in the Episcopal church. Full stop.
And if a diocese is so dysfunctional as to have someone of that sort in the role, the national church needs to help the diocese find a solution. Hopefully, it does so via a collaborative approach, but if that’s impossible, the church needs to act unilaterally. We do not do business with fugitives even if we disagree with the allegations. Repeat: We do not do business with alleged criminals.
Recognizing Vil as president of the standing committee is a slap in the face to the Haitian government. And it adds insult to injury after discovering that the diocese smuggled counterfeit currency and illegal arms. Indeed, it grants tacit approval to these criminal activities.
Of course, we don’t know what happened behind the scenes. Ousley is corrupt and spectacularly indifferent to the ethical implications of his conduct. He also is not one to take advice. So we would not be surprised if he ignored pushback.
We also don’t know what advice Skofstad offered or whether she offered any. But no matter what transpired, at some point, a public affairs person needs to say, “Sorry, we’re not sending that out with my name on it.” And if people object, they may need to resign.
Again, it’s a matter of personal integrity, and the best media relations persons occupy those roles because they become known as trusted sources with impeccable judgment.
And it’s all but assured that some will view our comments as an attack on Skofstad. They are not. It’s simply a matter of looking at the situation and recognizing that it’s not working out. As things are postured, this will not, in the end, work out for anyone.
We also note that Ousley appears to have the reverse Midas touch. Whether its his previous diocese, his handling of clergy discipline, his repeated refusal to provide a pastoral response to those hurt by the church, his shrugging off issues of child sexual abuse, or issues with Haiti, Ousley is a train wreck. He’s a shining example of the Episcopal church at is worst, and Skofstad is not going to benefit by her organizational proximity to Ousley.
So, no matter whether she has interface issues, flaws in her judgment, or some combination of these factors, it’s time for Skofstad to tender her resignation.
To do otherwise will harm the church and damage her career.