(Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan holds up a foam finger promoting "A Fortnight for Freedom" conference sponsored by the Catholic church, following a afternoon session during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Annual Spring Assembly in Atlanta, Georgia, June 13, 2012 REUTERS/Tami Chappell )

U.S. Catholic bishops announced plans on Thursday for an ambitious public relations drive to soften and shape their image and reach out to the younger generation using social media. In a lively session at their national conference in Atlanta, several bishops expressed dismay that they are slow to get their talking points across and are perceived as too confrontational.

The recent Vatican crackdown on the largest organization of U.S. nuns turned into a public relations “debacle” for the bishops, said Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston. He complained that the Vatican’s decision to put bishops in charge of rooting out “radical feminist” elements within the nuns’ group was linked in the secular media to unrelated events, such as the bishops’ investigation of the Girl Scouts, with negative consequences for the church’s image.

The bishops are looking into concerns that the Girl Scouts sometimes work with groups that promote access to contraception. The U.S. church’s image also has been hurt sex abuse scandals.

“Our church, both in the States and at the Holy See, does not do a good job of communicating around controversial topics,” O’Malley said. “We need more help and more sophistication in our messaging.”