Fr Harvey Nicolaitan SJ on Choosing Your Dissent

priestGuest blogger Fr Harvey Nicolaitan SJ, is a master of modern media. With a degree in Communications, he is a well known author and guest on reality TV shows, Fr Nicolaitan is the author of My Little Rainbow Bridge- a children’s story about being kind to trolls. He has been invited to speak at many of our nation’s greatest Catholic intellectual powerhouses. A member of the Vatican Confectory for International Dissimulation, he advises bishops on effective communication. Fr Nicolaitan is contributing a series on “Rules for Radicals or How To Be A Successful Catholic Dissident Today”. 

Thank you so much for joining me here in my mini series on “How To Be A Successful Catholic Dissident Today” Let’s just take a moment to review what we’ve learned so far. In our first session I explained how it is vital that the Catholic dissident adhere completely to all church teaching. Of course how you interpret the church’s teachings is the interesting point.

So, for example, to be a successful Catholic dissident you should totally and completely affirm that remarriage after divorce is impossible. However, you can also affirm that a pastoral approach should be taken and that in certain circumstances and according to particular motivations and intentions of the persons involved a remarriage after divorce might be the best option…for the sake of the children. (Always weave in something about ‘for the sake of the children’ if you can)

In the second session we looked at the importance of having a positive media presence. I outlined how important it is to cultivate positive relationships with media personnel, the importance of building up a strong and positive media presence and how vital it is to present yourself not as a dissident or a rebel, but as a “brave pioneer” or a “reformer.” Most people will perceive the Catholic Church as a crusty, corrupt, hidebound institution locked in a medieval world of the Spanish Inquisition, slavery and witch hunts. Reformers and brave pioneers always go down well because most of the people already assume that the Catholic Church is in vital need of reform.

Now to today’s session: It is very important to choose your subject of dissent very carefully. People aren’t interested in money that much. Of course they like to think that the Catholic Church is rolling in cash and that most of it comes from the mafia, but what they are really interested in is sex.

Because they are obsessed with sex they assume the Catholic Church is obsessed with sex, and this is the area which will get you the most attention. It doesn’t really matter if you are dissenting about married priests or complaining about pedophile priests or clerical celibacy or women’s ordination or same sex marriage. Any of these topics will do very nicely for your career as a Catholic dissident, but to avoid getting side tracked into one of these issues itself, for the sake of discussion, let’s choose a pretend topic.

In my little book (which has been endorsed by an Archbishop and a Cardinal!) I talk about trolls under the bridge and I call for the church to change her harsh attitude to trolls. So let us use the fairy tale example of trolls to illustrate how to handle the first stages of your dissent.

Having chosen the church’s treatment of trolls you must first set up the trolls as being misunderstood. Paint a harsh picture of the church’s treatment of trolls. “Trolls eat goats that cross the bridge! Trolls should be excommunicated! Trolls are ugly, foul mouthed beastly creatures! Trolls are mean to goats! Trolls are demonic! Trolls should be excluded!” Once you’ve portrayed the church as harsh and uncaring it is only a short hop to  elicit sympathy for the trolls.

Explain how trolls are misunderstood. Explain how they are doing the best they can and they can’t help being ugly. They were born that way. Explain how the trolls behave the way they do because they have been treated so badly. Tell a story about Cindy Troll and Andy Troll who were only trying to do their best and were kicked out of their bridge by the mean old authorities. Paint the trolls as martyrs and victims. This will elicit sympathy and get most people on your side.

Remember your most effective tool in this campaign is to appeal to the heart. This means appeal to the emotions. People don’t want to be troubled by facts. They want their heart strings tugged. Portray the trolls as nice people–sometimes flawed–(and let him without sin cast the first stone!) but deserving of equal rights and dignity.

Never talk about what trolls actually do. Gloss over the fact that they kidnap baby goats and eat them for dinner. Don’t talk about the way they scare and bully everyone who crosses the bridge. If their bad behavior comes up say its not for you to judge. If anyone does persist in telling you how nasty trolls are scold them for judging and tell them Jesus would never judge the trolls.

It could be that someone raises the point that the church condemns trollish actions. If they push you to affirm this teaching and say that you also condemn trollish behaviors just deflect the question and say, “The Church’s teaching on trollish behavior is very clear.” Others might say to you, “But what if the trolls don’t want to come up from under the bridge and turn from their wicked goat eating ways?”

Your reply is, “It is up to us to go down beneath the bridge with the trolls and meet them where they are. Why should we wish to impose our values and lifestyle on them? Instead we accept them just as they are and affirm them, for they too are God’s creatures.”

This is a very good career move because once you have won justice for the trolls you can go on to another group who you have decided is persecuted by the church and start all over again.

One of the exciting things about being a Catholic dissident is that you get lots of publicity for your books. By rocking the boat you will get lots of headlines, and those headlines generate book sales and speaking engagements. It is true that you may not be very popular with some Catholics, but they are the rigid, Pharisaical ones, and if you don’t win their approval don’t worry. By alienating them you will have won many more followers. They are exactly the sort of Catholics the majority of people can’t stand. For every rigid, legalistic type you lose you will gain a dozen, level headed, big hearted followers. Those who appreciate you may not be Catholics in a formal sense, but they are good people who only want a world of justice, kindness and equality for all.

There is much more to think about when managing your message and we will deal with that in the next session.

 

Fr Harvey Nicolaitan SJ on Media Matters

priestGuest blogger Fr Harvey Nicolaitan SJ, is a master of modern media. With a degree in Communications, he is a well known author and guest on reality TV shows, Fr Nicolaitan is the author of My Little Rainbow Bridge- a children’s story about being kind to trolls. He has been invited to speak at many of our nation’s greatest Catholic intellectual powerhouses. A member of the Vatican Confectory for International Dissimulation, he advises bishops on effective communication. Fr Nicolaitan is contributing a series on “Rules for Radicals or How To Be A Successful Catholic Dissident Today”. 

In this session I would like to give a few instructions about managing the media. But first I’d like to remind you of what we learned in the first session.  I explained how very important it is for a successful Catholic dissident today to never stray from church teachings. In every case we must know the church’s teachings and give public assent to them. Then we can say, “I am a faithful priest in good standing!” If any of your critics attempt to portray you as a heretic you can say, “But I fully affirm all of the church’s teachings!” Of course the interpretation of those teachings is another matter, and I will leave that to your personal conscience, because we know the personal conscience is supreme.

However, in saying this, once you have affirmed the church’s teachings you may remind your audience that the church’s doctrine develops over time according to different circumstances. Its good to use slavery as an example. Do not trouble your audience with the fact that the Catholic Church has historically spoken out against slavery. Instead, let them assume that the Catholic Church always supported slavery and point out that we no longer are. In addition to the “development of doctrine” idea, it is also good to spend some time talking about how important it is that the church “receives” the teaching and if the church (you don’t need to define ‘church’–they should assume it means ‘the people’) doesn’t receive the teaching then it is up to question. But leave it there. You mustn’t push that sort of thing too far.

But I would really like to speak to you today about media matters. To be a successful Catholic dissident today it is vital that you master the media. This is because the media is more powerful than any pope, president or prime minister. Everyone is terrified of the media, so the media will be your primary tool. Through the media you will be able to control public opinion and this will sway almost everyone. Of course there are a few people out there who do not watch TV or read the newspapers and generally distrust every form of mass media, but you needn’t be concerned with them. They are usually just the people who read whacko blogs and clutch their rosaries, bead counting until doomsday.

Focus instead on the large numbers. First you should master the mainstream media. I mean the main television networks, newspapers and magazines. To do this you really need to live in Los Angeles, New York or Washington, but New York is definitely best. If you live in New York you will not only be available for television, radio and newspaper interviews, but more importantly, you can make friends with the people who run the media networks.

Many of them were brought up as Catholics and you’d be surprised how they still carry a lot of respect for a priest. If you are somewhat charming and sophisticated (and good looking) you will impress them immediately. They remember old Father McFee with bad breath and egg yolk on his cassock telling them off for dancing too close at the school dance. They will be surprised and pleased to find a priest who is presentable. Of course, you must learn to talk their talk. This is the way to reach out and build a bridge. Never say anything to offend them or cast judgement on their lifestyle if you find it is somewhat hedonistic. After all, who are you to judge? Instead make friends with them and espouse their causes.  You will soon be invited to be on reality TV shows, be guests on late night talk shows and be the “go to” priest whenever a Catholic news story comes up.

Then there is social media. You need to “build a platform”. There are good books out there on how to do this, but essentially it means working Twitter, Facebook, email lists, Instagram and just about any social media tools possible. Use these tools to publish your thoughts and ideas. Make sure the ideas are always attractive to the large audience you are aiming for. Don’t say anything extreme and definitely do not use Catholic type language or be too religious. That puts people off. Instead you want to talk about love, peace, being kind, not being judgmental, “being more like Jesus” is okay in small doses, but make sure the “Jesus” you are communicating is actually the popular image of St Francis–a kindly, somewhat effeminate, poetic soul who loved animals and nature and was kind to everyone. Spirituality is good, but it should be simple and accessible. Monasticism is popular, but don’t overdo it and it should definitely have an environmental tone. Environmental is good.

The last point I would make is about your image. This is very imporant.

To be a successful Catholic dissident today you must portray yourself not as a rebel or a revolutionary. Those ideas are out of date. We don’t need any more bearded priests with placards who are willing to go to jail. We don’t need protests and petitions. All they do is make the opposition become more entrenched.

Instead you must be seen to be a “reformer”. You are a faithful Catholic who only wants the Catholic Church to be more true to herself. Another good image is the “courageous pioneer” Americans like courageous pioneers. You are not a rebel, but you are willing to stand up against the corrupt, indifferent, bigoted, rigid hypocrites in the church. Refer to courageous pioneers your audience already knows like Martin Luther King Jr or Gandhi. To remind them how Catholic you are include some saints like Ignatius Loyola or Oscar Romero. Then add to the list a dissident who has been disciplined by the church, but stood her ground. Choose one of the courageous nuns who are pro choice, for example. Hold them up for admiration. If you find a good one you might even joke that she should be canonized.

This image of being a courageous pioneer and a reformer will serve you well when the conflict begins–and this will be the topic of session number three.

Introducing Fr Harvey Nicolaitan SJ

priestGuest blogger Fr Harvey Nicolaitan SJ, is a master of modern media. With a degree in Communications, he is a well known author and guest on reality TV shows, Fr Nicolaitan has been invited to speak at many of our nation’s greatest Catholic intellectual powerhouses. A member of the Vatican Confectory for International Dissimulation, he advises bishops on effective communication. Fr Nicolaitan is contributing a series on “Rules for Radicals or How To Be A Successful Catholic Dissident Today”. 

I am very flattered to contribute to this blog, and will be sharing with you some of the secrets of successful communication in the Catholic Church. Unlike other political institutions, the Catholic Church has a very strict set of doctrines, beliefs and moral teachings. This makes dissent within the Catholic Church a very tricky business indeed, but it can be done if you follow my simple rules and stick to them.

In the past dissidents in the Catholic Church made the mistake of being open in their dissent. The rigid, dogma bound members of the hierarchy flexed their inquisitorial muscles and silenced people. Invariably the dissident either conformed or drifted off and formed an ineffectual sect of protest. We need to learn from these lessons of the past and realize that the most effective form of dissent is not to dissent at all. Never do anything that will make the Vatican thought police sniff you out and hunt you down.

Therefore the first and most important rule is “Know the Catholic faith and stick to it.” To be able to dissent effectively you need to know what you are dissenting from. Therefore you need to know Catholic doctrine and moral teaching inside and out. This accomplishes several objectives. First of all, you know the territory, and secondly you can always say publicly, “I understand and fully affirm everything the Catholic Church teaches.”

I know what you are thinking: “How is that dissent?” Its a good question. It works like this. You see, our theologians and Bible scholars have taught us that what is most important is not the particular words, but the interpretation of those words. So you may say, for example, that you believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This is good and orthodox. Of course, what you mean is, “In some mysterious way the disciples of Jesus continued to believe his beautiful teachings even after his tragic death.”

In the area of moral teaching you can affirm fully that sacramental marriage is between one man and one woman for life. What you really mean is that you believe this is a beautiful ideal, but in real life you acknowledge that contemporary anthropological and cultural changes require a diversified and analytical approach which cannot be limited to pastoral and missionary practices of the past.

Of course you believe that marriage is between one man and one woman for life, but you acknowledge that this is actually impossible in the real world and there are many forms of love and marriage–all of which are good in their own way. You might think this is being dishonest, but we Jesuits have long admired the principle of equivocation–in which truth is spoken in a way that allows for various interpretations.

So this is the first and most important lesson in being a Catholic dissident today: know the Catholic faith and stick to it.

If people object to your position you can say in all truthfulness, “But I am a priest in good standing!” You can honestly say, “I affirm everything the church teaches!” If you are a religious you can say, “My superior approves of me!” You can challenge your critics to show where in any statement you have ever departed from the church’s teachings. They will fail because you never depart from church teachings.

While this might seem unduly bound to doctrine and seem like a rigid approach, with a bit of thought you can see that it actually frees you to hold whatever interpretations of Catholic teaching you think appropriate. You use something called “mental reservation”. when your real opinions are likely to confuse or offend someone. This means you hold back what you really believe and use an outward form of expression that is acceptable.

So, for example, you may be confronted with a straight question like, “Father, do you approve of sexual relations outside of marriage” You may agree with Bishop McElroy that chastity is not really the most important of virtues, and you would first want to meet the person and accompany them and listen to their story and come to understand their desire for real love. Instead of getting into all that and confusing people, you can just say, “The church’s teaching on that subject is clear. Sexual relations outside of marriage are not condoned.”

Of course you realize the real situation is far more complicated, but by stating the church teaching your hearer is satisfied that you hold to an orthodox position. You can then move on to more important matters.

I hope you will stay with me in these little lessons in effective communications. In the days ahead we will discuss how to cultivate a popular image as a priest and what to do when conflict arises.

Image Creative Commons via Bing

 

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