Guest 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”.
Welcome to our fifth session on How to Be a Successful Catholic Dissident Today! I’m so glad you are here. All are welcome! All are welcome!
Just a quick review for newcomers. You might remember that in our first session we spoke about how very important it is to never contradict Catholic Church teaching. Of course it is your role to question and undermine church teachings. That’s what dissidents do! But being able to make an honest statement while meaning something totally different is what we Jesuits do! We’re famous for it.
In the second session I stressed the importance of building up a positive media network. If you live in New York you’ll not only be able to go to interviews on television and radio, but if you work hard at it you can be the media people’s pet priest–you’ll soon be getting important invitations not only to cocktail parties, but also to speak at their Ivy League Catholic colleges.
The third session dealt with “Choosing Your Dissent” and we looked at the ways to begin normalizing behaviors and opinions that Catholics have always considered “sinful.” Isn’t that an ugly word? So judgmental. But let’s move on. Quickly, Session Four continued my advice on how to manage your message and begin to make so called “disordered” behavior to be seen as just “differently ordered”.
Now today. Today’s session becomes very interesting because we must decide how we are going to deal with our opponents, and believe me– you will certainly have opponents. They will be the conservative Catholics who want the church to remain in the legalistic past. Jesus dealt with these kind of people all the time. In fact they were the only ones he actually condemned. They were self righteous Pharisees. Once you see your enemies in this light you won’t feel guilty about opposing them actively. You must see it as a war. I assure you, they certainly do.
However, I have a tactic for you that will win that war. It is simply this: you never fight dirty. You must always rise above the fray. One of the ways to do this is to play the victim. So if a fellow priest attacks you don’t attack back. Instead say, “I’m deeply wounded by what you’ve said Father, and so disappointed. And you a priest! To think that you would be so judgmental.” You’ll be inclined to add, “I’ll pray for you” but I would advise against that. It is just a bit over the top.
When others attack you retreat and say in all honesty, “But I never contradict church teachings!” or “I’m a priest in good standing? My religious superior approves of my book and a Cardinal and an Archbishop approve of the book!” This is where session one in which you never contradict church teaching kicks into gear.
Some opponents will insist that you answer a direct question. I should say that in your public speaking engagements never, never allow a time of open questions from the floor. If you do have a question time all questions must be submitted in advance. But how to answer the direct question? Here’s an example: Let us say you are championing the rights of trolls to live under bridges and eat baby goats if they want to. Your opponent will say, “Father. A simple question for you: ‘Do you condone the kidnapping and consumption of baby goats?” Your answer is, “The church’s teaching on this is clear. Kidnapping and eating baby goats is not permitted. This teaching is well known. It does not need me to repeat it.”
Notice that this reply gives the impression that you support the church’s teaching when all you really did was repeat it. It is rather like a person saying to a serial wife beater, “Do you beat your wife?” and he says, “Wife beating is a terrible crime!” You get the idea.
Some of your opponents will want to engage you in a public debate. Never do that. They will use things like the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church to try to trick you. Of course we know how to interpret the difficult passages of the Bible and catechism, but those interpretations are often too subtle for these fundamentalist firebrands to understand. It is best to step back and smile and refuse the debate. This accomplished the double effect of portraying you as the victim who is being attacked and them as the aggressor. This is what you want. The more the public can see you as a martyr the better. This is also the time when you need to alert your media friends of what is happening to you. They will like nothing better than a headline that screams out that a “forward looking Catholic priest is being hounded by conservatives.” Make sure they use the words “inquisition” and “persecution.”
Now while you are rising above the fray you can have your friends in high places do the dirty work for you. We have seen how important it is for you to cultivate friendships among the media, the hierarchy and wealthy donors. This is the time you have them go on the attack. You never say anything unkind and you never make any personal attacks on your opponents. You rise, smiling above it all with a shining halo.
But they are the ones who do the name calling. You’ll find they’re quite good at it. One will Twitter than your opponents are neurotic or they are “alt-Right” (which is code for Nazi) You can get a friendly Archbishop to call your opponents a “cancer” or you can get one of your high ranking Jesuit friends to dismiss your opponents by grouping them with white supremacists, red neck preachers and Trump supporters. You see the genius of this? You never soil your hands in battle, but you get your friends to get down and get dirty for you.
Thanks for listening. Next time we’ll deal a bit more with language and how to use it to promote your cause.