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 back to this fourth session of How To Be A Successful Catholic Dissident Today.” It has been most enjoyable sharing with you some of the best practice on how to be a successful Catholic dissident.

Just to review our progress so far, I hope you took notes in session one in which we stressed how very important it is that you fully affirm all the doctrinal and moral teachings of the Catholic Church. If you would like to have a refresher on that session go here. The important thing to remember is that you must always affirm all the church’s teachings. That way you can say, “I am a priest in good standing.” Of course, how you interpret the church’s teachings is a completely different matter. Check out the first session to see what I mean.

In the second session we stressed the importance of a strong media presence. The media is strong. The media is young. In some societies they would have called the person in charge of the media the Minister for Propaganda. It is not a term I like to use. Instead we use the term “communications.” Director of Communications is much better. Having a strong media presence is vital to be a successful Catholic dissident today.

The third session dealt with the question of how to choose your special area of dissent, and once chosen how to manage the communications. Essentially you need to ensure that you choose a group or an individual who can be seen as victims. Then you work that idea into everything.

Today I would like to deal with the tricky business of managing your message. If your ideas and teaching run contrary to Catholic teaching, you must first of all make sure that everyone knows that these are nothing but your own ideas and questions. Questions! You are not making any claims. You are not challenging church teaching. You are not really being radical. You are not a dissident. You are merely asking questions. You are inviting people to dialogue. Dialogue is always good. This implies that dogma is bad, but never say that!

Encourage the idea that an open mind is always better than a proposition that states a religious dogma or moral teaching. Talk about “real people in difficult situations”, never talk about unchanging beliefs or morals. Whenever you can use the most difficult and heart rending situations to question the “harsh, unbending dogma.”

Secondly, make sure that the questions are framed in such a way that they are not your questions, but you are asking them on behalf of others. If the “others” are merely symbolic that is fine. If possible paint the “others” as wounded victims who are too frightened and intimidated by the harsh, judgmental Catholic Church to ask the questions themselves.

So, for example, to use our illustration from Session Three, let us imagine that you wish to champion the trolls. You have already painted them to be victims of a cruel, racist, oppressive regime. Now ask a question–but it is their question not yours. So you say, “Many trolls want to know why they are excluded from the church and why they are portrayed as horrible, ugly monsters who eat baby goats.” Never mind that they actually do eat baby goats and are smelly and ugly. Pose their question. You then come across as an advocate–a social justice warrior, and one who is valiantly and courageously sticking up for the little guy.

If you are successful in casting yourself in this role you will be amazed how almost no one will dare to challenge you.

To challenge you would be to challenge your concern, your deeply felt hurt on behalf of the poor wounded trolls, and your very integrity as a “priest in good standing.” No one will dare to challenge you because you are the shining light, the culture warrior, the brave pioneer, the one who is taking a risk on behalf of the down trodden, the bullied, the poor and the marginalized.

Work hard to build up this reputation. When you appear on the media cultivate a kind of “punished puppy dog” look. Use soft words to get your message across.  Never be angry. Instead be “hurt”, “saddened” or “concerned.”

While you are doing this it is important to develop alliances with people of like mind in the church. You will rely on them as the temperature rises. Keep those relationships quiet and don’t reveal that you are on the same page with the radical dissidents in the church until the time is right. When it is clear who your real supporters are make sure you have already painted the radical dissidents as “brave pioneers” and “martyrs.” We’ll deal with this in more detail later, but you get the idea.

While you are doing this make sure you also develop warm friendships with wealthy benefactors who support your cause. Make friends with them, but never ask them for money. They are probably dying to give you money, but never take funding yourself. Instead keep them waiting. This shows that you are above “the money thing” and you can never be accused of accepting money from them. That they support you and promote your books and speaking engagements is beside the point.

Meanwhile, you should also develop friendships with bishops and archbishops. All of them have pet projects that require funding. When the time is right you should connect your wealthy contacts with the bishops.Your wealthy contacts will be able to help the bishops with their pet projects and when you need the support of the bishops be assured that they will do everything they can to help you.

It is good to have these relationships in place because eventually you will attract some enemies. In the next session we will talk about how to deal with opposition.