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”.
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.