Occupy the Church: a strange dream

I had a strange dream last night. Just before retiring, I had read Maureen Dowd’s New York Times (NYT) piece on the Vatican’s hysterical attack on U.S. nuns (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/29/opinion/sunday/dowd-bishops-play-church-queens-as-pawns.html?hp). According to Pope Ratzinger and His Holy Office of the Inquisition (now renamed “The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” – or something like that) the good sisters are spending too much time on social justice issues and the poor.  They’re not giving enough attention to the crucial issues that so concerned Jesus — contraception, abortion, and same sex marriage.

Dowd was having none of that.  And her editorial was right on target. But it was the responses below the on-line version of the column that I found even more compelling. Comment after comment not only supported the nuns, but expressed outrage at a church that covered up and minimized the importance of male pedophilia, while attacking its hard-working, self-sacrificial women for following the example of Jesus himself. New York’s Cardinal Dolan attempted explanation by pointing out that only a “tiny minority” of priests has been involved in raping young boys. Technically he was right, I guess. One responder to the Dowd article said the figure is “only” 5-8% of priests worldwide.

With that comforting reassurance in mind, I closed my eyes. My dream soon unfolded.

There I was in my local church in Kentucky. I was sitting in my usual place in the third row on the lectern side of the aisle. Our pastor was preaching about abortion again, and I suspect my thoughts had wandered off. . .

But then I was suddenly snapped-to when just across the way from me, Mary Kelly (a former Sister of St. Joseph) stood up. Her husband, Ken, himself a resigned priest from the archdiocese of Chicago was standing beside her.

In a firm but gentle and clear voice, Mary called out: “Excuse me, Fr. Philip.” She was interrupting the priest!

Flashbulbs erupted in the church. Three strangers who appeared to be newspaper people had run down the aisle and were taking pictures of Mary and of our startled pastor.  

Mary repeated, “Excuse me, Fr. Philip.” Behind her about 20 voices echoed, “Excuse me, Fr. Philip.” When the people who had just spoken stood up, I realized something “organized” was about to happen. Even a quick glance showed me that the ones who had repeated Mary’s words all belonged to our parish’s Peace and Social Justice Committee. Its members were using the “mic-check” technique perfected by the Occupy Movement. This will be good, I thought. It’s like they want to occupy the church.

“With all due respect, Father Philip,” Mary continued.

Behind her 20 voices repeated, “With all due respect, Father Philip.”

“We cannot go on with business as usual (We cannot go on with business as usual)

Or ignore the mistreatment of women (Or ignore the mistreatment of women)

By the Catholic Church (By the Catholic Church)

As shown by the Vatican’s recent attack (As shown by the Vatican’s recent attack)

On American nuns (On American nuns).

I stand here to announce (I stand here to announce)

In the name of (In the name of)

Our parish Peace and Social Justice Committee (Our parish Peace and Social Justice Committee)

That we are suspending (That we are suspending)

Our membership in and support of this Church (Our membership in and support of this Church)

Until this problem is resolved (Until this problem is resolved).

Until apologies are issued (Until apologies are issued).

And reforms are made (And reforms are made).

In the meantime (In the meantime)

We will meet each Sunday (We will meet each Sunday)

In designated parishioners’ homes (In designated parishioners’ homes)

To celebrate the Eucharist there (To celebrate the Eucharist there).

We invite any of our fellow parishioners (We invite any of our fellow parishioners)

Who feel called to join us (Who feel called to join us)

To do so (To do so).

Please inform the bishop of our decision (Please inform the bishop of our decision).

We are leaving now (We are leaving now).”

With that, Ken unfolded a 3’ by 3’ newsprint sign that read “Justice for American Nuns!” He held it above his head and walked solemnly to the front of the church. There were more camera flashings. Soon Ken was joined by the 20 others lining themselves up across the front of the sanctuary. Fr. Philip looked embarrassed and confused.

Someone shouted from the congregation, “This is crazy! Sit down and shut up!”

“Hear, hear!” someone else added. There were murmurings all around.

Still, a few others from the pews joined Ken and the 20. The signs the demonstrators held made the pastor invisible.

One poster asked “Who Needs Reprimanding: Pedophiles or Our Sisters?

Another fairly shouted, “We’re gone till the Pope Apologizes: REPENT, Herr Ratzinger!”

More camera flashes.

Presently the 20 Peace and Social Justice Committee members and those who had joined them were processing – up the right side of the church, down the middle aisle and up the left side. They taped their posters to the narthex windows and walls. Soon they were gone.

Finally I awoke and thought “Hmm. . . Why not?”

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

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