It’s Time for Catholics to Employ the Shock Doctrine: Set Up Alternative Storefront Churches Everywhere

Storefront

“Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

As described by Naomi Kline, that’s been the motto of reactionary politicians forever. In her book by the same title, she calls it “the shock doctrine.” It highlights the fact that when disasters occur, it becomes possible for politicians to ram through policies that otherwise wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of gaining approval.

9/11 provides the most obvious case in point. Its aftermath saw Congress gain quick endorsement of policies that its neo-fascist members have impotently lusted after for decades. I’m referring to the institution of a police state, to widespread surveillance of U.S. citizens, to the use of torture, to wars against oil and mineral-rich Muslims in Iraq, Libya, and elsewhere, and to the mass expulsions of foreigners from U.S. soil.

It was similar with Hurricane Katrina. Following its devastation, public schools were privatized, government programs of aid to the impoverished were shredded, and black neighborhoods were gentrified on behalf of wealthy real estate moguls and their clients. All of those were prominent among the “impossible” desiderata of Washington’s elite.

And without 9/11 and Katrina, they would have forever languished beyond the pale of prospect.

The argument here is that the mega-crisis of clerical pedophilia has opened the way for ordinary Catholics to apply Klein’s shock doctrine to an institution that has otherwise remained immobile even in the face of the urgent call of Pope Francis (in “The Joy of the Gospel”) for radical change at almost all ecclesiastical levels.

I say “almost all,” because even in his otherwise brilliant Apostolic Exhortation, the pope specifically ruled out the ordination of women. (He did not even mention abolishing the requirement of priestly celibacy.)

However, my point here is that the horrendous pedophilic crisis has cardinals, bishops, priests, and even the pope himself on the run. Consequently, the door has swung wide for those outside the clerical establishment to take matters in their own hands. It’s time for us to demand changes that would otherwise remain unthinkable for the fossilized ecclesiastical establishment.

First on the list should be the re-examination of all church teachings about sex from masturbation to abortion. And here the laity should be in charge. For it has become evident that a celibate clergy has NOTHING at all to teach us about sex. In the light of clerical pedophilia and its coverup, they should forever remain silent on the subject.

Put otherwise: precisely as celibates, the Catholic clergy’s knowledge of sex can only be either entirely theoretical (usually based on a medieval understanding of the topic) or gathered from illicit, guilt-ridden practice. As such it is invalid and should be ignored on principle.

Second on the list should be the elimination of mandatory clerical celibacy itself. Common sense tells us that it is connected with the perversions of sex-starved priests.

Thirdly, it’s time to admit the obvious, viz. that pedophilia would never have flourished under the leadership of women. In other words, the door has swung open to the otherwise unthinkable for the clerical boys’ club – to the ordination of women.

With all of this in mind, Catholics should take advantage of this crisis by:

• Refusing to let the pope and others to get away with mere apologies and discussions about what to do with pedophilic offenders.
• Insisting instead that as a good faith measure, the pope immediately declare his intention to phase out mandatory celibacy and to open the way for women to serve the church at all levels from priest to pope.
• Demanding the convocation of a General Council (under lay leadership) to re-examine the entire corpus of church teaching on human sexuality.

But how apply pressure to bring about such changes? (And it’s here that the Shock Doctrine applies to a heretofore immobile laity as well as the clergy.)

Let me put it in terms of my own experience.

For years, it has been evident to me and other progressives within my local church in Kentucky that restorationist priests coming out of the reactionary papacies of Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI were not meeting the needs of local parishioners shaped by the teachings of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Those teachings, I reminded my friends, remain the official doctrine of the Catholic Church.

With that in mind, I counseled repeatedly that without abandoning our identity as Catholics, we should leave the local church building and open a storefront, lay-led Catholic Church down the street. We would become a “shadow church” with its own lay pastor, its Eucharistic celebrations, its on-going education programs, and its outreach programs to the local poor. I recommended that we publicly invite our entire congregation to join us, and that we notify the local bishop of our intentions. We would continue meeting in this way, I recommended, until changes were instituted that met our needs.

Our model would be the Jesus, Mary, and Joseph (JMJ) Catholic Church centralized in James Patterson’s novel, Woman of God (which I reviewed here).

No one in our group of 20-25 proved ready to do any of that.

What I’m suggesting here is that the pedophilia crisis may have so shocked my sisters and brothers within my own community that they may now be open to follow the example of Brigid Fitzgerald, the priest hero of Patterson’s novel. She and her ex-priest husband opened a storefront church of the type I’m suggesting here.

I’m betting that following that example across the country and world would move local bishops, Pope Francis and the Catholic establishment to adopt something like the reforms I’ve suggested here.

So, let’s form our own JMJ churches. What have we got to lose?

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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.

8 thoughts on “It’s Time for Catholics to Employ the Shock Doctrine: Set Up Alternative Storefront Churches Everywhere”

  1. That is such an interesting idea, Mike. It reminds me of the little storefront churches that I saw in my old Over-the=Rhine neighborhood in Cincinnati, where I roomed with Chris Cotter. I bet some of the great Franciscans I knew there would have been open to this idea.

    I’m a little afraid that Catholic reactionaries will also try to use this moment to bring back the John Paul IInd church or the church of Pope Pius XII. Already many of these folks are calling for the resignation of Pope Francis.

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    1. You’re right, Bob. That’s the way I read Vigano’s recent letter. He’s not at all interested in reforming the church. Quite the opposite. For him and others like him, this is an opportunity to go backwards. That’s the way the shock doctrine usually works.

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  2. Putting your idea together with Francis’s idea of reparation, why not hold liturgical services modeled on the Good Friday communal celebrations with reserved Eucharists from a territorial parish?? It could then be led by the laity… After a while the liturgical options could be expanded to the rest of tbe liturgical cycle, based on tbe common one for most Christians after VII (& beflre the infamous New Mess pusbed by Vox Clara)!!

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  3. Wonderful ideas. Except there are so many who respond to major shocks by simply going deeper to sleep. Awakening usually requires previous preparation and practice that most people are sorely lacking. Without effective leadership and well thought out re-education programs people are unlikely to take the clear and decisive steps necessary for real change. Shortcuts to awakening are very attractive, but usually illusory. Sorry to be a wet blanket, but realism has an important role in realizing our spiritual dreams. An ill prepared spirituality will not hold up in the storms now breaking over us as the collapse of civilization accelerates.

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  4. The vast penumbra of lies and ignorance that envelopes our human world has enormous influence and staying power. Only those with the courage and persistence to distance themselves from it have any chance to chart a course based on truth and reality. For the rest there is only a doomed course in a world of toxic dreams.

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