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


“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?

On Re-appropriating My Priesthood



I’m so appalled at the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency and the threats it poses to everyone and everything I care about:  the environment and climate chaos, avoidance of nuclear war, victims of torture and false imprisonment, Muslims, drone attacks, wealth disparities, women’s reproductive rights, people of color, the LGBT community, our public school system, the right to privacy, human rights in general, labor unions – my children and my grandchildren.

In fact, as I’ve written recently, a Trump presidency portends the dawning of a Fourth Reich, where the victims of incineration will be not only Jews, but all of us, as the White House teems with climate change deniers whose policies threaten all species and the continuity of human life itself.

So the question is, what can we do about it? What talent does each of us have to respond to Trumpism? As parents and grandparents, teachers, writers, counsellors, school board officials, musicians, public speakers, church members, and public citizens, what does each of us have to offer these unprecedentedly dangerous times.

My own answer is my priesthood.

Only gradually and reluctantly have I come to that conclusion. After all, 40 years ago I exited the Catholic priesthood, got married and raised a family of three outstanding children. I remained active in my local church. And as a professor at Berea College and associate of Costa Rica’s Ecumenical Research Institute (DEI), I continued my role as a theologian with a doctoral degree from Rome’s Academia Alfonsiana. For years I taught in a Latin American Studies Program that took students to Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Cuba. In those capacities, I wrote books and articles and offered courses connected with liberation theology.  However, I resigned myself to my role as lay person – a member of the church’s “loyal opposition.”

And the opposition was absolutely called for. Over the years I’ve found myself dismayed as two consecutive regressive popes (John Paul II and Benedict XV) waged a vicious campaign against liberation theology and systematically removed from the hierarchy and Catholic seminaries progressives and theologians like me. The result over the two generations has been the production of a largely reactionary Catholic clergy who long for the good old days before the Second Vatican Council (1962-’65).

So as a lay person, I’ve often found myself sitting passively in my pew while rebelling internally against the reintroduction into the Catholic liturgy Latinisms and even Latin itself. I’ve listened uncomfortably to well-intentioned priests offer ill-prepared pious platitudes in their homilies rather than reflections connected with the historical Jesus and his relationship to the problems that householders like me face in our private and public lives. And, to speak truly, I was blaming them unfairly. After all, how could they possibly offer what their retrenched seminary training prevented them from receiving?

Still, it struck me as ironic that hundreds of people in my parish come together for about 2 hours each Sunday to reflect on their most dearly held (Gospel) values, but come away having barely tapped into the unlimited power for changing their personal lives and the world itself that those values supply. What a waste, I thought – not only for the parishioners directly involved, but for the world.

Then came a breath of fresh air reminiscent of Pope John XXIII’s famous “opening of windows” more than 50 years ago. Argentina’s Jorge Bergoglio became Pope Francis – a man intent on recovering the spirit of Vatican II. Deeply influenced by the liberation theology his predecessors had warred against, he published “The Joy of the Gospel” (J.G.) and then his eco-encyclical, Laudato Si’ (L.S.). Both publications were bolstered by unprecedentedly honest and refreshing public statements. (Who can forget his question about homosexuality: “Who am I to judge?”)  Francis not only called the church to profound reform; he called the world itself to a “bold cultural revolution.”

As for church reform, Francis called for a “new chapter” in the history of the Catholic Church and for the Church to embark on a “new path” (J.G. 1, 25) on which things cannot be left as they presently are (25). He called for new ways of relating to God, for new narratives and new paradigms (74). He wanted new customs, ways of doing things, new times, schedules, and language (27) — with emphasis on better prepared and delivered homilies (135-159).

Despite (lamentably) continuing to exclude women from the priesthood, the pope ordered the church to expand their roles in church life.  He recognized women as generally more sensitive, intuitive, and otherwise skilled than men (103, 104).

Clearly, then, the pope was speaking (as he said) not primarily to pastors and bishops, but to everyone (33). Decisions about change, he said, should be guided by the principle of decentralization (16, 32). They should be made at the parish level, because parishes are more flexible than Rome or the local chancery, and more sensitive to the specific needs of local people (28). The inventiveness of local communities should not be restrained, he said, but limited only by the openness and creativity of the pastor and local community (28). Such decisions should be respected by local bishops (31).

As for connecting the gospel with world issues, Pope Francis identified the struggle for social justice as “a moral obligation” that is “inescapable” (220, 258). He saw “each and every human right” (including education, health care, and “above all” employment and a just wage) as intimately connected with “defense of unborn life” (192, 213). He also completely rejected war as incapable of combatting violence caused by “exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples” (59). Pope Francis rejected unfettered markets and the “trickle down” ideologies as homicidal (53), ineffective (54), and unjust at their roots (59).

In Laudato Si’ the pope issued an urgent call to the Church and the world to address issues connected with human-caused climate chaos.  In this the entire encyclical (see my book, Understanding Laudato Si’: a Discussion Guide) might be seen as a complete rejection of Trumpism and of the entire Republican Party’s denial of that problem.

So, once again: what to do about it?

Experience shows that the anti-Vatican II clergy resistant to Pope Francis remains incapable of responding either to the latter’s Apostolic Exhortation (J.G.) or to his eco-encyclical (L.S.). Much less has it demonstrated a willingness to address the issues of political-economy, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, war, torture, etc.  raised by the emergence of Trumpism. (Once again, it is wrong to blame the clergy for this. Their training has made effective response impossible.)

So I’ve decided to do something about it myself. I’ve decided to reactivate my priesthood.

Honestly, I have to admit that the process of doing so began about 5 years ago following my retirement after 40 years of teaching at Berea College. It was then that I set goals for myself. One of them was an ill-formed, vague resolve to “reclaim my priesthood.”

As a preliminary step, I started a blog. Its center piece was the publication of a “Sunday Homily” each week. The reflections tried to connect world events, personal, and family problems with each Sunday’s liturgical readings.

Eventually, my homilies were picked up by OpEdNews – a completely secular progressive news source run by a Jewish editor. Over the years, I’ve published more than 200 such homilies covering Catholic lectionary readings for all three liturgical cycles. The result has been the creation of a kind of cyber community of readers that averages 1600 views of each reflection every week.

Now, in view of the crisis of Trumpism, I’ve decided that my contribution to resistance will be to translate that cyber community into a real-time assembly of faith. It will actually attempt do something to implement Pope Francis’ summons to church reform, and address in particular issues connected with climate chaos.

What I’m proposing is not a Protestant or even an ecumenical gathering. Rather my call is to an alternative Catholic “parish” in my town. Of course, this is not unusual; most towns of any size have more than one Catholic parish. Though specifically Catholic, all people will be welcome – Catholics, Protestants, atheists . . . In particular, “drop-outs” from our local community of faith are encouraged to join.

I imagine the gathering will be very simple – nothing of a show or performance. Rather, people will gather in my home (to begin with). We’ll sing or chant for a while, read the week’s liturgical selections, and share reflections. Afterwards we’ll gather at the dining room table for a brief Eucharistic breaking of bread followed immediately by a pot-luck meal. The week’s meeting will conclude with a planning session outlining activities for the coming week to resist the inroads of Trumpism.

All of this reminds me of the activities of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Confessing Church” in the 1930s when Lutherans and others decided they had to do something to resist Hitler’s fascism. What I’m proposing here is an analogue, where people of faith call on their tradition to confront fascism’s re-emergence.

I’m convinced that only resistance fortified by deep faith can effectively combat that reincarnation. And even if only two or three join me in this proposal, I’m determined to go through with it. After all Jesus did say: “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in their midst” (MT 18:20).

Seven Things You Might Have Missed about Lexington’s New Catholic Bishop


At the beginning of this month, Father John Stowe was installed as the new bishop of Lexington’s Roman Catholic diocese. As such he embodies the long reach of Pope Francis, who, in his Apostolic Exhortation, ‘The Joy of the Gospel” (JG) announced his determination to fundamentally reform the church.

There the pope said, “In this Exhortation, I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon . . .  new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come” (JG 1). Francis called for “. . . conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are” (25).

Early returns indicate that in Bishop Stowe, Pope Francis has appointed a change agent like himself intent on implementing the pope’s program whose essence might be described as prioritizing the needs of the poor.

That prioritization was presaged even before Bishop Stowe’s official installation on May 5th. It was evident the night before at the vespers ceremony and reception at Christ the King Cathedral in Lexington, where the bishop-elect showed himself to be a master of symbolic communication.

In fact, the new bishop has sent at least seven clear signals that he and the pope are on the same page and that Lexingtonians can expect a welcome emphasis on social justice themes.

During the ceremony, then bishop-elect Stowe:

  1. Announced a “new chapter” for the Catholic Church in Lexington. The phrase, which appears in the first paragraph of Francis’ “Joy of the Gospel,” was evidently chosen to indicate the bishop’s endorsement of the pope’s agenda.
  2. Said that the new chapter would emphasize service of the poor. Yes, worship would also be prioritized, he promised. However, even liturgy could never ignore poverty in our midst.
  3. Demonstrated that conviction by prioritizing Spanish (the language of so many of the poor among us) throughout the vespers liturgy – in readings, responsorials, and hymns. In his own remarks, then Bishop-elect Stowe spoke each paragraph first in English and then in Spanish translation. At other times, his initial thought came in Spanish followed immediately by an English translation.
  4. Invoked the example of Jesus as the foundation for emphasizing service of the poor. Jesus himself was impoverished, the bishop said. He was an working man, a carpenter with dirty hands who enjoyed friendship with fishermen and sinners. He accompanied the oppressed and finished his life as a criminal on death row. The authenticity of Jesus’ resurrected presence was certified by display of his body wounded by imperial forces.
  5. Specifically identified other excluded and marginalized groups as the focus of his ministry: overlooked Appalachians, refugees from the Congo, the sexually abused (a clear reference to the Church’s pedophilic scandal), and exploited workers. The church, Bishop Stowe said, must identify with brothers and sisters of that kind or “it isn’t much of a church.”

Outside the vespers introductory ceremony, it was disclosed that Bishop Stowe:

  1. Has a special devotion to Oscar Romero, the martyred archbishop of El Salvador, who is considered the patron saint of liberation theology – which interprets Jesus’ gospel from the viewpoint of the poor and oppressed.
  2. Has decided to abandon residence in the plush quarters of the episcopal mansion. Instead he’s locating among his confreres in a community of retired priests.

It is this last action, more than the others, that signals Bishop Stowe’s intention to channel Pope Francis for us not just in words, but in deeds and life-style.

These are seven good reasons to hope that the new bishop will indeed not “leave things as they presently are.”

“Joy of the Gospel” Sparks Lively Discussion (and Resistance)


Last night, a small group of us meeting Sunday evenings during Lent to discuss Pope Francis’ “Joy of the Gospel” found the discussion more lively than usual. That’s because as Lent draws to a close, our group had decided to actually entertain minor changes in parish life as a result of the pope’s injunction to do so.

Resistance from our pastor and pastoral associate was evident. Nonetheless, while neither (perhaps understandably) was willing to exert leadership in this case, both showed faint signs of willingness to be led.

The mild suggestion sparking discussion was the following:

  • To celebrate the upcoming beatification of Oscar Romero (Saturday, May 23rd) with a special evening Mass and fiesta (featuring a mariachi band, salsa dancing, and food catered by our local Mexican restaurant).
  • To precede the Mass with an hour-long “adult education” session featuring a 15 minute talk on Oscar Romero and liberation theology along with a half-hour documentary on the Salvadoran martyr, and a 15 minute discussion.
  • To have the Mass concelebrated with the main celebrant and homilist being Padre Eulices, the clerical leader of our local Hispanic community.

According to the pastor and his associate, the suggestion was highly problematic. After all:

  • Didn’t we know that May 23rd is the Vigil of Pentecost? “And I, for one,” the pastor said, “am not willing to substitute something like this for the celebration of Pentecost, one of the greatest feasts of the liturgical year.”
  • On top of that, “I have Mass in Mt. Vernon (a congregation of fewer than 30 people btw) at 5:00, and I could never get back to Berea by the 6:00 starting time you have here on your schedule.”
  • And what about McKee (a congregation of perhaps 15-20 people)? “They surely wouldn’t show up for something like this. They’re very stuck in their ways.”
  • “And then there’s the Saturday night crowd! They expect Mass at 7:00. Changes like this would upset them.” (It turned out that the suggested event had taken this into account and had Mass beginning @ the usual 7:00 time).
  • “And what about the Hispanic group? They always celebrate Mass at 11:00 on Sunday morning. I’m sure they would resist coming to Mass Saturday evening as this change suggests.”
  • “And do you mean to say that there’d be no Sunday Mass at 9:00 – the way we’ve done it all these years?”
  • “And why would we spend all that money on a mariachi band? Our Sunday choir along with that of the Hispanic community would be better and would cost no money.”
  • “And wouldn’t it be better to have someone from the chancery come to speak to us about Oscar Romero rather than someone from the parish?”
  • “So let’s: (1) move the program to Sunday at the usual time, (2) shorten up the presentation about Romero, (3) forget the mariachi band, (4) emphasize Pentecost, and (5) see if we can get some speaker from Lexington to speak about Romero.”

Naturally, the lay group had responses to those clerical objections:

  • The themes of Pentecost and Romero’s beatification can quite easily be integrated. They actually complement one another.
  • If the pastor could not get back from Mt. Vernon at 6:00, we could move the event’s starting time to 6:30. Or maybe we could (this one time!) just have a single Mass instead of 5 (!) inviting the Mt. Vernon folks to come to this fun party. If they choose not to come, well, it’s a free country.
  • Same goes for the McKee community.
  • As previously noted, nothing would be changed for the Saturday night crowd in terms of the starting time for their evening Mass.
  • The Hispanic community is the most flexible of all. Its members are anxious to integrate with the Anglo community. And Romero is one of them! Surely it wouldn’t be hard to persuade them to come to a party a mariachi band, salsa dancing, and Mexican food.
  • If we must have a Sunday morning Mass at 9:00, no problem. On this particular Sunday, the congregation will, no doubt, be smaller (with most having satisfied their “Sunday obligation” the previous night). But is that a problem? In fact, nothing would be hurt by cancelling that Mass as well. (But, of course, cancelling the 9:00 Sunday Mass is not part of the plan.)
  • As for the mariachi band . . . We’re talking about a fiesta and illustrating “the joy of the Gospel!” For something worthwhile like that, people are willing to pony up. We could easily raise $1000 to cover an event like this. At least we could float the idea to see.
  • In this college community with so many professors and theologians, do we really need someone from the chancery to speak about Romero and liberation theology?
  • And why Saturday night instead of Sunday? Because Saturday night is a party night! And (again) we’re talking about the joy of the Gospel.

As you can see, it’s not easy for some to make even minor changes in “what we’ve always done.” For others, change is easy. For instance, Padre Eulices was unfazed when asked to consider altering his schedule for the Romero celebration. “Well,” he said, “I normally have Mass in Richmond at 6:00. But I’ll try to get a substitute. I’ll get back to you. Thanks for asking.”

However, the changes implied in this whole event go much deeper than resistance to a one-off Mass-and-fiesta. It all raises serious questions about parish organizations and the way priests in the new pope’s church spend their time. Among the questions to be addressed in our own community, the following seem most obvious:

  • Given the fact that we now have only one pastor (and not the 3 or 4 priests we had when our 3 parishes were founded about 50 years ago), does it really make sense to have 5 Masses (!) each weekend?
  • If we must maintain the dubious practice of “servicing” three parishes, why doesn’t our church sponsor the training and ordination of one or more deacons to provide more meaningful communion services (and preaching) at the churches in question? Our community could easily identify and invite good candidates (male & female) with a gift for preaching and pastoral work.
  • In fact, for some (the 3 or 4 ex-priests among us) additional training would not be necessary. They could start preaching and presiding over a communion service next Sunday!
  • In view of such considerations, shouldn’t we sit down with our pastor and help him brainstorm about less stressful use of his time?
  • Hasn’t the moment arrived for constructing a serious strategic plan for the parish involving input from all its members and taking advantage of their much-needed gifts?

As you can see, it’s been a productive Lenten discussion.