A seditious suggestion from Tom Beaudoin at America, the Jesuit magazine:
While participating in the “Occupy Wall Street” protests in lower Manhattan, I have begun to wonder what would happen if Catholics took this model and applied it to their passion for and grievances with their own church.
Imagine a group of Catholics whose deep care for the future of their church is matched by their sense of responsibility to name, protest and change what is intolerable about that church today: in the form of nonviolent physical occupation of spaces, in the form — necessarily imperfect and unruly — of democratic organization, in the form of continued open-ended articulations of visions of a different Catholic Church, without prematurely forcing the movement to take on a specific agenda. And yes, in the form of consciousness-raising and of direct action. This would be the Catholic version of the Arab Spring, to combat the long Catholic Winter.
What would the compelling love be for you that would make you consider joining such a movement? Would it be your hope for the church as a sacrament of God’s salvation in the world here and now, your faith in the prophetic call of the Spirit that assures a permanently unfinished character to every church arrangement in the name of God’s future alone, or would it be your love for the gift of your faith tradition to which you find yourself inseparably wedded for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health — or something else?
Something else? Like, say, objecting to the homosexualization of the priesthood? Or, say, the corruption of the liturgy brought about by DIY liberal parish priests? How about Catholic universities turning themselves into enemies of Catholic teaching?
How would Beaudoin feel about conservative or traditionalist Catholic activists occupying parishes in the way he suggests his liberal confreres do? It’s not just liberal Catholics who object to the way things have been going in the Church, though about the only thing both sides have in common is disgust with the bishops over how they’ve handled the sexual abuse crisis. I guarantee that Beaudoin and his America colleagues would be furious if trads acted this way. But it would take me about 10 minutes to compose an equally eloquent call to invade and occupy parishes on behalf of orthodox Catholicism. Beaudoin has gotten carried away here, and has forgotten that if one legitimates such a radical action for liberal Catholics, he implicitly does the same for their opponents. Is he really prepared to have the liturgical and prayer life of parishes disrupted by pissed-off orthodox Catholics who are mad as hell at what’s being done to and aren’t going to take it anymore?
My longtime readers will know that I am the last person to say one shouldn’t be active for authentic and just reform in one’s own church (“authentic” = faithful to the Church’s teaching). But bringing the tactics of secular street protest into the sanctity of one’s parish life is wrong, whether done by a liberal or a conservative activist. As much as is possible, parish life ought to be a sanctuary from the world. I am not a reactionary defender of bishops, Lord knows, and I endorse calling them out when they’ve done wrong. Still, a mob of laypeople taking it upon itself to reform the Church by “occupying” parishes according to the street protest model is still a mob, and should be seen as such. The sacred order is not the same thing as the secular order — an error liberal Catholics, and liberal Christians in general, are prone to make.
UPDATE: Tom Beaudoin, who wants the Catholic laity to Occupy The Church (though not in the way Pope Benedict would want them to), teaches theology at Fordham, a Jesuit university. Why am I not surprised?