Occupying the Catholic Church

St Paul's offers sanctuary to the Occupy movement--but what if churches were the target?

As the occupy movement flashed to 1,500 cities across the globe this weekend, police repression intensified. At Occupy London, organizers moved from the London Stock Exchange to St. Paul’s Cathedral, where as many as 250 protesters set up tents. As police prepared to “protect” the building, the cleric in charge of the facility, Giles Fraser, intervened. “Canon Fraser came out to greet us. It was amazing,” protesters said. “He defended the right to protest [and] asked the police to leave, and they did!”

Meanwhile guest blogger Thomas Beaudoin asks the compelling question: What if churches didn’t just offer sanctuary for protests aimed elsewhere, but were themselves the target of a nonviolent movement that would physically occupy Catholic facilities in order to “name, protest and change what is intolerable about that church today”?–MB

A guest post by Thomas Beaudoin

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?

What would be the last straw that would make you join such a movement? Would it be the episcopal malfeasance and coverup known as the sexual abuse crisis, would it be the steady disaffiliation, deconversion, and detachment of your family members or friends from the faith as church structures, teachings, and practices become steadily more incredible in contemporary society, or would it be the failure of the church to practice in its internal affairs the justice it preaches to the world — or something else?

Or, like the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, would the precipitating awareness that would lead you to join such a movement simply be a recognition of the intractibilty of the the near invisibility, in everyday church governance, of the overwhelming majority (all non-ordained persons) as compared to the small minority (the ordained)?

Looking at the world and the church in this moment, I would say that now may be some kind of privileged time for such action. Will Catholics take it up?
x-posted at America

Previous coverage:
Teach-in at Washington Square
Crackdown at OccupyBoston
Why I Occupy
All the News Fit For Bankers

Bankers Chuckle (Must-See Footage of the Week)
Occupiers Issue First Statement (And it’s Bigger News than Radiohead Rumor)
Mass Arrests on Wall Street
Protests Spread to Both Coasts
Police Violence Escalates: Day 5
Wall Street Occupation, Day 3
What Are You Doing for the Next 2 Months?
Occupy and Escalate
Big Brother on Campus
California Is Burning
Will Occupation Become a Movement?
Grad Students Spearhead Wisconsin Capitol Occupation
The Occupation Will Be Televised
The Occupation Cookbook

More Drivel from the NYT
Citizens Smarter than NYT and Washington Post, Again
Education Policy Summit or Puppet Show?
Parents and Teachers, the Alienated Democratic Base
Dianetics For Higher Ed?

Tom Beaudoin is associate professor of theology in the Graduate School of Religion at Fordham University in New York City. His research and teaching circulate around the coordinates of theology, culture, and practice, focusing on the constitution of spiritual and religious experience, identity, and practice in the contemporary world.


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