When I first saw Ivan Illich’s name in print (1970, in the NYR, as author of Why We Must Abolish Schooling (first chapter of the soon to be published Deschooling Society) I thought it was a joke: somebody goofing on the Tolstoy character. Then I realized that I was meeting one of the great minds ever: one of the great writers, great philosophers, great teachers … Then I learned that he was a priest! a Roman Catholic priest!
It was weird indeed for this Protestant to realize, as I became his disciple, that Ivan Illich was a true disciple of Christ: he was already, big time, what I wished to become: a social saint, a radical reformer … Not only that, but when I wrote to him, he answered me, hand-written, immediately! Three times that year I wrote him, as each of NYR installments of Deschooling Society were published (followed by the book itself). (Though by that time Illich was sending me MS updates: I got to read DS pre-pub, then I got to help evaluate subsequent pre-pub redrafts: as I was invited, with all his CIDOC friends, to evaluate and proofread all of his next half dozen books!) The priest could be human, flawed, limited, not altogether honest, and could simultaneously help you to the fellowship of Jesus … to heaven.
Ah, the radical Catholics I met in 1983, that was an entirely different bunch. Those far upstate NY radical Catholics believed that the church was evil; but that the Pope was pure! They believed that the Pope had been kidnapped! and was being held captive, replace by a body-double!
By late 1970 I’d written and was distributing the first FLEX publications, offering to establish the learning network for the area: NYC. NY, then the world. Anyone else could so the same, then we could all hook up, hold hands, share resources, ideas, methods …
The next thing I knew strangers were ringing my bell, phoning up, offering help. Noreen arrived and stayed for three years, putting in long hours: getting thanks from me and a cup of coffee, and that’s about all: certainly no salary, no expense money …
But I was getting invitations from all sorts of groups: anarchists, crazy Christians … radical Catholics.
That was 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973. In 1983 I met other groups of radical Catholics: same description; very different groups.
The radical Catholics I met in the 1970s were Illich fans: nuns, brothers… ordinary Catholics who knew and revered Illich. I was regularly invited to nun retreats for radical Catholic weekends. I was invited to doings at Emmaus House … meetings for this and that society of reverend brothers. I was invited to help them write statements, to appeal for funds … Pissed me off: I was appealing to them for such help!
Among those Catholics Illich’s perception that the church was simultaneously the bride of Christ and the whore of Babylon were not unusual. The group I met in the 1980s had very different beliefs: they believed that the Church was 100% good, but had been taken over by evil doers. The pope had been kidnapped, a body double acted in his place, but someday the real pope will oust the userpers: just like in a Shakespeare comedy!
I’ve told about the first groups before. Some of that material remains censored. I’ll repeat some here whether or not I’ve resurrected the K. / InfoAll originals:
On arriving at the nuns retreat for a weekend, I was invited to throw my luggage on a bed upstairs. I did. I had no idea whether my neighbors in sleep would be male or female, stupid or fascinating … or a nun!
No, that latter proved impossible: the nuns had previously claimed all the beds on the third floor. The co-ed dorm was on the second floor.
In fact my neighbors that first time were female, stacked, but: nothing went on that I was aware of.
The next day however, sitting on the john I became exquisitely conscious that the shoes on the feet next to me under the partition, could only belong to a nun. So, the nuns had their own bedroom, but not their own set of toilets! She went ahead, grunting, farting, pooping; I was paralyzed, and did nothing.