Bad news on the rise

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A long line has formed at the information desk at Borders, so I wait my turn behind a student studying her syllabus and a tourist-type, probably looking for a beach-read recommendation. When the young man behind the desk gets to me, I ask, "Do you have any books on the sex-abuse crisis in the Catholic Church?" thinking he probably doesn't get that question too often. Immediately his eyes light up with recognition. "Oh, yes, there are a bunch of books coming out on that. One is called Goodbye something . . ." When he pauses, I help him complete the title: "Goodbye! Good Men."

"Yes, that's it," he says, tapping his keyboard to determine the author, Michael S. Rose. Ever the helpful employee, he leads me upstairs to the religion section, scans the shelves for the "R"s, deftly locates the book, and hands it to me. He needn't have gone to so much trouble-several copies of the hardback were already staring at me from the coveted "face out," eye-level position of the religion section's most heavily-trafficked shelf.

The help-desk guy trots off to assist his next customer, leaving me there to assume this is either the only or perhaps the best book on this subject. It is neither.

In the near-barrage of books about the Catholic Church scandal scheduled to be released in the next year, Goodbye! Good Men is a minor player, although thanks to fortunate timing and salacious subject matter, it has received more publicity than any self-published author could ever hope for-not to mention the prominent placement in a superstore most Catholic publishers only dream about.

Goodbye! Good Men is, at best, an ideological rant about the decline of orthodoxy and the prevalence of gays in the priesthood and, at worst, a potentially libelous attack on Catholic seminaries. Relying heavily on unnamed sources-mainly disgruntled former seminarians-and quoting liberally from publications such as the ultra-conservative Wanderer, the book purports to make the case that the priest shortage is a sham created by liberal seminary rectors and vocation directors who have conspired to keep orthodox men out of the priesthood.

Although it has garnered a few positive reviews (from Father Richard John Neuhaus and William F. Buckley Jr.), more pointed criticism has begun to pour in. Already two seminaries mentioned in the book have challenged Rose for taking his sources' stories at face value without checking them out. A statement from the rector of the American College at Louvain in Belgium says Rose never contacted them to try to authenticate the serious accusations made by a student who had been dismissed from the seminary. Two officials from the Archdiocese of Chicago's Mundelein Seminary also responded in print, charging that the material about its school is "mostly inaccurate and plainly wrong."

But even more damning are the slams from conservative Catholic commentators who generally agree with Rose's premise but have taken him to task for his shoddy journalism. In June the National Catholic Register printed an op-ed piece criticizing the book, calling it "slapdash reporting" and "propaganda." Crisis magazine also faulted the book's methodology, reminding readers that "the facts matter" and the ends do not justify the means. "In short, Rose failed to do his research, and that failure has cast suspicion on his entire book," writes Crisis senior editor Brian Saint-Paul.

Reviewer Father Robert T. Johansen, writing in Culture Wars in May, admits that as an orthodox seminarian he encountered difficulties similar to those described in the book but chides Rose for "playing fast and loose with the facts." For his candor, Johansen claims he has been "bullied" by Rose and in early September received a letter from the author's attorney threatening a lawsuit if he does not retract his previous criticisms.

Inquiries for this article to Rose's Aquinas Publishing in Cincinnati-which published Goodbye! Good Men in April as a paperback with the subtitle, "How Catholic Seminaries Turned Away Two Generations of Vocations from the Priesthood"-and to the conservative secular publisher Regnery Publishing in Washington, D.C.-which released it in hardback a month later with a new cover and subtitle, "How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church"-were not returned.

Start the presses!
The old adage that "sex sells" was never truer as publishers rushed to get a piece of the action after pedophile priests became frontpage news this past year. Thinking this might be the most talked-about scandal since Monica Lewinsky, publishers and agents quickly put together deals for potential blockbusters, and houses with backlist titles on the topic promptly moved them to the front-all while struggling not to appear to be insensitively cashing in on the crisis.

The first author to land a book deal was Newsweek reporter David France, who reportedly received a mid-six-figure advance from Broadway Books for the tentatively titled Our Fathers. Originally scheduled to be out next fall, its release has been moved up to summer 2003. Broadway editorial director Gerald Howard says France's book will be modeled on Randy Shilts' And the Band Played On, a groundbreaking exposé of the AIDS epidemic. France, who is not Catholic, is gay.

Journalist David Gibson of the Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey, also landed a book deal with a major publisher thanks to the sex-abuse crisis. HarperSanFrancisco plans to release The People's Church next spring. Executive editor John Louden says the "hopeful book" will examine the possibilities for changes in the church such as decentralization and more lay involvement.

Those two publishers gave the authors some time to pull their manuscripts together-and for the story to play out. The Boston Globe investigative team and Little, Brown and Company took a different tack, winning the race for first new book on the topic when Betrayal: The Crisis in the Church hit stores just as the U.S. bishops were finishing up their June meeting.

The amazingly quick turnaround was possible because its authors were the same reporters who broke the story-or at least the most recent revelations in a tale that reaches back decades. Also, there were nine of them, including the Globe's elite Spotlight Team and deputy managing editor Ben Bradlee Jr., who oversaw the project.

Betrayal has hardly achieved blockbuster status (the publisher says there are 40,000 copies in print), but it has garnered plenty of publicity and positive reviews in major news outlets including the New York Times and, not surprisingly, the Boston Globe. The authors and publisher insist it contains new material, but readers who have diligently followed the news accounts on this won't learn much new here. The book does contain nearly 50 pages of documents in its appendix, however, and eight pages of black-and-white photographs. The Boston Globe certainly deserves accolades (and perhaps a Pulitzer) for its investigative reporting on this subject, but one wonders how many Catholics will be interested in buying-and reading-a summary of recent bad news about their church.

Famous Catholics weigh in
Many book editors and publishers share that concern and most are banking on the assumption that readers-Catholic and otherwise-would rather read analysis and opinion than more exposés of priests-gone-bad. And who better to spout opinions than Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin, who happens to be Catholic? That must have been what the people at Crown Books were thinking when they contracted him to write a yet-untitled book scheduled for publication as early as fall 2003.

"Jimmy Breslin's no shrinking violet," says Crown editor Doug Pepper. "His book is going to be less reportage because I think people have read enough of that. This is going to be a very personal book and will have much the flavor of what he's written for Newsday. He'll be looking at what went wrong and how to fix it."

These days, there's hardly a Catholic alive without an opinion about what went wrong and how to fix it. Of course, not everyone gets to put his or her opinions in a book, and even fewer make the bestseller list-unless you're already a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Historian Garry Wills won the award nine years ago for his Lincoln at Gettysburg but has recently turned his attention from presidents to popes. A former seminarian, he has written extensively about his two heroes, Augustine and G. K. Chesterton, and in 2000 criticized the church hierarchy's intellectual dishonesty on issues ranging from birth control to anti-Semitism in Papal Sins: Structures of Deceit.

He says Why I Am a Catholic is his response to all those letter-writers who asked him that very question in light of his negativity in Papal Sins. His short answer is "the Creed," but he then elaborates with autobiographical details from his own faith journey. The book becomes more than memoir, however, with a detailed delineation of corruption in the hierarchy from Wills-as-historian in the book's second section.

Written before the past year's media onslaught, Why I Am a Catholic was originally scheduled for release in October, but was rushed into print by July to capitalize on the buzz. And capitalize it did. Buoyed by well-positioned reviews, speaking engagements throughout the summer and fall, and Wills' name recognition, the book spent six weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, climbing as high as sixth place. Publisher Houghton Mifflin says more than 100,000 copies are in print.

Another author who profited from unintentional perfect timing was psychologist Eugene Kennedy, whose 2001 hardback The Unhealed Wound chastising the church for its unhealthy attitude toward sex was lucky enough to be released in paperback smack dab in the middle of the current crisis. Just when everyone started discussing celibacy, Kennedy's book offered a well thought-out analysis of that and other sexual issues. A subsequent printing of the book features a new cover, a new subtitle (The Church, the Priesthood and the Question of Sexuality), and an additional 40-page introduction to address more specifically the most recent revelations.

Two other publishers also did some quick repackaging in order to have "new" books on the subject by fall. National Book Award winner James Carroll adapted material from his 2001 tome Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews, introduced it with a chapter adapted from a Boston Globe column, and presto!-the slim, 130-page Toward a New Catholic Church: The Promise of Reform from Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin. And John Cornwell of Hitler's Pope fame wrote a new preface to his 2001 book, Breaking Faith: Can the Catholic Church Save Itself? so Penguin-Putnam could re-release it in June.

Another "quickie" book came from the Catholic publisher Servant. Shaken by Scandals: Catholics Speak Out about Priests' Sexual Abuse is a compilation of pieces-most original, some reprinted-from a number of authors, and editor Paul Thigpen pulled them together in time for a summer release. Its contributors include some big names in conservative Catholicism, including Michael Novak, a founder of Crisis magazine; and Father Mitch Pacwa, S.J., who has been hosting Mother Angelica Live on Eternal World Television Network (EWTN) since the controversial nun suffered a stroke last year.

Also getting in his two cents' worth is papal biographer George Weigel, whose The Courage to Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church insists that the "crisis of 2002," as he calls it, has been caused by an insufficiency of holiness in a church that has become "Catholic Lite." True to his conservative leanings, Weigel rejects the popular arguments that celibacy, current church teachings on sexuality, or an over-authoritarian hierarchy have anything to do with it. Basic Books released the hardcover in August.

The early bird books
Long before the Boston Globe reporters got on a first-name basis with heads of victims' organizations like SNAP, journalists such as Jason Berry and Frank Bruni had already "revealed" the scandal of priest pedophilia to somewhat mild acclaim-at least compared with the massive collective outrage of the past year. Berry, an investigative journalist and Catholic, is generally credited with writing the first comprehensive exposé of clergy sex abuse, Lead Us Not into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children, originally published by Doubleday in 1992.

Berry became an authority on this subject during the late 1980s after reporting on the sordid story of sexual abuse by Father Gilbert Gauthe of Louisiana. In retrospect, Berry now sees that "the country wasn't quite ready to focus on it" in the '90s. After allegations against the late Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin were retracted, "it was as if the media turned on a dime," he says. From then on headlines focused on the unreliability of so-called "repressed memories."

After University of Illinois Press acquired the rights to Berry's book, they had the fortuitous timing to re-release it-with a new introduction by the author and a new foreword by Father Andrew Greeley-this past April. Thanks to Berry's hundreds of high-profile media appearances, including a stint on Oprah, U of I went back to press for a second printing of the book after the first run of 3,500 copies sold out.

Berry says he was quietly working on a book about jazz funerals last spring, but set that manuscript aside to work on one that explores the case of Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, the head of the powerful Legion of Christ, who has been accused of sexual abuse by nine seminarians but has so far been protected by the Vatican. The yet-to-be-titled book, coauthored with journalist Gerald Renner, will be released by Free Press in spring 2003. As for the other book, Berry quips, "I plan to finish it before my own jazz funeral."

New York Times reporter Frank Bruni and former Miami Herald reporter Elinor Burkett also documented in vivid detail dozens of cases of priest pedophilia in their 1993 book, A Gospel of Shame: Children, Sexual Abuse, and the Catholic Church, a Viking hardcover. The authors wrote a new introduction and afterword for the paperback edition by HarperPerennial this spring. "The sad thing is, this book is still relevant," Perennial editorial director Susan Weinberg told Publishers Weekly magazine. "I wish it were out of date."

Father Donald Cozzens, one of the most credible commentators on the subject of the Catholic priesthood, says he felt somewhat vindicated when the events that unfolded in Boston this year only confirmed what he had written two years earlier in The Changing Face of the Priesthood, which drew media attention when it was first published for its frank treatment of homosexuality in the priesthood.

Although Cozzens and Rose both highlight the reality of gays in the priesthood, the two books couldn't be more different. "I raised the issue because it presents a formation challenge in our seminaries, not because I believe gay men shouldn't be ordained," says Cozzens, now a visiting associate professor of religious studies at John Carroll University in Ohio.

The Changing Face of the Priesthood, which had done well to begin with, began to sell "briskly" last spring, according to Liturgical Press publisher Peter Dwyer. More than 3,000 copies were sold in April alone, with 48,000 total copies now in print.

The Liturgical Press is among only a handful of Catholic publishers to have tackled the sensitive subject of clergy sexual abuse in its books-and possibly the most critical-minded. It also has published a series of practical books for parishes on the topic with the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute of Collegeville, Minnesota. Sales of the 1995 Restoring the Soul of a Church: Healing Congregations Wounded by Clergy Sexual Misconduct, for example, were up 40 percent this year. Liturgical Press sent a letter to every U.S. bishop offering a free sample of any of these books. Only two took them up on the offer.

When Cozzens' phone began ringing off the hook with media requests from CNN, NPR, and Meet the Press this winter, he was already busy at work on his next work for Liturgical Press. Sacred Silence: Denial and the Crisis in the Church, released this month, is his response to the deeply entrenched denial he observed after the revelations in The Changing Face of the Priesthood.

"I asked myself, 'Why would a church that does so much good and preaches the truth be so reluctant to see the elephant in the living room?'" says Cozzens. "Part of the answer is that it's part of the human condition. But I really expect more of the church." 

 

Books mentioned in this article:
Goodbye! Good Men
by Michael Rose

Betrayal: The Crisis in the Church
by Boston Globe staff

Papal Sins: Structures of Deceit and Why I Am a Catholic
by Garry Wills

The Unhealed Wound
by Eugene Kennedy

Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews and Toward a New Catholic Church: The Promise of Reform
by James Carroll

Breaking Faith: Can the Catholic Church Save Itself?
by John Cornwell

Shaken by Scandals: Catholics Speak Out about Priests' Sexual Abuse,
edited by Paul Thigpen

The Courage to Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church
by George Wiegel

Lead Us Not into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children
by Jason Berry

A Gospel of Shame: Children, Sexual Abuse, and the Catholic Church

by Frank Bruni and Elinoir Burkett

The Changing Face of the Priesthood and Sacred Silence: Denial and the Crisis in the Church
by Donald Cozzens

Restoring the Soul of a Church: Healing Congregations Wounded by Clergy Sexual Misconduct