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The Priesthood's Darkest Days

SACRED SILENCE: Denial and the Catholic Church, by Father Donald Cozzens. Liturgical Press. 208 pp. $19.95.

Reviewed by the REV. LAWRENCE VENTLINE, D.Min., a longtime religion writer for The Detroit News. Author of six books, he is founder of Cura Animarum. A priest of Detroit for 26 years, he is a licensed counselor.

FEARLESSLY AND WITH FAITH, former seminary rector Father Donald Cozzens writes what others thought for a long time: Denial and a lack of dialogue and participation created the current crisis of sexual abuse in the Church.

Sacred Silence is the sequel to Cozzens’s first book, The Changing Face of the Priesthood. But this book shows the shadow of the priesthood’s darkest days. It calls for conversation as the prescription to resolve this paralyzing problem that has Catholics up in arms. Fear has to be faced, denial stopped. “The silence, denial and minimization discussed in these pages have numerous roots,” Cozzens says at the outset.

In three parts (Masks, Faces and Beyond Denial) and 10 chapters, the author addresses what he calls sacred silence and forms of it, along with sacred oaths and promises. Religious life, voice of women, the clerical culture, abuse of children, gay priests, ministry and leadership are front and center throughout this sad story.

Like a thorough Fourth Step of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step spirituality, an examination of conscience is pursued regarding the priesthood. Still, Cozzens speaks his truth in love in a calm, reasoned way. His love for his own call as a priest resounds with the anguish priests are feeling these days.

St. John of the Cross’s dark night of the soul kept flashing in my mind and heart as I turned page after page. Saturated with so much bad news throughout this entire ordeal, I found that plowing through this “read” was an arduous task to be endured.

On the other hand, it is a much-needed breath of fresh air. This volume captures the problems the Church must confront and offers a bold prescription: dialogue.

I can hear the author add, “—or else!” The Church must dialogue, or unhealthy and destructive abuse of power and shame will triumph in a Church I love with all its foibles and enormous good.

Zooming in on denial as a root cause of the current sexual scandal, Cozzens recalls that scholars proposed a study to determine the psychological, social and developmental reasons for the behavior that was shaming the souls and lives of countless young. But a few cardinals had nixed the study, suspecting too much attention would focus on clerical abuse. The big elephant was there to be painfully ignored.

Citing the documents of Vatican II (Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes), Cozzens praises the People of God in seriously appreciating their role: “By reason of the knowledge, competence or preeminence which they have, the laity are empowered—indeed sometimes obliged—to manifest their opinion on those things which pertain to the good of the Church” (#37, Lumen Gentium).

The faithful wonder about the defensiveness, the fear, the control. They seem to know that the troubles encompass much more than just the priest-abuse debacle that Cozzens confronts so clearly and forcefully. Fear does shut down people’s best thinking. Cozzens seems to say that the thinking that got the Church into this mess cannot continue to be used to get the Church beyond the struggles. Something has to change. There must be listening anew with converted hearts.

Cozzens concludes his book with hope, suggesting that the Church wounds and scandalizes when truth is not spoken in love. Dialogue and “full, active and conscious participation,” to quote the Mass’s aim as expressed at Vatican II, will see us through this dark tunnel. It’s the only way, Cozzens assures the reader in this excellent work. The time has come. Only the truth will set us free of the fear that freezes the abundant life Jesus calls forth in all believers.

Despite my heavy heart, I found hope here, and balance. I am proud to call the writer a brother priest. He has done a service to the Church he loves.

You can order SACRED SILENCE: Denial and the Catholic Church from St. Francis Bookshop.

PATRICK: The Pilgrim Apostle of Ireland, by Maire B. de Paor. Harper Collins. 310 pp. $27.95.

Reviewed by MARIA KEMPER, a theology and literature undergraduate at Franciscan University, and an editorial intern with St. Anthony Messenger last summer.

ST. PATRICK SHOULD NOT be perceived as an unlettered bishop who converted Ireland by plucking a shamrock. He certainly possesses the title of bishop, and undoubtedly planted the faith in the Emerald Isle. But as revealed in Maire B. de Paor’s book, Patrick was anything but unlearned, and the road to Ireland’s conversion wasn’t quite so effortless.

Much is written on his conversion of Ireland, but few books link arms so tightly with Patrick’s own words. Similarly, there are many books on Celtic faith, but few treat the faith of this man who brought the Faith to the Celts.

De Paor’s contribution to the literature on this popular saint is a study of his life and letters. She burrows into the literary artistry and the spiritual autobiography contained in Patrick’s own writings: his Confession and an epistle excoriating a “Christian” king who murdered a group of newly baptized converts. Her efforts uncover a wealth of insight.

Patrick’s trust in God is evident in every line of his Confession, as is his humility and his unshakable optimism. In reverent simplicity Patrick describes the glories God has worked, even “using an unworthy instrument such as himself.” God has indeed blessed his life and, through joys and trials, Patrick chants a hymn of praise to the Trinity.

His spiritual autobiography begins with his roots as a slave, through escape and discovery of his vocation, and his return to the land that persecuted him to win it for Christ.

Through all difficulty he perseveres:  “...It is my duty without fear of censure to make known the Gift of God and [his] eternal consolation; without fear faithfully to expound everywhere the name of God, so that even after my death I may leave behind a legacy to my brethren and children whom I have baptized in the Lord.”

Patrick’s spirituality is only one dimension of this work. Though it was, in de Paor’s words, the “darkest of the dark ages,” and on the far-flung fringe of Roman territory, his Confession and Epistle have the fire and subtlety of the best orations of Rome. De Paor shows concentric patterns tightly woven into every line of each chapter, and themes that run through the saint’s text like the warp on a loom.

There is a mathematical precision about Patrick’s writing that modern authors cannot match. The exact proportions are stunning. Significant words and phrases are placed in lines at the biblical numbers of seven, 12 and 40. At the exact middle of his text (middle, measured not only by chapters, but also by lines and even words) is the sentence “Look, you are to be given over to the order of the episcopate.” This entrance to the priesthood paves the way for Patrick the boy-slave to become the greatest bishop and evangelist Ireland has ever known.

De Paor writes of the textual patterns: “[They] fit together like the wheels of a clock.”

These details would be missed by the modern reader if not for this well-researched book. In the Introduction, she gives an overview of Patrick’s life and times, before diving into the two works. The complete texts can be found in the back in both English and the original Latin. Diagrams showing the major themes and structures are plentiful, as are italics to mark particular parallels within sections.

There is an index of Patrick’s numerous biblical references, as well as one of names and places mentioned.

Those interested in learning about the historical saint and his deep-rooted faith, revealed in his own words, will enjoy de Paor’s book. Students of Irish literature and theology, too, will appreciate it. "Patro-philes" who have read his Confession now have a guidebook to help them glean more from the text.

It is not a children’s primer on St. Paddy. It is best read, as suggested by the author, with a Bible in one hand and copy of the Confession and Epistle in the other, with this work open between them.

Taking effort to look into the text, though, provides an insightful historical view of this legendary pilgrim apostle.

You can order PATRICK: The Pilgrim Apostle of Ireland from St. Francis Bookshop.

PASSING FOR WHITE: Race, Religion and the Healy Family, 1820-1920, by James M. O’Toole. University of Massachusetts Press (Box 429, Amherst, Massachusetts 01004). 284 pp. $34.95.

Reviewed by AUGUSTINE J. CURLEY, a Benedictine monk of Newark Abbey in New Jersey. He teaches religion at St. Benedict’s Prep, and is the author of New Jersey Catholicism: An Annotated Bibliography and Augustine’s Critique of Skepticism: A Study of Contra Academicos.

IN THE 1950s, Bessie Cunningham received a letter from a historian seeking information about her grandparents and she was fearful that the family secret would become public. Even the descendants were only gingerly told that their ancestor, Michael Healy, an Irish immigrant who had settled in Georgia, had never married his “wife,” Eliza. Legally, they could not marry, since she was one of his slaves. Despite the circumstances of their birth, Michael and Eliza’s children rose to prominence.

In this lucid, riveting work, James O’Toole, former archivist of the Archdiocese of Boston and presently associate professor of history at Boston College, puts the story in the context of the times. Having been sent to the North to avoid the possible—indeed almost inevitable—consequences of their birth, the children were taken under the wing of John Bernard Fitzpatrick, auxiliary bishop of Boston.

While their father was merely a nominal Catholic, the children saw the Church as a means of escaping their identity as slaves. All eventually chose to be baptized.

Of Michael and Eliza’s six sons, one became the Roman Catholic bishop of Portland, Maine; another was the rector of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston; a third became president of Georgetown University, while another rose in the ranks of the Revenue Cutter Service (forerunner of the Coast Guard). Two of Michael and Eliza’s daughters entered religious life, and the third married a white man and lived a respectable suburban life.

The Healy family’s crossing of the color line was so successful that two of the lighter-skinned children were identified on their death certificates as white.

O’Toole does not simply tell the story of the family; he uses the story as a way to examine the role of race in American society. The Healy children made a conscious effort to disassociate themselves from “the Negroes.” While they never actually denied their origins, they did not do anything to disavow people of the assumption—given their name and their close association with Boston—that they were Irish Catholics.

O’Toole has a keen eye for the details that help illuminate the story of their “passing.” He notes that when Michael, a captain in the Revenue Cutter Service, was being berated by a geologist who was on board, he was called “a God-damned Irishman.” Another RCS officer said that Healy did not belong in the service of the U.S. government because he was Catholic. Twice Michael was brought to trial, but in neither case was his race ever mentioned.

The Church became the vehicle through which the Healys entered mainstream American society, despite their origins. Even members of the hierarchy conspired to help them. Under the canon law of the time, illegitimate children could not be ordained, and the permission of the bishop of the diocese where a man was born was needed if he were to be ordained for a different diocese. Bishop Fitzpatrick of Boston simply overlooked these potential impediments.

Sherwood, the cathedral rector, had no problems as pastor of an Irish congregation. Educated in seminaries in Europe, Sherwood was one of the most highly educated priests of his day, despite that fact that some U.S. state laws would have forbidden him to be taught to read and write.

I cannot begin to indicate the importance of this work for what it tells us about the Catholic Church in 19th-century America or about race relations. O’Toole is to be commended for a fine, well-balanced work that examines an issue that the Church wrestles with even today.

A genealogical chart would have been a helpful addition to this volume.

You can order PASSING FOR WHITE: Race, Religion and the Healy Family, 1820-1920 from St. Francis Bookshop.

CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE VOLUNTEER’S SOUL: Stories to Celebrate the Spirit of Courage, Caring and Community, by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Arline McGraw Oberst, John T. Boal, Tom and Laura Lagana. Health Communications, Inc. 363 pp. $12.95.

Reviewed by SHARON CROSS, special projects coordinator for St. Anthony Messenger Press, who has many years experience volunteering in hospitals, for her high school alumnae association and at her parish.

THIS COLLECTION OF ESSAYS represents over 6,000 stories that the authors spent five years gathering, writing, compiling and editing. (Future volumes are being planned.) The volunteers in these stories have worked with children, the elderly, animals, military personnel, the terminally ill, victims of war, poverty or natural disaster in the United States, Europe, Asia or Africa.

Chicken Soup for the Volunteer’s Soul is grouped into nine sections including The Rewards of Volunteering, Giving Back, Making a Difference and Overcoming Obstacles. Editors’ notes at the end of many accounts give information on how to contact the organizations that are not specific to local communities.

Some have very familiar names, like American Red Cross, Big Brothers/Big Sisters or Peace Corps. Others are less well-known, such as Choice Humanitarian, Children of Peace and Turtle Time, Inc. But no matter what the organization, these stories are about people.

The first essay, “When Two or More Gather,” tells about neighbors who came together on September 15, 2001, to show their national pride by lighting a candle for peace and collecting money for the Red Cross. In “An Armful of Love,” hospital volunteer Sally finds that her grief at being unable to bear children is lessened when she begins cuddling babies.

Tom Krause’s “Volunteer’s Creed” and Lois Clark Suddath’s “A Volunteer’s Prayer,” along with quotes and cartoons sprinkled throughout, help to unify these unique and diverse stories.

Of special note is Donald Patrick Dunn’s “Top Ten List of Things a Volunteer Should Know.” All are practical and supportive suggestions, with number one being “Have fun! Life has enough drudgery; volunteering shouldn’t be one of them. Giving of yourself should be uplifting and joyful. We are at our best when we learn, grow, play and serve each other with love and respect.”

Each of the 95 contributors is identified with a brief biography and a means to allow contact from readers. There is also a one-page biography of each author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books and of the Points of Light Foundation that supports volunteer efforts addressing social problems. More information is available from the Web address given for each organization.

Chicken Soup for the Volunteer’s Soul was conceived as a tribute to the more than 200 million men and women around the world who generously give of their time to make the world a better place. It would make a fine gift for any volunteer, especially one who may be feeling discouraged or underappreciated. A portion of the profits from its sale goes to the Points of Light Foundation.

You can order CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE VOLUNTEER’S SOUL: Stories to Celebrate the Spirit of Courage, Caring and Community from St. Francis Bookshop.


Book Briefs

Lent is a season of penitence and focus on the cross. Here are a few new books that may aid our contemplation:

THE NEW STATIONS OF THE CROSS: The Way of the Cross According to Scripture, by Megan McKenna (Doubleday, 121 pp., $8.95, U.S.; $13.95, Canada), follows a set of more biblically based stations than the traditional ones. McKenna's stations emphasize the community walking with Jesus to his execution.

TESTIMONY OF THE CROSS, by Grzegorz Galazka (Liguori Publications, 80 pp., $15.95), is, first of all, a picture book, with stunning photos of Pope John Paul II making the Way of the Cross in Rome on Good Friday, 2000. The pope’s meditations and prayers form the text.

IN GIVING WE RECEIVE: Praying the Peace Prayer for Lent, James E. Adams (Creative Communications for the Parish, 32 pp., $1). “Even if he [Francis] didn't actually compose it, the Peace Prayer clearly is imbued with the key elements of Franciscan spirituality,” notes the Introduction. It brings us closer to Jesus’ self-giving.

Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop on the Web or at 1618 Vine Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202-6498, phone 1-800-241-6392. All orders must be prepaid. Add $4 for postage and handling. Ohio residents should also add 6.0 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.

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