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Abuse Cover-up Reveals Our Woundedness

BETRAYAL: The Crisis in the Catholic Church, by The Investigative Staff of the Boston Globe. Little, Brown and Company. 274 pp. $23.95.

Reviewed by CAREN HART, who has a master’s degree in speech communication and has taken additional courses at a seminary. She is a lifelong Catholic and facilitates support groups for sexual-abuse victims.

Women played a key role as judicial professionals in uncovering what happened in Boston. One woman who was a lawmaker and a steadfast friend of Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law for many years came forward to press for legislation that would create a law to make it a crime to move a known sexual abuser from one job to another. She had strongly supported Cardinal Law’s work for social justice, but things changed for her last January when she learned about the continual cover-up of the abuse of children.

Cardinal Law, the central focus of this book, is depicted as a very intelligent, worldly, political man. He is also seen as a workaholic, often staying behind closed doors at the chancery to work tirelessly for the Church. The book goes through his early years as a priest to the present time, including the recent trips to Rome, where it appears he asked whether he should resign or not.

There are other dioceses mentioned in the book and in fact, the book does seem to jump from one offender to another. At times, a reader has to struggle to keep track of all the players.

Some background in canon law might help in understanding this book because it explains the filial relationship that should exist between priests and their bishops.

Betrayal is an easy book to read since all the authors are journalists and write well, but hard to digest because of what it reveals about the woundedness within all of us as we live through this very difficult time. 

This valuable lesson for the Church is indeed difficult to learn. The issues of power, control and boundary violations of another human being go against everything that is good and holy.

This may be a time for calling the faithful forth in new ways. The final chapter sums it up: “There are a lot of mainstream, middle-of-the-road Catholics who are feeling called to be active in the Church in a new way, and that’s one of the significant elements of this crisis.” May it be so!

You can order BETRAYAL: The Crisis in the Catholic Church from St. Francis Bookshop.

THE FAITH OF FIFTY MILLION: Baseball, Religion, and American Culture, edited by Christopher H. Evans and William R. Herzog II. Foreword by Stanley Hauerwas. Westminster John Knox Press. 296 pp. $18.95.

Reviewed by PAUL ZLATIC, a junior theology student at the University of Dayton and an intern last summer in the book department of St. Anthony Messenger Press.

WITH THE SUMMER DEATHS of Ted Williams, the purest hitter the game of baseball has ever seen, and Jack Buck, the greatest radio broadcaster the game has ever heard, many have predicted the death of the “good ol’ days” of baseball.

Many believe the days when the players played for the love of the game have vanished forever. Now baseball dreams of the day when a strike is not imminent, and when ability—rather than steroids—is what makes baseballs fly out of major league ballparks at record rates.

The Faith of Fifty Million: Baseball, Religion, and American Culture takes us back to the time when baseball occupied a quasi-religious role in American culture.

The book also reminds us, however, that the sport hasn’t always been surrounded or played with virtuous intent. One of these dark times was the 1919 World Series scandal mentioned in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. There the narrator is introduced to a fictional representation of the man who “fixed” the 1919 World Series. The narrator is astonished that one man could “play with the faith of 50 million.” The 1919 World Series scandal was the first time Americans even questioned the purity of its national pastime.

Co-editors Christopher H. Evans and William R. Herzog II point out how the game has transcended its shortcomings and missteps. They have collected five essays written by such authors as Donald McKim, who investigates the lives of Christy Matthewson and Grover Cleveland Alexander, baseball’s own version of the sinner and saint; C. Harold Hurley, who proposes that Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is actually an analogy of the Yankees’ 1950 pennant race; and Eleanor J. Stebner and Tracy J. Trothen, who tell us the history of women in baseball.

Evans and Herzog contribute their own essays, drawn from their personal experiences. Both regard baseball as “the outworking of the liberal Protestant hope for the kingdom of God to be realized in America,” and they intend to prove that baseball holds an eschatological view, or a hope and view of final things, similar to Christianity.

In a section detailing how baseball became the first mainstream social structure to integrate, the book succeeds in proving that baseball has been oriented to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth.

One weakness of the book is the failure to make further connections to baseball as religion. There are no salvific or redeeming insights here.

The book also completely misses the bag in Tex Sample’s coarse and out-of-place essay which concludes that baseball taught him what not to do.

There is an unusual lack of cohesion for such a collection, but that can also be a strength, because all of the essays operate as single entities.

Weaknesses aside, the book scores a home run in being simply entertaining.  I was amused to find out that Albert Goodwill Spalding, the man who began the sporting-goods business that produces major league baseballs, basically invented the story of baseball’s beginning in America. Spalding created his own history of baseball that included the birthplace of baseball by General Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown, New York. (The actual origin of baseball in its present form is unknown.)

Baseball enthusiasts who want to revel in the “good ol’ days,” who can’t get enough of our national pastime, who still hope that baseball can redeem American culture and who count themselves among the “50 million” will most definitely enjoy this book.

You can order THE FAITH OF FIFTY MILLION: Baseball, Religion, and American Culture from St. Francis Bookshop.

SAINT FRANCIS, by Marie Dennis, art by John August Swanson. Orbis Books. 120 pp. $25.

Reviewed by CHRISTOPHER HEFFRON, an assistant editor of St. Anthony Messenger and an English and communication arts graduate of the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio.

THE LIFE of St. Francis of Assisi (1181?-1226) has elicited innumerable biographies over the years. Volumes have been written to deconstruct and illustrate Francis’ tireless fight for the poor, his creation of the Franciscan Order and his loyalty to God.

So if you’re looking for yet another detailed, comprehensive examination of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and environmentalism, look elsewhere—you won’t find that here. This Saint Francis is a bird of a different feather.

Author Marie Dennis and artist John August Swanson are far less interested in creating a meticulous biography of Francis than in celebrating his life and legacy. Rather than scrutinize the 45 or so years that he was alive, both artist and writer show a greater interest in the man himself. “This is not so much a book to nourish the intellect,” Dennis writes. “Rather, it is an invitation to a journey that might satisfy the soul.” And satisfy it does.

The book is, essentially, a collection of vignettes about  several memorable moments of Francis’ life. Each legendary event, such as the saint’s embrace of the leper, preaching to a school of attentive fish and his friendship with St. Clare, is briefly chronicled by Thomas of Celano, Francis’ earliest biographer, and then more fully explained by Dennis.

John August Swanson’s luminous, detailed artwork, found on each opposing page of text, wonderfully captures Celano’s almost poetic biographical notes, giving the reader a visual guide to follow.

In one of the book’s two introductions, Swanson explains the meaning behind his work. “For me, the motif of Francis’ life is the emergence of the extraordinary out of the ordinary. Capturing the life of Francis of Assisi in a painting helped me comprehend that from the commonplace can emerge the significant.”

Swanson, a Los Angeles-based artist, employs an extensive palette of color and texture with these pieces. His artwork, vibrant but never gaudy, is a cornucopia for the eyes.

Marie Dennis, who has written a biography of Oscar Romero and co-authored an earlier book on Francis, should receive a hearty round of applause as well. When writing of this quiet saint, she avoids the sometimes tiresome—and typical—habit of simply regurgitating the events in his life.

Indeed, the author takes a different approach, weaving thoughtful analyses with social relevance. She uncovers parallels between Francis’ need for solitude, his search for a deeper relationship with God and his final days of suffering, with our own bouts of fear and uncertainty in life. How heartening to see the human complexities of this beloved saint!

“Like Jesus,” Dennis writes, “he fully embraced the messy, painful, broken human journey—not only to feed or comfort or heal or accompany, but to challenge social structures and practices that ostracized, humiliated, deprived and battered life at every turn.”

Dennis and Swanson lead the reader on a picturesque journey of rediscovery. Rarely has a book on Francis juggled the task with such a charming, understated approach.

You can order SAINT FRANCIS from St. Francis Bookshop.

ICARUS IN ASSISI, by Murray Bodo, O.F.M. Editrice Minerva (Assisi). 56 pp. $8.

Reviewed by JACK WINTZ, O.F.M., contributing editor of St. Anthony Messenger and former English teacher with an M.A. in literature..

IF YOU ARE both a poetry enthusiast and a lover of St. Francis, you will take double pleasure in this book of poems. Written by a leading author on Franciscan spirituality and a highly skilled poet, this slender book contains 19 poems. Running side by side with the poems in English are their Italian counterparts, translated by Gaia and Lorenzo Chiuchiu of Assisi.

Most of Father Murray’s poems deal with St. Francis and other figures in his life. Several focus on St. Clare, one on Francis’ father (“The Cloth Merchant’s Tale”), another on “St. Anthony in the Walnut Tree” and similar aspects of Franciscan lore.

   The title poem, “Icarus in Assisi,” provides the book’s central image and theme. Icarus is the character in Greek mythology who flies (with artificial wings) too close to the sun. The wax in his wings melts, and Icarus falls tragically into the sea and drowns. Father Murray has acknowledged that the idea of Francis as Icarus came to him in part from watching today’s hang gliders floating over Assisi and down toward the plain below.

In the poem, Francis is Icarus. He descends from on high, as it were, to serve Assisi’s lepers, a hungry wolf and other lowly ones. But his humble descent becomes an “ascent to Love.” As in the case of Christ, Francis’ “coming down” is a rising “heavenward.” “Poverty is not without wings.”

Icarus is a good governing image for the book because paradoxes such as riches in poverty, rising by descending, healing from nail-wounds and victory out of defeat run abundantly through the book.

One of the shorter, easier poems is called “Burial in Assisi.” If Francis had his way, he would surely have preferred to be buried in the woods where the birds sing rather than in a great tomb. But here’s what happens in “Burial in Assisi.” It begins:

“I’m trying to bury my body
in the soil of the hut where I died.”

But as Francis is trying to burrow into Sister Earth’s side, “fleeing” those trying to “save me from dirt,” he foresees the latter placing his remains in a marble tomb under the great basilica built in his name. The poem concludes with Francis’ sobering words:

“Then as in a nightmare I freeze:
they are lifting me up to their level.
They lower my bones in their tomb,
they weight my spirit with stones.”

For those prepared to dig deeply into the spirit of Francis and Clare—still alive in these pages—real gems lie in wait.

You can order ICARUS IN ASSISI from St. Francis Bookshop. The full story of John August Swanson is featured elsewhere on this Site.

THE SPIRITUAL FRANCISCANS: From Protest to Persecution in the Century After Saint Francis, by David Burr. Penn State University. 427 pp. $45.

Reviewed by MICHAEL J. DALEY, a teacher at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. He recently edited Catholic Questions, Wise Answers, a book which is available through St. Anthony Messenger Press.

COUNTLESS STATUES of St. Francis of Assisi portray him as very peaceful, with a bird, deer or rabbit nearby. Now juxtapose this traditional scene with the arrest and imprisonment of Francis’ friars, violent seizure of their friaries and ejection of superiors, papal censures and condemnations, and burnings at the stake. Doesn’t sound very “Franciscan,” does it?

That, however, was what the evolving Franciscan Order experienced, as David Burr, professor of history at Virginia Tech, details in The Spiritual Franciscans: From Protest to Persecution in the Century After Saint Francis.

With the death of St. Francis in 1226, the growing Order was at a crossroads. Popes and bishops were asking Franciscans to take on new responsibilities—professors, inquisitors, pastors, administrators in Church and government—responsibilities that Francis had warned about accepting. “Once Franciscans inserted themselves into the world, they found worldly comforts difficult to escape,” says Burr.

Some Franciscans opposed the direction the Order was taking and did something about it. The story is told of how some friars, upset by the relaxations on poverty allowed by the then-minister general, Crescentius of Jesi (1244-1247), sent a delegation to Rome with their concerns. Burr relates, “Crescentius’s intelligence services were efficient. He got wind of the plan and sent his own delegation, which spoke to the pope first. Once the pope was on his side, he [Cresentius] ambushed the other delegation on its way and punished the brothers severely.”

A succession of minister generals and popes tried to chart a middle course between those who advocated a strict observance of what they believed was Francis’ practice of poverty and those who, in the name of progress, practicality and service to others, were open to modifications of the Rule.

In 1274 in the area near Ancona, a rumor began to spread that the pope, meeting with bishops at the upcoming Council of Lyons, would force the Franciscans to accept property. Though the rumor turned out to be false, the situation called into question whether a friar would obey the pope or his Franciscan vows, especially that of poverty.

This important episode, Burr says, indicates that the “dispute was branching out to include what would become the major Italian spiritual criticisms of contemporary Franciscanism: establishment of friaries in the heart of the city, heavy involvement in worldly learning and the relentless pursuit of burial rights, legacies and privileges.”

Protest, however well-grounded, brought opposition in the highest places. In 1290, Pope Nicholas IV, a Franciscan and former minister general, wrote Raymond Gaufridi, then minister general, to deal with “certain brothers who seemed to introduce schism into the province of Provence, condemning the state of other brethren and considering themselves to be more spiritual than the others” (Chronicle of the Twenty-four Generals).

Pope Celestine V responded by dividing the Order in two, with the Spirituals taking the name of the Poor Hermits of Pope Celestine. They were to be allowed to live out their own austere and rigorous understanding of Francis’ original vision. The problem was that Pope Celestine, elected in August of 1294, resigned and was gone by December.

His successor, Boniface VIII, canceled this “Franciscan experiment,” driving many Spirituals into more hardened stances.

The next attempt at reconciliation took place at the Council of Vienne (1311-1312). Here Pope Clement V decided the Order would remain as one. Burr writes, “Clement’s attempt at reconciliation led instead to deeper division and then to straightforward persecution under John XXII.”

After the Spirituals violently seized friaries and ejected superiors at Narbonne and Béziers in 1317, John XXII ordered them to submit to his authority and obey their superiors. Most did. Several who refused were accused of heresy and burned at the stake.

The years ahead brought further tension between those who pined for the rugged poverty of the early days and those who desired a place among the powerful of the Church and society.

The Spiritual Franciscans presents forceful personalities with opposing visions of what it means to be a Franciscan. The questions that the book raises about poverty, authority, conscience and, ultimately, discipleship remain with us to this day.

The book is a demanding, academic read—challenging, but well worth the effort.

You can order THE SPIRITUAL FRANCISCANS: From Protest to Persecution in the Century After Saint Francis from St. Francis Bookshop.


Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop on the Web or at 1618 Vine Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202, 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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