“Courageous and inspiring.”—Karen Armstrong, author of The Case for God
“James Carroll takes us to the heart of one of the great crises of our times.”—Stephen Greenblatt, author of The Swerve
An eloquent memoir by a former priest and National Book Award–winning writer who traces the roots of the Catholic sexual abuse scandal back to the power structure of the Church itself, as he explores his own crisis of faith and journey to renewal
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
James Carroll weaves together the story of his quest to understand his personal beliefs and his relationship to the Catholic Church with the history of the Church itself. From his first awakening of faith as a boy to his gradual disillusionment as a Catholic, Carroll offers a razor-sharp examination both of himself and of how the Church became an institution that places power and dominance over people through an all-male clergy.
Carroll argues that a male-supremacist clericalism is both the root cause and the ongoing enabler of the sexual abuse crisis. The power structure of clericalism poses an existential threat to the Church and compromises the ability of even a progressive pope like Pope Francis to advance change in an institution accountable only to itself. Carroll traces this dilemma back to the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages, when Scripture, Jesus Christ, and His teachings were reinterpreted as the Church became an empire. In a deeply personal re-examination of self, Carroll grapples with his own feelings of being chosen, his experiences as a priest, and the moments of doubt that made him leave the priesthood and embark on a long personal journey toward renewal—including his tenure as an op-ed columnist at The Boston Globe writing about sexual abuse in the Church.
Ultimately, Carroll calls on the Church and all reform-minded Catholics to revive the culture from within by embracing anti-clerical, anti-misogynist resistance and staying grounded in the spirit of love that is the essential truth at the heart of Christian belief and Christian life.
In this trenchant analysis, Boston Globe columnist and former Paulist priest Carroll (Constantine's Sword) argues the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic church isn't rooted in a few bad priests, but rather a profoundly corrupt system in which a small group of men wield enormous power over others. Over centuries, Carroll writes, the church's views on gender and sexuality developed in tandem with its desire to protect clerical power, allowing for a "male-supremacist" system stacked against Catholics (often women) who tried to claim or share that power: "The malignity of that clericalism has been laid bare in recent years by the scandal of priests sexually abusing children." Carroll also includes his own story to effectively show the varied ways this "ecclesiastical pyramid" engenders abuse. As a priest during the Vietnam War, he writes, he came to believe that jingoistic American bishops were providing the government "an excuse to reject the conscientious objector claims of Catholic boys." Unable to stop what he saw as abuse, and unwilling to be part of perpetuating it, he left the priesthood. Despite it's significant criticisms, the book encourages despairing Catholics to think of themselves as conscientious objectors—and to fight for what remains good and true about their faith. This persuasive, provocative work will be a must-read for any practicing Catholic.