OUR FATHERS: The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in an Age of Scandal

David France, Author . Broadway $26.95 (672p) ISBN 978-0-7679-1430-7

France, who covered the Catholic Church sex scandal as an investigative editor at Newsweek , delivers a huge volume that offers reasons for the scandal and humanizes those involved—victims, perpetrators and hierarchy. Apart from interviews with some participants that are woven into a sweeping 40-year-long chronology of events, there isn't a great deal of factually new material in this tome, as copious footnotes drawing on others' reporting and analysis show. But the author dramatizes the story with you-are-there intimacy, from the opening vignette that confusingly narrates a movie scene; through "the soft deep heat" of an adolescent kiss experienced by a sexually confused teenager "who once was struck by love" (and who grows into a self-hating gay priest); and on through interior views of a victim's devastated mother. The 672-page book isn't all adjectival color, but especially in its early chapters, which reach back to the 1950s to recreate incidents, France's tone is sometimes melodramatic, which some may appreciate as storytelling, while others may perceive as sensationalizing. The author argues that the cause of the scandal is an antiquated misunderstanding of human sexuality, with a view of homosexuality that is pernicious, a thesis that gives the church the burden of societal homophobia. So readers get a side tour of the 1969 Stonewall bar riot, Vatican-driven suppression of advocates for gay Catholics and other anecdotes, including that of a gay Italian man who in 1998 immolated himself in St. Peter's Square. Although France sees them as essential, such episodes lengthen the book and dilute its focus on what happened in rectories, chanceries and family living rooms. (Jan. 20)

Forecast: This vast book, one of several about the Catholic Church as it comes to terms with a sex scandal and changes in demographics, leadership and institutions, will likely be pilloried by some, praised by others. In either case it is unlikely to get a lukewar m reception, even though the scandal has ceased to be front-page news.

Reviewed on: 12/22/2003
Release date: 01/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
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