Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Nonfiction Files

The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.

For the past couple of weeks, I've been reading Losing My Religion by William Lobdell. For a synopsis and my previous discussions, you can catch up at Losing my Religion, week 1 and Losing My Religion, week 2.

My thoughts:

I am roughly 2/3 of the way through the book, and honestly, it has become hard to read. Not because the story itself is uninteresting - on the contary, it is just as fascinating as before, and Lobdell's engaging style has not diminished. Rather, it is because Lobdell has started recounting his years reporting on the sexual molestation scandals in the Catholic church, and it is heartbreaking. Like everyone else, I remember when the scandals broke in the early 2000s, and I was shocked and appalled. But I didn't ever read deeper, to get the full, tragic details that Lobdell presents in his book.

He talks about Father Michael "Hollywood" Harris, the first priest in Orange County to have a lawsuit sucessfully brought against him. He talks about Monsignor John Urell, the church'schief investigator into the Harris case, who would regularly have dinner with his good friend Harris. He talks about Father John Geoghan, who was accused of molesting over 100 young boys, starting in 1962, and Cardinal Bernard Law, who knew of the molestation and covered for him. He also introduces us to the most astonishing of all, in my opinion - parishes who side with the molesting priest, even after he has confessed.

In order to emphasise that Catholics don't corner the market on corruption, Lobdell also investigates Mormons who have been shunned by their family and friends for publicly admitting to losing their faith, and televangelists who steal billions of dollars each year from naive followers. To be fair, and illustrate he hadn't lost all hope, he also introduces us to Father John Conley, who was removed from ministry in the Catholic church for his efforts to bring molesters to justice, and Kelly Whitmore, a former employee of TBN trying to expose the company's abuses. But it is quickly becoming clear that the bad news outweighs the good.

Through all of this, Lobdell tries to reconcile his faith with the evil he reports on. He says, "As a Catholic in training, the truth about Harris didn't threaten my faith. I knew about the sinfulness of man. It was the whole reason Christianity was necessary - to bridge the yawning gap between God and his perpetually misbehaving children."; "I was still quite sure that organized religion was not inherently bad - only a few individuals were, as is the case in every organization.". He sought to find a calling based on the new information he had obtained - "Maybe the Lord wanted me, as he did St. Francis, to 'rebuild His church' - in my case, not some grand way that would lead to sainthood but by simply reporting on the corruption within any and all churches."

But inevitably, his faith takes a hit. He starts to drink in the evenings, to dull the pain of what he's witnessed during the day. When the time comes for his conversion to the church, he decides to postpone until he is able to feel more positively about the Catholic church he means to join. And he starts to question, more and more.

As I said, it makes for heartbreaking reading. I like to tell myself that my faith has been tested, and would stand a trial, but I've honestly never been put to a test like Lobdell has. And clearly, he is only putting the tip of the iceberg into his book - he has surely seen and heard unspeakable horrors committed by people supposedly closest to God. I can't help thinking it would shake anybody's faith to the core.

As you can see, nonfiction like this always gives me much more to talk about than a normal review could stand - that's why I've enjoyed this "discussion" format. Next week, I'll finished up this book and give my final thoughts.

(side note - the quotes I posted come from an uncorrected proof, and may be slightly different than the finished book.)


Anonymous said...

This book must be really hard to read. I can totally understand why his faith takes a hit. I don't have much faith to begin with, at least not the kind that we put in God or a specific follower. But lately because of the bad things happenning I thought to myself that maybe, just maybe it's because I don't have much faith that God is punishing me. I know thats not the way it works, but still.

I find myself giving money to beggers, being a lot more helpful than before and being extra nice when not required hoping to turn it around.

I don't think that was a totally relevant comment, sorry for ranting :)

I would love to see how this book ends...

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I recently saw a spanish film (Pedro Almodovar) which deals with the same subject matter, child abuse at the hands of a catholic priest. At some point, however, the priest leaves the church, but continues to be as abusive as he has ever been. I thought that Almodovar made a very fair point.

Sometimes the church may be not guilty of more but providing an environment in which people of certain character can do a lot of harm before being called to the consequences.

Jenners said...

This does sound like quite a fascinating book ... one that will raise more questions than provide answers, I think.

My own thoughts on religion are that a CHURCH, which is profoundly human because it is run by humans, is always going to have some not good things in it. But FAITH and SPIRITUALITY don't have to be corrupted if they are undertaken outside a church. I left the Catholic Church during college when I began to question so many of its teachings, which seemed a bit hypocritical to me. But that doesn't mean I have abandoned God or is a tough issue. Now that I'm thinking about it, perhaps this is a book I'll check out.

Thanks for putting this out there. These posts are making me think!

Zibilee said...

This sounds like a very interesting take on being a Catholic, and like something that I would like to read. It is heartbreaking to think that those that were molested did not have the full support of their churches or priests when this news finally broke. I can't imagine why the church would stand behind these men. What they did was an abhorrent abuse of power.

Elizabeth said...

Violet - it's hard. But also extremely thought-provoking, which is a good thing, for me.

themavericksdiary - that's one of the points Lobdell makes - even if some cardinals are not guilty of abuse, they are guilty of fostering an environment where it can take place, and turning a blind eye when it happens.

Jenners - its a hard distinction to make, between the CHURCH and FAITH, especially when the people of faith are the abusers.

Zibilee - one of the hardest things for me to understand is how these men were STILL looked up to and admired in the church. They are monsters! It's horrific.