Book Review: The Church that Forgot Christ

The Church That Forgot Christ
by Jimmy BreslinEdition: Hardcover
Price: $19.76

No going back

The priest-pedophile scandal, whose exposure just celebrated its 5th birthday, is an issue that many in the Catholic hierarchy would rather forget. Let's put it behind us, they seem to say, and get back to yelling about abortion and gay marriage.

But writer Jimmy Breslin will not let the cardinal and bishops off the hook so easily. His book is a rambling -- but not incoherent -- narrative of his travels among the Church's walking wounded. Most striking is his ability to recall the time when the Church was an all-enveloping presence that gave shape and purpose to entire communities. His tour of his neighborhoods, blighted and without Church presence, severs as a yardstick of how much has been lost. His reminiscences of the days when his aunt could rely on the rosary to keep her loved ones safe is poignant. Enduring the absence of one's husband for 5 years during WWII is not a feat for the weak.

But that world is gone. Breslin rages at the pedophiles but also at the bishops and cardinals who allowed them to float from parish to parish, leaving a wake of damaged lives, drug abuse and suicide. Meanwhile, bishops happily evict elderly nuns from the convents, converting them into multi-million dollar mansions for themselves. And they cry "Abortion! Abortion! Abortion!" to distract the faithful from their autocratic and wasteful ways.

Breslin, a self-evident devout Catholic, is not always right, but he is always real. He is upset that the Church got rid of the rule against eating meat on Friday, less because of the rule than at the arrogance of priests who can just change the rules and expect everyone to follow along. His real target is the arrogance and spiritual destitution of the many who rule the Church, whose miserliness to the Church's people is highlighted by a few of the institution's real heros. That a bona fide Roman Catholic like Breslin could contemplate a Church that a) does not need priests to celebrate Mass, b) could ordain (and not just find personal pleasure with) women and c) should change its teachings about homosexuality and contraception, is stunning.

"The Church That Forgot Christ" is not a detailed, organized account of the Church's recent scandals. Neither does it offer a solution for the Church's many ills. What it does, and expertly, is to express the anguish of ordinary Catholics who are sick and tired of being pushed around by men who are interested only in themselves, and whose egoism has expressed itself in insularity, sexual predation, intellectual dishonesty and an absence of love