Most of us are fascinated by stories of whistleblowers. Or at least stories from insiders who let us have a look at what they experienced within an organization.
Sometimes those accounts are simply efforts at filling in the blanks. In that category we might put No Easy Day by "Mark Owen," one of the Navy Seals who helped kill Osama bin Laden.
Others, especially in the field of religion, often are accounts of why the author decided to leave this or that faith tradition. Recent examples are books about the Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints Church, the Amish and Scientology. Each of those links will take you to one of my blog entries about such books.
Comes now a retired Catholic priest, Emmett Coyne (pictured at right), who, well, has gone nuclear on the Catholic Church. His new book, The Theology of Fear, is a late-in-life jeremiad against the very church to which he gave his professional life.
To call this book intemperate or angry would not do its incandescent emotion justice.
* "St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican is a magnificent obscenity. . ."
* The Roman Catholic Church "has no deeper tradition than impounding fear into naive, susceptible believers." (I suspect he means pounding, not impounding.)
* "The greatest tragedy of the RCC (his abbreviation for the church) is its history of maximizing, not minimizing, the number of mortal sins a person can commit, and its insistence that unless repented, they lead to a sentence of an irrevocable hell with no exit but only unremitting, eternal torture."
* "Tragically, over the centuries, in making the Seven Sacraments its central focus and the theology of fear its tradition, the Roman Church managed to subvert the Kingdom of God."
As a Protestant, I naturally have a somewhat different approach to the Christian faith than do Catholics. But as someone who writes columns for The National Catholic Reporter, I do my best to be respectful of Catholicism and to give especially wide berth to any theological differences I might have with Catholicism.
Coyne does not have such boundaries to consider. As such, his strident voice may well carry considerable weight in its criticisms, especially given that his experience inside the priesthood is long and personal.
What readers may well have difficulty understanding -- as did I -- is why a man so out of sorts with his faith community stayed with it and only let the brickbats fly after retirement.
In the book's epilogue, Coyne offers this: "Sometimes I wish I never had been part of this authoritarian establishment, especially as a priest. . .If I knew then (at the start of his ministry) what I know now, I would not have been so enthusiastic about passing on what I now see as the institution's dark tradition."
When I asked Coyne directly (by e-mail) about why it took him so long to criticize the church publicly, this was his response: "I'm a slow learner! So much took time to process, come together. I had been dabbling with this for about 5 yrs but only until (the 50th) anniversary of (Vatican II) did I get the impetus to bring it together."
In this review, I won't describe Coyne's complaints against the church (and my opinions of those complaints) point by point except to say that I sometimes find him making valid and insightful points and other times think he's simply blowing off too much steam.
But I will challenge him a bit on what I think is his (widely shared) misperception of the Apostle Paul (for a recent blog posting on this subject, click here).
Coyne writes: "Paul took an extreme departure from his religious upbringing." No, he didn't. He was always a Torah-observant Jew, though he later changed his mind about the appropriateness of persecuting members of the Jesus Movement and became one of them, convinced that in Jesus of Nazareth the long-awaited Jewish Messiah had arrived. But that was a fully Jewish response to Jesus, even if most Jews then and most Jews now disagree with Paul.
And Coyne writes about "Paul's suspicion of the law." Paul was not suspicious of the law. He personally observed the law. But it was his position that non-Jews who were committing to become followers of Jesus did not first have to become circumcised Jews (the males) and pledge themselves to being Torah-observant. And the Jerusalem leaders of the Jesus Movement that eventually became the separate religion of Christianity agreed with him. Jews who became Christ followers, Paul thought, still were obligated to follow "the law," which meant Jewish tradition, but non-Jews were not.
At any rate, Coyne's book is an emotional rejection of the many ways in which he thinks the church has gone astray from its true mission of proclaiming the "kingdom of God," as did Jesus. Readers will have to decide for themselves where they think he gets it right and where he fails.
You can be sure, however, that this is not going to be the last Catholic whistleblower book, though it will take either courage or foolishness, depending on your point of view, for others to write theirs.
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BECAUSE NO FAMILY IS SO BIG?
On his trip to Lebanon, Pope Benedict XVI pointed to families in which there are both Christians and Muslims and asked why, if there can be peace in such families, why there can't be peace in the world. Good question. How would you answer that?