BETRAYAL: The Crisis in the Catholic Church,
by The Investigative Staff of the Boston Globe. Little,
Brown and Company. 274 pp. $23.95.
Reviewed by CAREN HART, who has a master’s degree in speech
communication and has taken additional courses at a seminary.
She is a lifelong Catholic and facilitates support groups
for sexual-abuse victims.
Women played a key role as judicial professionals in uncovering
what happened in Boston. One woman who was a lawmaker and
a steadfast friend of Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law for many
years came forward to press for legislation that would create
a law to make it a crime to move a known sexual abuser from
one job to another. She had strongly supported Cardinal Law’s
work for social justice, but things changed for her last January
when she learned about the continual cover-up of the abuse
Cardinal Law, the central focus of this book, is depicted
as a very intelligent, worldly, political man. He is also
seen as a workaholic, often staying behind closed doors at
the chancery to work tirelessly for the Church. The book goes
through his early years as a priest to the present time, including
the recent trips to Rome, where it appears he asked whether
he should resign or not.
There are other dioceses mentioned in the book and in fact,
the book does seem to jump from one offender to another. At
times, a reader has to struggle to keep track of all the players.
Some background in canon law might help in understanding
this book because it explains the filial relationship that
should exist between priests and their bishops.
Betrayal is an easy book to read since all the authors
are journalists and write well, but hard to digest because
of what it reveals about the woundedness within all of us
as we live through this very difficult time.
This valuable lesson for the Church is indeed difficult to
learn. The issues of power, control and boundary violations
of another human being go against everything that is good
This may be a time for calling the faithful forth in new
ways. The final chapter sums it up: “There are a lot of mainstream,
middle-of-the-road Catholics who are feeling called to be
active in the Church in a new way, and that’s one of the significant
elements of this crisis.” May it be so!
You can order BETRAYAL: The Crisis in the Catholic Church
THE FAITH OF FIFTY MILLION: Baseball, Religion,
and American Culture, edited by Christopher H. Evans and
William R. Herzog II. Foreword by Stanley Hauerwas. Westminster
John Knox Press. 296 pp. $18.95.
Reviewed by PAUL ZLATIC, a junior theology student at
the University of Dayton and an intern last summer in the
book department of St. Anthony Messenger Press.
WITH THE SUMMER DEATHS of Ted Williams, the purest hitter
the game of baseball has ever seen, and Jack Buck, the greatest
radio broadcaster the game has ever heard, many have predicted
the death of the “good ol’ days” of baseball.
Many believe the days when the players played for the love
of the game have vanished forever. Now baseball dreams of
the day when a strike is not imminent, and when ability—rather
than steroids—is what makes baseballs fly out of major league
ballparks at record rates.
The Faith of Fifty Million: Baseball, Religion, and American
Culture takes us back to the time when baseball occupied
a quasi-religious role in American culture.
The book also reminds us, however, that the sport hasn’t
always been surrounded or played with virtuous intent. One
of these dark times was the 1919 World Series scandal mentioned
in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. There the
narrator is introduced to a fictional representation of the
man who “fixed” the 1919 World Series. The narrator is astonished
that one man could “play with the faith of 50 million.” The
1919 World Series scandal was the first time Americans even
questioned the purity of its national pastime.
Co-editors Christopher H. Evans and William R. Herzog II
point out how the game has transcended its shortcomings and
missteps. They have collected five essays written by such
authors as Donald McKim, who investigates the lives of Christy
Matthewson and Grover Cleveland Alexander, baseball’s own
version of the sinner and saint; C. Harold Hurley, who proposes
that Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is actually
an analogy of the Yankees’ 1950 pennant race; and Eleanor
J. Stebner and Tracy J. Trothen, who tell us the history of
women in baseball.
Evans and Herzog contribute their own essays, drawn from
their personal experiences. Both regard baseball as “the outworking
of the liberal Protestant hope for the kingdom of God to be
realized in America,” and they intend to prove that baseball
holds an eschatological view, or a hope and view of final
things, similar to Christianity.
In a section detailing how baseball became the first mainstream
social structure to integrate, the book succeeds in proving
that baseball has been oriented to bring about the Kingdom
of God on earth.
One weakness of the book is the failure to make further connections
to baseball as religion. There are no salvific or redeeming
The book also completely misses the bag in Tex Sample’s coarse
and out-of-place essay which concludes that baseball taught
him what not to do.
There is an unusual lack of cohesion for such a collection,
but that can also be a strength, because all of the essays
operate as single entities.
Weaknesses aside, the book scores a home run in being simply
entertaining. I was amused to find out that Albert Goodwill
Spalding, the man who began the sporting-goods business that
produces major league baseballs, basically invented the story
of baseball’s beginning in America. Spalding created his own
history of baseball that included the birthplace of baseball
by General Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown, New York. (The
actual origin of baseball in its present form is unknown.)
Baseball enthusiasts who want to revel in the “good ol’ days,”
who can’t get enough of our national pastime, who still hope
that baseball can redeem American culture and who count themselves
among the “50 million” will most definitely enjoy this book.
You can order THE FAITH OF FIFTY MILLION: Baseball, Religion,
and American Culture from St.
SAINT FRANCIS, by Marie Dennis, art
by John August Swanson. Orbis Books. 120 pp. $25.
Reviewed by CHRISTOPHER HEFFRON, an assistant editor
of St. Anthony Messenger and an English and communication
arts graduate of the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati,
THE LIFE of St. Francis of Assisi (1181?-1226) has elicited
innumerable biographies over the years. Volumes have been
written to deconstruct and illustrate Francis’ tireless fight
for the poor, his creation of the Franciscan Order and his
loyalty to God.
So if you’re looking for yet another detailed, comprehensive
examination of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals
and environmentalism, look elsewhere—you won’t find that here.
This Saint Francis is a bird of a different feather.
Author Marie Dennis and artist John August Swanson are far
less interested in creating a meticulous biography of Francis
than in celebrating his life and legacy. Rather than scrutinize
the 45 or so years that he was alive, both artist and writer
show a greater interest in the man himself. “This is not so
much a book to nourish the intellect,” Dennis writes. “Rather,
it is an invitation to a journey that might satisfy the soul.”
And satisfy it does.
The book is, essentially, a collection of vignettes about
several memorable moments of Francis’ life. Each legendary
event, such as the saint’s embrace of the leper, preaching
to a school of attentive fish and his friendship with St.
Clare, is briefly chronicled by Thomas of Celano, Francis’
earliest biographer, and then more fully explained by Dennis.
John August Swanson’s luminous, detailed artwork, found on
each opposing page of text, wonderfully captures Celano’s
almost poetic biographical notes, giving the reader a visual
guide to follow.
In one of the book’s two introductions, Swanson explains
the meaning behind his work. “For me, the motif of Francis’
life is the emergence of the extraordinary out of the ordinary.
Capturing the life of Francis of Assisi in a painting helped
me comprehend that from the commonplace can emerge the significant.”
Swanson, a Los Angeles-based artist, employs an extensive
palette of color and texture with these pieces. His artwork,
vibrant but never gaudy, is a cornucopia for the eyes.
Marie Dennis, who has written a biography of Oscar Romero
and co-authored an earlier book on Francis, should receive
a hearty round of applause as well. When writing of this quiet
saint, she avoids the sometimes tiresome—and typical—habit
of simply regurgitating the events in his life.
Indeed, the author takes a different approach, weaving thoughtful
analyses with social relevance. She uncovers parallels between
Francis’ need for solitude, his search for a deeper relationship
with God and his final days of suffering, with our own bouts
of fear and uncertainty in life. How heartening to see the
human complexities of this beloved saint!
“Like Jesus,” Dennis writes, “he fully embraced the messy,
painful, broken human journey—not only to feed or comfort
or heal or accompany, but to challenge social structures and
practices that ostracized, humiliated, deprived and battered
life at every turn.”
Dennis and Swanson lead the reader on a picturesque journey
of rediscovery. Rarely has a book on Francis juggled the task
with such a charming, understated approach.
You can order SAINT FRANCIS from St.
ICARUS IN ASSISI, by Murray Bodo, O.F.M.
Editrice Minerva (Assisi). 56 pp. $8.
Reviewed by JACK WINTZ, O.F.M., contributing editor of
St. Anthony Messenger and former English teacher with
an M.A. in literature..
IF YOU ARE both a poetry enthusiast and a lover of St. Francis,
you will take double pleasure in this book of poems. Written
by a leading author on Franciscan spirituality and a highly
skilled poet, this slender book contains 19 poems. Running
side by side with the poems in English are their Italian counterparts,
translated by Gaia and Lorenzo Chiuchiu of Assisi.
Most of Father Murray’s poems deal with St. Francis and other
figures in his life. Several focus on St. Clare, one on Francis’
father (“The Cloth Merchant’s Tale”), another on “St. Anthony
in the Walnut Tree” and similar aspects of Franciscan lore.
The title poem, “Icarus in Assisi,” provides the book’s
central image and theme. Icarus is the character in Greek
mythology who flies (with artificial wings) too close to the
sun. The wax in his wings melts, and Icarus falls tragically
into the sea and drowns. Father Murray has acknowledged that
the idea of Francis as Icarus came to him in part from watching
today’s hang gliders floating over Assisi and down toward
the plain below.
In the poem, Francis is Icarus. He descends from on high,
as it were, to serve Assisi’s lepers, a hungry wolf and other
lowly ones. But his humble descent becomes an “ascent to Love.”
As in the case of Christ, Francis’ “coming down” is a rising
“heavenward.” “Poverty is not without wings.”
Icarus is a good governing image for the book because paradoxes
such as riches in poverty, rising by descending, healing from
nail-wounds and victory out of defeat run abundantly through
One of the shorter, easier poems is called “Burial in Assisi.”
If Francis had his way, he would surely have preferred to
be buried in the woods where the birds sing rather than in
a great tomb. But here’s what happens in “Burial in Assisi.”
“I’m trying to bury my body
in the soil of the hut where I died.”
But as Francis is trying to burrow into Sister Earth’s side,
“fleeing” those trying to “save me from dirt,” he foresees
the latter placing his remains in a marble tomb under the
great basilica built in his name. The poem concludes with
Francis’ sobering words:
“Then as in a nightmare I freeze:
they are lifting me up to their level.
They lower my bones in their tomb,
they weight my spirit with stones.”
For those prepared to dig deeply into the spirit of Francis
and Clare—still alive in these pages—real gems lie in wait.
You can order ICARUS IN ASSISI from St.
Francis Bookshop. The full
story of John August Swanson is featured elsewhere on
THE SPIRITUAL FRANCISCANS: From Protest
to Persecution in the Century After Saint Francis, by
David Burr. Penn State University. 427 pp. $45.
Reviewed by MICHAEL J. DALEY, a teacher at St. Xavier
High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. He recently edited Catholic
Questions, Wise Answers, a book which is available
through St. Anthony Messenger Press.
COUNTLESS STATUES of St. Francis of Assisi portray him as
very peaceful, with a bird, deer or rabbit nearby. Now juxtapose
this traditional scene with the arrest and imprisonment of
Francis’ friars, violent seizure of their friaries and ejection
of superiors, papal censures and condemnations, and burnings
at the stake. Doesn’t sound very “Franciscan,” does it?
That, however, was what the evolving Franciscan Order experienced,
as David Burr, professor of history at Virginia Tech, details
in The Spiritual Franciscans: From Protest to Persecution
in the Century After Saint Francis.
With the death of St. Francis in 1226, the growing Order
was at a crossroads. Popes and bishops were asking Franciscans
to take on new responsibilities—professors, inquisitors, pastors,
administrators in Church and government—responsibilities that
Francis had warned about accepting. “Once Franciscans inserted
themselves into the world, they found worldly comforts difficult
to escape,” says Burr.
Some Franciscans opposed the direction the Order was taking
and did something about it. The story is told of how some
friars, upset by the relaxations on poverty allowed by the
then-minister general, Crescentius of Jesi (1244-1247), sent
a delegation to Rome with their concerns. Burr relates, “Crescentius’s
intelligence services were efficient. He got wind of the plan
and sent his own delegation, which spoke to the pope first.
Once the pope was on his side, he [Cresentius] ambushed the
other delegation on its way and punished the brothers severely.”
A succession of minister generals and popes tried to chart
a middle course between those who advocated a strict observance
of what they believed was Francis’ practice of poverty and
those who, in the name of progress, practicality and service
to others, were open to modifications of the Rule.
In 1274 in the area near Ancona, a rumor began to spread
that the pope, meeting with bishops at the upcoming Council
of Lyons, would force the Franciscans to accept property.
Though the rumor turned out to be false, the situation called
into question whether a friar would obey the pope or his Franciscan
vows, especially that of poverty.
This important episode, Burr says, indicates that the “dispute
was branching out to include what would become the major Italian
spiritual criticisms of contemporary Franciscanism: establishment
of friaries in the heart of the city, heavy involvement in
worldly learning and the relentless pursuit of burial rights,
legacies and privileges.”
Protest, however well-grounded, brought opposition in the
highest places. In 1290, Pope Nicholas IV, a Franciscan and
former minister general, wrote Raymond Gaufridi, then minister
general, to deal with “certain brothers who seemed to introduce
schism into the province of Provence, condemning the state
of other brethren and considering themselves to be more spiritual
than the others” (Chronicle of the Twenty-four Generals).
Pope Celestine V responded by dividing the Order in two,
with the Spirituals taking the name of the Poor Hermits of
Pope Celestine. They were to be allowed to live out their
own austere and rigorous understanding of Francis’ original
vision. The problem was that Pope Celestine, elected in August
of 1294, resigned and was gone by December.
His successor, Boniface VIII, canceled this “Franciscan experiment,”
driving many Spirituals into more hardened stances.
The next attempt at reconciliation took place at the Council
of Vienne (1311-1312). Here Pope Clement V decided the Order
would remain as one. Burr writes, “Clement’s attempt at reconciliation
led instead to deeper division and then to straightforward
persecution under John XXII.”
After the Spirituals violently seized friaries and ejected
superiors at Narbonne and Béziers in 1317, John XXII ordered
them to submit to his authority and obey their superiors.
Most did. Several who refused were accused of heresy and burned
at the stake.
The years ahead brought further tension between those who
pined for the rugged poverty of the early days and those who
desired a place among the powerful of the Church and society.
The Spiritual Franciscans presents forceful personalities
with opposing visions of what it means to be a Franciscan.
The questions that the book raises about poverty, authority,
conscience and, ultimately, discipleship remain with us to
The book is a demanding, academic read—challenging, but well
worth the effort.
You can order THE SPIRITUAL FRANCISCANS: From Protest
to Persecution in the Century After Saint Francis from
St. Francis Bookshop.
Books can be obtained through St.
Francis Bookshop on the Web or at 1618
Vine Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202, phone 1-800-241-6392.
All orders must be prepaid. Add $4 for postage and handling.
Ohio residents should also add 6.0 percent for sales tax.
The Bookshop offers a free catalog.