Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: July-August 1997

July-August 1997

Deeply Flawed Book Review

As a Catholic, a professor of literature, and a book reviewer, I urge NOR readers not to be influenced by Michelle Bobier’s review (May) of Father Elijah: An Apocalypse by Michael D. O’Brien. She asserts that it is a “deeply flawed book.” I respond that hers is a deeply flawed critique.

Bobier maintains that O’Brien doesn’t “play by the literary rules” — that too many of his characters are “mouthpieces,” that there is “undue authorial interference,” that his writing lacks a “free narrative flow,” and so on. Nonsense!

She is misreading the book — and O’Brien’s intentions. His motive is clearly stated in the Preface: “The reader should be forewarned that this book is a novel of ideas. It does not proceed at the addictive pace of a television micro-drama…. It bears witness, I hope, to the ultimate victory of light.”

O’Brien has written a didactic novel, and his breaking of the so-called rules (hey, great writers break rules — ever read Dostoevski?) makes it all the more unique, compelling, and rare.

Father Elijah is a testimony to orthodox Christianity. It is beautifully written and deeply moving. I have read it twice, and its characters, scenes, and ideas have made a lasting impression. Bobier is way off target.

Prof. Ruth Clements

Dept. of English

Lancaster, South Carolina

Michelle Bobier’s review of Michael O’Brien’s Father Elijah was annoying. I’ve read the book twice, and none of her criticisms is valid. I must especially question one of them: “The virtues of the Pontiff are so endless and extreme that the reader can only wonder at the absence of a halo.” Yes, O’Brien characterizes his unnamed Pope as an extremely holy man. So what? What’s so terrible about that? Would Bobier have been happier if the Pope had been depicted as a womanizer, ogling women’s breasts in the manner of Fr. Greeley’s lecherous priests? That may have made for a more “interesting” character, but some of us are tired of that stuff. Please, NOR readers, don’t let this sarcastic, nitpicking review keep you from reading one of the best novels — Catholic or otherwise — to come along in years.

Christine Lehman

Union County College

Los Angeles, California

In her review of Michael O’Brien’s Father Elijah, Michelle Bobier refers to the “exceedingly favorable” blurbs on the dust jacket, contrasting those alleged excesses to the “deeply flawed book” she judges Father Elijah to be. Perhaps readers of the NOR should hear what one of those “excessive” blurbists actually wrote. The late Sheldon Vanauken, a novelist and someone whose writings frequently graced the pages of the NOR, tells us that he has “read thousands of books and Father Elijah is one of the great ones. I hope tens of thousands read it, and are as shaken as I have been. It’s a novel that grips one like a thriller — indeed it is a thriller, but also something far deeper. There are love and friendship, interwoven with drama, but what it essentially is is faith, faith in the Christ.”

Prof. Lawrence D. Hogan

Cranford, New Jersey

Pathetic Defense of Weak Pontiff

I am constantly amazed by papal defenders like Fr. Raymond Gawronski (“Why They Hate John Paul II,” June) who continue to overrate this Pope’s positive role in cleaning up the mess in the post-conciliar Church. Why should the dissident clergy, errant theologians, and radical feminists in the Church hate, or even fear, this weak-ruling Pontiff? Rome has permitted the liberal clergy and fellow dissidents to run amok for 30 years, corrupting the faithful, mainly because of neglected Church management under Popes Paul VI and John Paul II.

John Paul’s defenders may interrupt here and list the Pope’s good points: his orthodox writings and homilies, his eloquence and global charisma, his verbal insistence on catechetical and liturgical fidelity, even his (20-year-overdue) new Catechism. All this is true but means little to the faithful when true Catholic values don’t trickle down to the diocesan or parish levels because the Pope has no political will to make it so. Even Gawronski sadly concedes that John Paul may be a poor administrator, and that the faithful may have to wait until God intervenes and gives us a tough-love Pope in the future. Isn’t this a pathetic defense of this Pope? I suppose the faith of my seven kids and 17 grandchildren will also have to wait.

Gawronski also admits that many of our bishops have shown themselves to be “unable to provide strong, fatherly leadership to their own flocks.” How can he clearly see the bishops’ “sins of omissions” but not those of the Pope? As for John Paul’s personal charm and magnetism, the Pope is actually a victim of his own public image, believing his power of persuasion will turn his wayward Church around despite almost 20 years of evidence that persuasion and lectures haven’t worked.

Let’s take, for example, the recent problems the Pope has had with the American Church. Years ago he publicly apologized to the faithful for post-Vatican II catechetical and liturgical abuses, yet many of these horrors still exist. Recently he criticized the corrupt American marriage tribunals for granting an epidemic number of annulments based largely on phony reasons. Today the annulments continue unabated. For the year 1968 there were only 450 granted in the U.S., this past year over 60,000! The Pope has also criticized lax seminaries, disloyal Catholic higher education, communion in the hand, lack of prolife education and leadership from the hierarchy, the misuse or non-use of the sacraments, and so on. None of his complaints has been taken seriously because as a weak father-figure he has failed to insist upon their execution.

Finally, Gawronski quotes the pagan Aristotle as stating that the use of authority is the weakest of arguments and should be used as a last resort. Well, the time for repairing to the last resort came years ago. How much worse can things get? Come down from your ivory tower, Fr. Gawronski, to the disloyal parish level the faithful endure and see that after 30 years of papal neglect we are now at the point of no return. Until God truly intervenes, the only redress left to the faithful is to continue to boycott unfaithful parishes and pray that the Vatican-approved Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter opens up an apostolate nearby.

Albert W. Herz

Fruitland, Maryland

No Bum Rap for Britain

In my ignorance of German history, I didn’t know that Germany’s genocidal tendencies go back as far as England’s. I thank Robert Lilienfeld (letter, Apribpfor that insight, and stand corrected. But, contrary to Lilienfeld, I did not give Britain a bum rap in my letter (Dec. 1996). The London Public Records Office documents a total body count of about 2.5 million noncombatants in the three most systematic attempts at extermination of the Irish people between 1574 and 1660 or so. This doesn’t include the Great Famine, lesser famines, or the smaller atrocities common since 1660.

The demonic entered Irish history in a big way under Elizabeth I, in the guise of the Reformation. There was no previous history of mass slaughter, let alone serious discussion of genocide prior to 1574. Attempts to exterminate all Catholics led Catholics of English origin in Ireland to join their native Irish counterparts in rebellion in 1641. Catholic reprisals were sometimes atrocious, but — contrary to Lilienfeld — I look less harshly on measures taken in desperate self-defense than on the cold, rational decisions of a major power which made them possible, perhaps necessary.

Contrary to Lilienfeld’s assertion, the Irish government didn’t “collaborate” with the Nazis. It was scrupulously neutral, sending condolences to both sides on various occasions (including the Hitler wreath, which most Irish considered a bit much). Forty thousand Irish volunteers served with the Allied Forces.

As for Lilienfeld’s questioning of the “strength of the Faith” in today’s Ireland: I have just returned from a stay in Ireland, and Ireland can boast a good deal more serious Catholicism in proportion to its population than the U.S. or U.K. — which, granted, may not be saying much. Regrettably, poor Church leadership and too much television are damaging Ireland as they have the U.S. and U.K. But the point I made in my letter was that the Irish people, for the most part, have forgiven England her appalling behavior, and this is a credit to the Faith.

Robin Bernhoft

Everett, Washington


I’ve decided against renewing my subscription because your writers are militant, unforgiving, and unwilling to listen to dissent. Christ refused the Devil three things in the desert, one of which was putting an end to freedom, which is what you and the Church are seeking to do.

Christopher Nerbonne

Boulder, Colorado

Those Bold & Audacious Ads

As a convert from Anglicanism some four years ago, I have found the NOR to be a morale and faith booster; not only your magazine, but your bodacious ads in other periodicals. I especially thank you for being there during my first year as a Catholic, when I felt totally betrayed by the Church, only to find out that McBrien, McCormick, Greeley, et al., are not “the Church” — thank God! I saw one of your ads a few months after my Easter Vigil reception, and promptly subscribed.

Virginia M. Brown

El Paso, Texas

Not Alone

I’m disappointed by the indifference to Rome on the part of most parish priests (especially the very “nice” ones). Like many other orthodox Catholics, I find very little practical support from parish priests. For example, 12 years ago I had to search out teachers of Natural Family Planning during marriage preparation because the pre-Cana class and our priest didn’t mention it. Recently, I had to make special arrangements with our Catholic grade school so that my second-grade daughter could receive Reconciliation before First Communion, as is required by the Catechism and the Code of Canon Law. (Our parish does first Reconciliation two years after First Communion.) I also do not wish her to be taught in religion class, as she was recently, that the Church will probably allow priestesses someday.

My parish is full of nice people. We have excellent attendance at the parish picnic, and at the St. Pat’s and Halloween parties, but very few people go to Confession. We hear a deafening silence from our parish priests (and we have five) on vital Church issues, such as Humanae Vitae and the new Catechism. Instead we hear vague sermons about being nice. The opposite of love is not hatred, but indifference. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of indifference toward the Catholic faith at my parish.

So I appreciate and enjoy the NOR, for it shows me I’m not alone.

Lisa J. Cederoth

Oak Park, Illinois

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