Books by Tim Unsworth

Released: May 1, 1995

A warm and highly readable discussion of the uneasy relationship many American Catholics today have with their Church. Unsworth (Here Comes Everybody!, 1993), a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, offers 16 vignettes about contemporary Catholics who—because of their beliefs, actions, or merely their gender—exist on the margin of the official Roman Catholic Church. Despite disaffection, they choose to remain in the Church and struggle. Barbara Blaine, a law student who also works with people who have been abused by priests, sums up the feelings of many when she declares that she could no more cease to be a Catholic than she could stop being a member of her own family—this despite having been sexually molested herself by a priest. Based on interviews, Unsworth's retellings of others' stories are equally compelling. Margaret Traxler, a nun, believes that any relation today between the teachings of Jesus and the pronouncements of the Vatican (which she feels ``traffics in money making'') is purely coincidental; nevertheless she continues to work in a parish on Chicago's South Side. The female students at the Catholic Theological Union continue their studies even though they cannot be ordained; the irony is that many may end up later teaching their male counterparts. Even bishops can be pushed to the ``edge.'' They are often ignored by the Church hierarchy until they run afoul of it and live their lives in fear of what the Vatican might think of their public actions; many do not have the courage to stand up for what they believe. The issues of abortion, birth control, and sexual orientation come up throughout the volume, forming a thread that links the lives of many chronicled. Compelling, though it will probably appeal primarily to American Catholics who feel in some way abandoned by a Church that they will nonetheless not desert. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 25, 1993

Well-told if slanted journalistic account of Catholicism, by a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter. Following up his collection of interviews with priests (The Last Priests in America, 1991), Unsworth offers 22 brief vignettes gleaned from his years with the Catholic press and dealing mainly with Catholic laypeople. The title is taken from James Joyce and well expresses Unsworth's conviction that the Church embraces all sorts and conditions of humanity. The format, too, is Joycean: Each chapter serves up a story of local, mainly Chicago-set, life, suggestive of Dubliners. We meet Phil, who buys a gas station and finds himself giving the Church a respectable sum each week, which he makes from a condom machine. We encounter a priest who grapples with the stigma of having benefited from psychiatric help, as well as an ex-prostitute, dying of AIDS, who's at last surrounded by love, in a Catholic hospice. We follow a blow-by-blow account of a man's (successful) petition for the annulment of his marriage by the Church courts. There are stories recording the eccentricities of popular piety and the problems arising from the issues of the lesbian and gay movements, as well as from the role of women in the Church. Unsworth is concerned with unsung heros and ordinary folk, and he writes with compassion and humor, though he doesn't always inspire a reader's confidence.'' Many will query his assumption that ``the American Catholic Church reflects the Church throughout the world,'' especially when America turns out to mean Chicago. Moreover, it's clear that Unsworth has axes to grind, and that these concern things central to Catholicism, such as the priesthood, but he nowhere clearly spells out his position, and thus gives the impression of a dated iconoclasm. Engaging, but of interest and appeal mainly to disaffected Catholics. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 29, 1991

Interviews with 42 American Catholic priests who loosen their Roman collars and bare their souls. Unsworth (The Lambs of Libertyville, 1990) assembles an impressive cross-section of the priesthood: alcoholics, dissidents, gays, Latinos, academics, and blacks rub shoulders with the quintessential Irish working-class parish priest. Superstar Andrew Greeley takes a bow, as do Chicago's Joseph Cardinal Bernadin and powerhouse theologians Richard McBrien and John Tracy Ellis. From this vast chorus come three dominant notes: most priests love their jobs; most oppose mandatory celibacy; most put more faith in their parish laity than in the Vatican hierarchy (Greeley quips in this regard that ``Catholicism means `here comes everybody' ''). Some reel off statistics on sexuality or church attendance; others offer memorable quotes (``a priest must be willing to let people take little chunks out of him''). Despite the low pay, not one grumbles about money. Here and there bitterness crops up (``I felt like a well-paid prostitute...people came only when they needed me''), but more typical is this exuberant send-off from an Ohio pastor: ``I love my priesthood...My retirement plan is eternal life.'' The ``last priests in America''? Obviously not, but perhaps an endangered species—priestly vocations continue to decline—to which this volume serves as an unsystematic but sympathetic guide. Read full book review >