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An American Parish Fights for Its Soul

by Jim Naughton

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-201-62458-3
Publisher: Addison-Wesley

Good-guy liberals stave off defeat from conservative authority figures in this depressing look at a progressive parish, which Naughton (Taking to the Air: The Rise of Michael Jordan, 1992) sees as a microcosm of the conflicts within American Catholicism. Holy Trinity Parish in Washington, D.C., attended by celebrities such as Senator Ted Kennedy and Dee Dee Myers, is soft on doctrinal orthodoxy and seldom refers to the Church's moral teachings about abortion, homosexuality, and contraception. Naughton, a former reporter for the New York Times and Washington Post and himself a parishioner, offers a detailed account of the parish, beginning in the spring of 1992 and covering the tense period when the appointment of a new pastor threatened to upset the status quo of dissent from Vatican authority. Naughton tells us, for example, about the activities of the Working Groups on Sexism and how Ray McGovern insisted on standing throughout Mass as a protest in favor of women's ordination. Although Naughton's narrative is full of vignettes and the personalities of individual priests and parishioners, his ideological thrust is always to the fore. He scorns the traditional Mass for its ``turgid solemnity,'' compared with the ``boisterous'' worship at Holy Trinity. Naughton makes no pretense of evenhandedness: The pope represents a distant bureaucratic power structure with little moral or doctrinal credibility; there is no attempt to acknowledge John Paul II's far-reaching critique of free-market capitalism. As Naughton himself confesses, the conflict he has with the hierarchy has ``the libidinal urge'' at the root of almost every issue. By the end of the book we find that many of Naughton's ``progressives'' are no longer Catholics, and the pastor is off exploring options in Los Angeles's gay scene. Holy Trinity hardly qualifies as a typical Catholic parish, and Naughton's penchant for crude polarization ensures a superficial treatment of the issues he raises.