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AGONY IN THE GARDEN by John van der Zee


Sex, Lies and Redemption from the Troubled Heart of the American Catholic Church

by John van der Zee

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 1-56025-471-8

An ugly true tale of pastoral wrongdoing by lapsed Catholic and accomplished reporter van der Zee (The Gate, 1987, etc.).

In the diocese of Santa Rosa, California, until very recently, the corruption began at the top, with a sexually predatory bishop who responded to charges that one of his priests had been embezzling funds by embarking on a years-long affair with that subordinate, diverting yet more dollars from the church into the priest’s bank account to secure his silence. Though victimized, the priest deserved little sympathy; he was in essence a con man practicing religion without a license, and he found himself in an ideal position to blackmail the boss. In the meanwhile, van der Zee chronicles, other priests and monsignors in the remote diocese—a place to which clerics who had committed crimes or sins elsewhere had long been banished—were busily preying on teenage boys, siphoning funds, and otherwise doing things holy men are not supposed to do. Not that this is a surprise, van der Zee writes in one of his analytical asides; citing a study by a former Benedictine, he estimates that only half of all priests practice celibacy, while of the rest “ten percent have homosexual behaviors, five percent are problem masturbators, four percent are ephebephiles—involved with adolescent partners—two percent are pedophiles and one percent are transvestites.” Regardless of the soundness of those figures, it’s clear to van der Zee that the sexual scandals now embroiling the Church have much to do with the exclusion of married heterosexuals and women from the priesthood—and with a culture that, as in the Santa Rosa diocese, protects its persistent sinners rather than exacting confession and punishment.

Sure to excite controversy, a strong indictment that turns over large stones and finds hellish serpents underneath.