I guess you could say that Brown, being Catholic, has the right to poke fun. I don't know. I'm not Catholic, but I am determined never to be someone mistaken for a Vatican hater.
One thing in which I was burdened in soul to do was share some details of my upcoming novel, The Broken Cross. Whereas Litany of Secrets utilized a setting of an Eastern Orthodox seminary, The Broken Cross takes place all over St. Louis but is entrenched in the cloaked and uncloaked intrigue of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. I knew I'd have some number of Catholic readers, but there were some I thought I needed to speak with above all.
Mike is a friend for nearly twenty-five years. Born Catholic, he declared Gospel free agency and became a Presbyterian (serving as a elder in a couple churches) before reconverting (is that a word?) back to Roman Catholicism. William teaches at a Catholic seminary in Minnesota; I've known him for only a couple years but I greatly respect his insight and wisdom. Deb is my former English teacher, and she more than anyone is the reason why I love writing today. She is a lifelong Catholic, a product of Catholic schools...let's face it, she knows every brick on the Roman Road.
All three people I respect. I wanted them to know the general contours of my upcoming novel. And I wanted them to know my intentions. So I emailed them all at once:
"Within the storyline, there are references to a fictionalized religious order and a lay movement that injects some of the tragic backstory to the main plot. Some of that includes financial impropriety and the haunting resonation of sexual abuse scandal, although the details are very toned down. My purpose in doing this is not to fire shots at the Vatican a la Dan Brown, but simply to make a story that bears many wounds both realistic and, eventually, redemptive. I can say that the way the story begins in my author’s note begins this hope where I tell readers “[D]o not interpret The Broken Crossas a punchy diatribe against the Catholic Church. An institution of more than one billion followers will have ample faults among its leadership and lay members. To its credit, the Vatican has owned up to a number of its failings.” The story ends in a way that depicts the RCC as honest, forthright, and somewhat heroic.
As a Protestant, I know my own tradition is fraught with wounds, scars, warts, and the brokenness that comes from being a group of sinful people on a common but frail mission together. Although I’ve referenced the Eastern Orthodox tradition in Litany of Secrets and Catholicism in The Broken Cross, the varieties of Protestant expression are within my literary rifle sights in upcoming volumes. And one would argue my criticism of my own spiritual family within those books is more pointed. We’ll see, if we ever get to those for publication. I’m sure much will be in the eye of the beholder. I simply want you three to know for sure that whatever troubling matters occur within my story, they are for the sake of story, not to excoriate the RCC, and the story heads in a direction which I hope eventually shows my appreciation for the RCC.
But I wanted to share the details of my upcoming release with the three of you, mainly due to the respect I have for you and for the intellectual and spiritual vigor you have given and continue to give me as a fellow pilgrim on God’s road. Most grateful I am that we are part of this family tree of faith and that through the gift of story, we can come to grips with faith in newer and bolder ways.
“We also have to admit that we are a bunch of sinners in pursuit of salvation. And when we experience salvation, we’re also able to lead others to it. I’m not saying that everybody needs to be a public sinner before we can preach about God’s grace, but if anybody should stumble and fall, that should not be the last word. Stumbling and falling is an invitation for us to hold on more firmly to the hand of God.” (Cardinal Peter Turkson)
Many thanks for your time spent reading this, for your faith, and for your prayers as I continue to explore my own."
Their responses? Nothing short of amazing. Absolutely full of grace and class.
One said: "Please set your mind at ease about the way in which Catholics or the Church are depicted. I think I'm safe in saying that you would be almost constitutionally incapable of communicating contempt or scorn for the RCC. In any case, the sins of her members are the reason she exists at all, eh?
Another: "As a writer telling a story, it must have context and backdrop to be believable...Including events ripped from the headlines concerning the RCC as the backdrop is certainly appropriate. I have spent a good bit of time in [places like these where] I found more challenges to my faith than I have ever encountered in newspapers or novels."
The third: "I agree...that I would not question your motives, either, because...[t]here is no denying the RCC is fraught with scandal and impropriety, but knowing you, you did not write this book to exploit or condemn."
I'm sure my friends appreciated being brought into the loop about my specific intentions. But just the same, I am profoundly appreciative of their sensitivity and understanding. To hear that from them meant the world to me.
In his novel South of Broad, Pat Conroy once said, "There is a lot wrong with the Catholic Church, but my people know how to put on a show." This is no mere show, with all due respect. There are flaws in faith communities, to be sure, and the Catholic Church may be one of them, but I have experienced class and grace from its people.
Mike, William, and Deb...Many thanks.