Bad Church Good Church: A Memoir of a Former Catholic Priest by Tom Kane is a short, and surprisingly psychological book. It contains four parts. The most important of which discuss the author’s upbringing and journey to become a priest, the problems he faced, and how his beliefs have changed over time. The memoir is 136 pages in length and contains 41 extremely short chapters.
Mr. Kane begins his book by sharing the experience of seeing the Pope in person in 1968. Near the end of this opening section he writes, “I stared, deeply appalled, shocked and scandalized. Here was the Vicar of Christ, the representative of the suffering Jesus who called himself the servant of men and who washed their feet. Yet sat this mere man being treated like a god” (pg. 3). In the next chapter he discusses the two Catholic Churches. One is the Imperial Church that is not only intolerant and condemning of birth control, but also a protector of pedophile priests. The other is the People’s Church which is compassionate, sympathetic, and unfortunately, obedient. From the start the author’s tone is angry and gives the impression that he does not take responsibility for his actions. I found both to be irritating.
This lack of responsibility can be seen when the author explains the purpose for his book. Notice the phrase, “sentence that was imposed on him,” when he writes, “I wish to share with you how one man (me) conquered and overcame against all odds the sentence that was imposed on him. Perhaps you too have been dealt a similar life sentence that you may be questioning as you begin to know more about yourself, about your psychological make-up and about the influences that have shaped you. If this is so, read on. The life that you save may be your own” (pg. 7). This quote, with its mention of psychological make-up and influences, gives the reader a glimpse of what follows.
Much of the first half describes Tom’s birth, his parents and siblings, and the people who influenced his life. The majority of this takes place under the shadow of the Great Depression which was fascinating to read. One could see how the lack of a father greatly impacted him, and the sense of fear that pervaded his childhood. A few of these chapters deal with sex or his relationships with women. Both of these themes are revisited later in the memoir. The author did a great job of explaining events in his life so that the reader could understand why he made certain decisions. It was beneficial to read because it promoted self reflection of my own life and background. At least it did for this reviewer. Hopefully other readers will feel the same way.
The second half of the book focuses on a few things. Why he broke his vow of obedience, sex and relationships, and development of a non-religious spiritually. Many of these chapters speak of a person or event that deepen the wedge between the author and the Imperial Church. They also contain some critically important conversations. Although they are short, some of these are the most exciting parts of the book. One can see the conflict between a man struggling to keep his vows while also growing increasingly troubled with some of the teachings of the Catholic Church. The psychological aspect of the work really comes out at this point, which compliments the idea of influence that was mentioned earlier.
Unfortunately, this second half is also when the book becomes confusing. One challenge is keeping track of where Mr. Kane is in regards to time. The first half speaks of teachers and schools often. These help the reader to understand where the author is in his life. In the latter parts of the work, people come and go so quickly that the context of the narrative is harder to follow. It is also at this point that the memoir has a cheaper feel to it. This is related to some of the major topics becoming sex and the author’s relationships with women. More could be said about these things, but doing so would spoil the book.
Multiple sections near the end also speak of Mr. Kane’s spirituality. Like the relationship material just referred to, it gets pretty old. Some readers may consider these chapters compelling. Perhaps the author is demonstrating his freedom outside the confines of the priesthood and the Catholic Church. He does seem to have a sense of peace and appreciation for no longer being a part of a powerful religious organization. I found the spiritual aspect at the end of the book to be nonsense, which is almost exactly what the author says about a Buddhist belief elsewhere (pg. 6).
Despite these latter chapters, I am glad to say that Bad Church Good Church is better than my first impression let on. Reading of Mr. Kane’s upbringing and journey in and out of the priesthood was intriguing. I am also grateful for the times that he tried to help people. I believe him when he says that he was a good priest (pg. 98). I just cannot give the book a higher rating based on what is shared in the last half.
My Rating: 3 of 5 stars
A Priest Standing Before His Parishioners by 12019 from Pixabay.