Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch:
New book analyzes abuse crisis; in theaters, ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the April 8, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

Book Review

The new account of the history of sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic priests, Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II, is written by veteran journalists Jason Berry and Gerald Renner.

Berry is well-known for his ground-breaking articles in the National Catholic Reporter in the mid ’80s on sexual abuse by priests in Southern Louisiana.

Renner is the former reporter of the Hartford Courant who was the lead reporter on that paper’s investigative report on the founder of the Legion of Christ and accusations of sexual abuse of minors by nine former members.

Vows of Silence is not breaking new ground on the crisis in the Church. It is, however, a heavily-footnoted source of the events from the mid-’80s on, all in one place. Personally, for me much of the information was new or had added depth than what I had read through the years in newspapers.

The first part of the book centers on Thomas Doyle, who becomes a Dominican priest and eventually rises to an important position within the Vatican embassy in Washington D.C. He sees the initial reports on sexual abuse by priests in Louisiana. His mental antenna senses a crisis in the Church of major proportions unless new rules are put in place immediately to safeguard children. With the help of several interesting associates, in 1985 he prepares for high-ranking Vatican officials and American Bishops the document titled “The Problem of Sexual Molestation by Roman Catholic Clergy: Meeting the Problem in a Comprehensive and Responsible Manner.” The document includes proposals such as lay review boards and other protections that are similar to what eventually is adopted by the American Bishops in Dallas 2002.

In rapid, novel-like style, Vows of Silence gives Father Doyle’s view on why the document was deep-sixed. We follow his disillusionment and eventual decision to be a witness for victims in numerous court cases that happen through the years.

The second part of book revolves around the accusations of former seminarians and priests of the Legion of Christ against the founder of that Religious community, Father Marcial Maciel, who is still alive in Rome. Father Maciel met with Pius XII in 1946 and sought approval of his new congregation. In August of 1946 he took 34 of his young charges from Mexico to Spain, where he began what became the Legion of Christ.

From the 1950s on there have been accusations of sexual abuse of seminarians. In fact there was a Vatican investigation between 1956 and 1958. Evidently those who were abused lied at that time and claimed they were not abused. Only years later did nine of these former Legion priests and seminarians come forward. They pursued a case for eight of the men still alive all the way to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome. We are told the case still sits there with no action. Obviously, by the new American, rules if there was one credible accusation the priest would be removed.

On Jan. 4, 2001 Pope John Paul II spoke affectionately of Father Maciel on the 60th anniversary of the Legion’s founding.

The third section of the book is called “Witnesses for the People of God.” It speaks of other cases of sexual abuse and brings us up-to-date outside the primary stories of Fathers Doyle and Maciel. This diverse section has some moving stories such as a New Jersey bishop’s appearance before a group of abuse victims in his diocese. The part on a group of conservative women in St. Paul, Minn. challenging the Regnum Christi unit of the Legion is a powerful story.

Vows of Silence sees the conspiracy of silence on sexual abuse of minors by priests going all the way to the Vatican and Pope John Paul II. For me it was a difficult book to read. And yet this dark shadow side of the Church should never have been hidden. The American Bishops have asked for honesty and transparency. Jason Berry and Gerald Renner attempt to give us that in Vows of Silence.

(Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II by Jason Berry and Gerald Renner, Free Press, New York, 2003, hardcover, $26.)

Movie Review

In Dennis Lehane’s novel Mystic River, Annabeth is the stepmother of the murdered Katie and wife of Jimmy, the former convict gone straight. Annabeth tells the detective, Sean, “The person you love is rarely worthy of how big your love is. Because no one is worthy of that and maybe no one deserves the burden of it either. You’ll be let down. You’ll be disappointed and have your trust broken and have a lot of real sucky days. You lose more than you win. You hate the person you love as much as you love him.”

Michel Gondry directs Jim Carrey’s new film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. But the key to the movie is the script by the unique and always thought-provoking Charlie Kaufman. In a sense, Kaufman responds to Mystic River’s Annabeth with a masterpiece of the romantic comedy genre. This is a film that is certainly outside the box. This is a film that is well worth going on a roller coaster ride of originality and ingenuity. Eternal Sunshine is the best movie so far this year.

Before the opening credits we meet Joel Barish (Jim Carrey), a shy introvert who decides one morning not to go to work in New York City. He hops the train going the opposite way, out on Long Island. There on a cold winter beach he runs into the exuberant extrovert Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet). It becomes clear as the movie continues that Joel and Clementine fall in love. But the movie centers on their break-up. Joel finds out that Clem has gone to Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) to use the latest technology to remove all memories of Joel. He reacts in kind.

Most of the movie centers on the Doctor’s associates coming to Joel’s home and placing on his head a metal helmet that looks like something from a Flash Gordon movie. Joel is sedated. Stan (Mark Ruffalo), Patrick (Elijah Wood) and Mary (Kirsten Dunst) are the associates who rather unprofessionally party as the machine removes Joel’s memories of Clem.

So we see the love story of Joel and Clem as the memories are being removed from Joel’s mind. Eventually Joel tries to stop the removal of the memories because he now realizes he is losing all the wonderfully exciting and attracting memories of why he fell in love with a woman so different than himself. But as he is sedated it is a fight to save even one of the memories. How the story all works out for a Charlie Kaufman movie is surprisingly filled with a lack of cynicism. And above all it includes lots of hope.

At first blush, Eternal Sunshine is strikingly different from Sofia Coppola’s film Lost in Translation. But in reality it is attempting to raise the same questions about free will and memory when it comes to the beloved in our lives.

The plot of Eternal Sunshine may sound wacky, but I assure you it really goes deep into why people fall in love. If you give up the bad memories and the reasons you didn’t really love the other person, you risk not knowing what love is all about among wounded human beings. The reasons you dislike the other person are also the reasons you were attracted to the person in the first place. Eternal Sunshine is a retreat weekend for those preparing for marriage and maybe a new beginning for those long in a love that now seems so ordinary.

Jim Carrey does the best acting job of his career. Kate Winslet is wonderfully charming in a prize-winning role. The cinematography by Ellen Auras, the editing by Valdis Oskarsdottir, and the direction by Michel Gondry are extraordinary. Don’t miss this film.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is rated R for strong language, sexuality, and use of alcohol.

The USCCB Office for Film and Broadcasting rates Eternal Sunshine A-III – for adults.

(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane. His reviews frequently appear in the Cheney Free Press.)

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