Father James Kavanaugh discusses his book "A Modern Priest Looks at His Outdated Church"
BROADCAST: Jul. 5, 1967 | DURATION: 00:58:59
Father James Kavanaugh discusses his book “A Modern Priest Looks at His Outdated Church," confession, how he’s treated as a priest, Vatican II, celibacy, Includes excerpts of interviews with Diane Romano, a Catholic woman who discusses her marriage, her family, birth control
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Diane Romano He knows all about me, for one thing, and he knows that even if I don't do everything exactly right, my heart's in the right place, I'm trying to do everything right. And I think things could be a lot worse for me if he wasn't smiling on me. And I know he smiles on me quite a bit. Because it's no easy job raising six children. And for them to be as good as they are. They are good children. And I think that he's given me most of my -- When I'm thinking, thinking about how to manage and how to do things, I know my strength comes from him because many times I feel, "Oh, what in the world am I doing? Here I am. I'm a nothing, and how am I going to manage?" Not so much even the financial part of it, just sometimes the thinking part of it. This one has to be talked to this way, and this one has to have a crack, because the only thing this one will understand is a physical thing. The other one, Karen, is a dreamer. And so I don't want to bust her bubble, that's going to be busted soon enough. So let her enjoy it right now. Kar-- Kathleen, on the other hand, is a fun, fun girl and she needs the brains tightened up on her. Karen Amy could walk around the block at ten o'clock at night and I wouldn't worry about her because I know she's daydreaming and she's okay. Christine is a shy, shy girl who's pulled herself out of her shyness only to be a pest to people. Believe me, she used to hide under the beds when she was a little teeny girl. Now, she's a pest. She picks at you and she pulls at you, but basically she's still a very shy person. But this is her way of pulling herself out. And I think God has given me the understanding to cope with each one of their problems. I don't know, maybe, maybe it's, maybe it's my, maybe He's my strength, maybe He's my pillar. My mother says I have a backbone of steel. I don't believe that. I think that everybody's got to have something which they can lean. Some people have their parents. Other people have a financial backing, and I don't have any of that. So what I've got is God and He's truly, I mean, He's truly a personal thing, he's just not a god. He is my God. This is the way I feel about it. He is mine.
Studs Terkel And so a woman called Diane Romano, separated from her husband, very devout Catholic mother of six, telling about herself and where her strength comes from. And she says, "My God, personal" and somewhere I think that's one of the credos of a remarkable book written by our guest, Father James Kavanaugh, the book of which you undoubtedly may have heard, called "A Modern Priest Loooks at His Outdated Church," and it's published by Trident Press, and this is obviously an explosive book. When -- Father Kavanaugh, when we ask about yourself and the nature of this book, in hearing the woman we call Diane, I suppose thoughts occur to you. You've come across many
James Kavanaugh Oh, boy, I sure have. That's it really. It grabs you when you hear that because that's the, that's the whole story, you know. So trusting thinking something is going to happen, and this and this great personal faith, great confidence in God. And when I was listening to her, the one the one thing that impressed me was, here is theology. You know, all the books and everything else, here is somebody living it out, and in those words, Just that statement of "My God" indicating everything that theology can say, this personal concept of faith.
Studs Terkel Thinking of Father Kavanaugh, the comment, why I'd chosen excerpts from Diane and one from someone later on, a man we call Stan Leonard, with you as guest, because throughout your book is really a plea for personal, it's really a challenge to the impersonality of the church as it has been.
James Kavanaugh Actually, yeah and I think that's been in the confessional where you've treated everyone like, almost completely without circumstances. The very nature of the confessional lends itself to that. I suppose you'd go mad if you actually during the 13 years that I've been a priest, you could have seen all those people that you cut off just with a simple word. And that's one of the reasons that I advocate that confession should be actually a dialogue, an occasional thing, whereby you would sit down with a person and they would see you as a human being, and understand you as a human being, with the same weaknesses that they have. And not just a kind of a [historical?] machine passing judgment. This hurts the priest as much as it does the person.
Studs Terkel Well, this come to this point, seeing you as a human being because the last [murmur?] throughout the book there is this thread, I, James Kavanaugh, Father James Kavanaugh. No one ever called you "Jim," just father.
James Kavanaugh That's
James Kavanaugh Yeah. And I think that you just pick it up all the time, you know, walking into a hotel. I think it would be a most important thing for anybody, like yourself, that's interested in this dimension of life, just to wear a collar for about three days, just to walk into a hotel and see how the bellboy treats you, and the cabdriver. I was mentioning this morning the cab driver picked me up very early, about six o'clock, there was nobody on the street, and apparently there was a young guy and his girlfriend who were either coming home late or starting out early and they were smooching a little bit, waiting for the light at the corner of State and Madison and the cab driver really blew his stack, and made a few unkind remarks, and a couple suggestive remarks, and then by the time we got to our destination I'm sure had been troubling him all the time that he had a priest in the cab. So as I was getting out, he said, "Gee, Father, I'm really sorry about those remarks I made back there, you know," it was as if suddenly man to man, we couldn't share this very humorous experience, he just sort of cut me out of his life.
Studs Terkel You know, you said something that to me is very fascinating right now, Father Kavanaugh, this matter, suppose I, anyone, Catholic, non-Catholic, member of the laity, had worn a collar for three days. The attitude -- I would be a different person, wouldn't I? Considered differently than if I am what I am. Just suppose John Howard Griffin's experiment, you know.
James Kavanaugh I never thought of that, but "Black Like Me" is the same idea. It's the question of, the real fact is that you begin to believe it after a while, that you're called other Christ. You're a different kind of a man. And soon that you have this on this very attitude about yourself, and it's it's extremely hard for you to accept the fact that people will talk back to you. And I think many times, for example, they can be most hostile about fundraising programs or things in the parish that aren't being done. And yet, we never get this kind of honest feedback. And I think the higher up you go in the church, the more this is true. They have a saying that "Priests seldom hear the truth, and bishops never," and I think there's a lot of truth in that.
James Kavanaugh That's right. That's right. You just become a figure. And and we kind of built, we build in, actually, I think our own set of supports for this by telling the people, you know, the priest has a special vocation and I know that I'm not really as dedicated as Diane listening to this woman taking care of six kids without a man on the scene. I mean, that's dedication. I'd like to see the priests who can match that kind of
Studs Terkel How did you, now we come to a certain kind of young priest, Father Kavanaugh, who was challenging, he is -- It is your church, you will never leave it. You say, there's your god, you are a part of him, he is part of you, but nonetheless you are challenging. And the way in which an institution has been conducted for centuries.
James Kavanaugh Yes, I think that. See, I think that you reach a point when, when you're first affiliated with the institution, you're very proud of your job, your parents are praising you and your friends, and your education has been kind of a sheltered thing. Suddenly you're vaulted into the world. But then after a time, when you actually see how the very people that you want to help, such as the Dianes, I mean these are the ones that are really struggling. What can you really do, other than a word of comfort? But you can't really get to the root of the situation, and after a while you say, well, what did Christianity intend to do? And you don't quite have the audacity to attack the structure because kind of a white-haired gentle Irish pastor can pat you on the head and, you know, simply say, "Well, my boy, in God's wisdom" or "It's God's will," and this
Studs Terkel When did you, when did you begin, Father Kavanaugh, when did you begin to question -- We realize that Vatican II obviously has played a role here in the thoughts of many, particularly young priests and young nuns and young members of the laity with John and the opening of the window. Is this a factor?
James Kavanaugh Yeah, I think so. I think emotionally that a man actually begins questioning, oh, very early in the priesthood, at least I did. But you're a product, Studs, of a whole scholastic kind of thought, almost a systematic theology, where all of your talents, all of your energies, are used to think up almost clever ways of defending the system. It's it's very hard to get across unless you've been really in it, so you're constantly defending. And then I think when with Vatican II or perhaps more specifically with Pope John, you begin to see that here was a human being who was just in his life seemed to scoff at these traditional institutions in a way. And then of course, after Pope John died, the word was out, well now they're going to have to pick up the pieces. And I really didn't feel that way, I didn't feel there were any pieces to pick up. But I think a fortunate thing in my life was about four years ago I went back to graduate school and had the time just to go at these things intellectually and to examine the sources of the various dogmas and truths and moral positions and to see that they were a relative thing. Actually, at a given time in history, they were the means of trying to preserve permanent Christian values and thank God we outgrow these.
James Kavanaugh I don't think that it can, because I think the fact that I'm just an ordinary priest and I think that a priest being able to speak out as I have and to receive the support of his fellows proves something, because certainly five years ago I wouldn't have had the guts. And three years ago I don't think the air would have been ready at all.
Studs Terkel So it comes back to you and beginnings, I suppose in many cases in Catholic and Irish families, Italian, in your case an Irish family, being a priest I suppose when you were, when you first decided as a small -- You mentioned that a good deal of this is all -- throughout autobiographical that is, spiritually as well as, as well as literally. But when you -- This was a great honor, was it not?
James Kavanaugh Well, you were set apart. In our family it was a question of I think kind of a defensive self-conscious family with a bit of talent. Parents uneducated, actually Chicago people. They had about eighth grade, mother about ninth, and but a lot of ambition, a lot of vision. And the sons, it was education, you've got to get something, as they always said, "Nobody can take away," and so I have four brothers that are doctors, you know. And but I was kind of the chosen in the sense that I was the -- My brothers used to call me "King Seminarian." And that's how the process began, and you really were, you got a great deal of attention at home and wear your black suit armed with your big missal, and you, you were set apart from the rest of the community.
Studs Terkel The question of being set apart, and then there's a question of the theology and seminary life. And then throughout there is the consciousness of James Kavanaugh, now Father Kavanaugh, that he is still a human being. I mean, there's a, there's always this problem of suppressing humanity in you, isn't there?
James Kavanaugh Yes, I think that kind of a denial almost of your own emotions and I think one of the things that it came to the fore was in my thinking through of the position on celibacy. I had a buddy at Catholic University who wasn't a student there, just came to see me very troubled priest, and real man, Italian boy, and I just really liked him, who was having a problem with some woman that he had met and he had fought the temptation, resisted it, and everything else. But one of the most devoted priests, Studs, that I think I ever knew and we were jogging around the track one day, keeping in shape as we occasionally did, and he really poured out his heart to me and it struck me quite deeply. And it was then that I wrote that article. In fact, I sat down and I wrote the thing on celibacy just in four hours.
James Kavanaugh Yes yes. And I actually sat on the article for three years almost, or two years before it was published, but he just poured himself out and said "It doesn't make sense." And so he said, "For crying out loud, why don't you do something about it? You can write," so that's when I think it all began it.
Studs Terkel And perhaps you even talk about that, so you spoke of the matter here of the problem, the young priest and celibacy, that is a man and he's a human being, and the subject of marriage in a moment, perhaps possibilities. The reaction to your piece astonished you, didn't it?
James Kavanaugh Absolutely overwhelming. I can't describe to you, I'll sound melodramatic, I'm sure, but when I read those letters, I was literally just almost in a state of suspended animation because they struck me so hard and I remember when the "Post" would send me the letters, because they knew my identity, I would get a big
James Kavanaugh I was Father Nash and I would open them hoping that someone would support my position, because I was kind of afraid, and actually what the letters were, were stories of the sufferings of the people like Diane who told their whole story and in a sense it amounted to "You think you got troubles. Listen to this." Not complaining, but identifying with me, saying in effect, "Well, you opened your heart to us. Okay. You apparently want us to do it in turn." And those letters, all of which I still have and always will have, were just a fantastic experience.
Studs Terkel Without, you know, this matter, you -- The book, by the way, is quite a marvelous book, the one of Father Kavanaugh, "A Modern Priest Looks at His Outdated Church" is written with, if I could use this word, "passion" in the true sense. Passion. Passion means just that, doesn't it? I mean, we speak of the passion play.
James Kavanaugh Yeah, absolutely it does. That's what it is. And you can't go through this kind of an experience without feeling it very deeply and I guess you just can't write a clinical book about something that's as close to you.
Studs Terkel Because you're talking here about being confessor, and again I think of Fellini films, "8 1/2," Fellini "8 1/2," or some early Italian or Neo-Realistic Italian films, and the institution, who is a man, but an institution in that box and someone confessing to this disembodied voice, you're saying there's a man and somewhere you put "the fiercest confessor is the man nearest sin." I put this line down of yours.
James Kavanaugh Yeah, so truly because this particular individual is actually -- Has never been involved with life, and when that involvement comes it's going to just cascade upon him. I can think of a lot of experiences I've had with priests of that kind that, you know, they've they've so shielded themselves and gained their kind of ego support and strength not as man does in loving someone and being loved or letting himself be loved, but in assuming that kind of a role, and boy, when someone breaks through that role, it's just the end very quickly.
James Kavanaugh Yeah, I think that and I think that, you know, people will sometimes say, "Well, we did gain a lot of solace from the confessional," and it's true, but it wasn't the truly deep human solace that it could have been. It was a kind of a system of guilt that we built through finding sin everywhere, in every little thought and act and then we were the ones that at the same time we eradicated this guilt. But now I think we we're able finally to take a step way beyond that. And that's what makes me excited about this prospects.
James Kavanaugh Well, actually I've tried to hear confessions like this where an individual feels no need to come in and to confess each little adulterous thought or indiscretion or whatever it happens to be, but can sit down maybe after a year or a year and a half and kind of talk things over and say, "This is the direction in which I see my life. I just want to talk," and I think what I as a priest like to look for, even when I'm confessing myself, I like to give a kind of a general direction or orientation of my life, here's the way I'm going. I'm not the man I was. And I think with this kind of help, and a person laying himself open, confession could really be a meaningful experience.
James Kavanaugh Absolutely, Studs. It was so often, you know, we were just judged, and that's a terrible position to be in. Christ says, you know, "Judge not, lest you be judged," and I think that's the whole story, that I kneel down with this man and we ask God's forgiveness and having experienced this I come through to him not as a phoney just as sinful or more sinful than he is and it doesn't put us in this awesome position of some kind of an artificial demi-god.
James Kavanaugh It's the whole concept of service, and I think the institution has asked man to fit himself into the mold. See, what are we doing for the Diane? Okay, she's found her way but it's been through her God. And I actually don't think that this is what it was intended to be when when Christ washed the Apostles' feet, he meant something.
Studs Terkel Since you mentioned Diane, suppose we hear her voice again. This time the subject she has six children separated from her husband, not divorced, separated. And the idea, she says the oldest boy is a problem because she's there and she knows a man is needed in the house. And someday he'll find a church wedding but all of this is let's hear
James Kavanaugh Okay.
Diane Romano I don't like having to be the leader of the family. I don't like this. I'd rather be second in command. I'd I'd love to have a man in the house here. Of course that's absolutely impossible, but
Diane Romano Oh, yes. Yes. They would put me in a position of never having been married with six children, which is what it's going to turn out to be. It's going to work out that I've never been married and I've had six children.
Diane Romano Oh yes. Yes. I mean, everything, it it'll all work out, but I understand that it takes years and years and years and years and years. And I'm in no hurry, I make spiritual communion on Sunday so I feel okay. Like I said, I feel a rapport with God and I know everything's all right.
James Kavanaugh Yes, I think we've been able again by systematization to say that actually because, actually because a girl like Diane is baptized and married a baptized person before a priest, we have immediately been willing to call this a sacrament, a marriage in Christ. No one is questioning the permanence of marriage, but one is questioning that every time this takes place that she did marry in Christ and then it cannot be dissolved, and the position I'm taking is that the sacrament means that there's love existing, it doesn't mean that things have to be going well, but when it's obviously disintegrated, it means that this person has a new chance for marriage to find God in human relationship.
Studs Terkel And this connects with your book here. There's a chapter on the legalism of the church. You mentioned cases, you think of Doug and Martha and the guy they call "the sallow introvert," and the woman who was a sister to her husband, these cases that are so overwhelmingly tragic.
James Kavanaugh Yeah. And it's not only, you know, you just go cases just today when I was checking out of a hotel. There was a man at the desk came up and happened to recognize me and stopped me and embarrassed me, he said, "Can I have your autograph?" which hurt, and he told me that, a very simple man, here to celebrate some convention have a little fun, he said, "Fifteen years, Father, I've been married to this woman, it's been a beautiful marriage, but I married outside the church because I was divorced," and he said, "There's just nothing I can do now. I've raised my children in the faith and I can't receive the sacraments with them." And gee, this just doesn't make any sense and it doesn't have to be that way theologically or humanly.
Studs Terkel I think this might, might I just suggest to the listeners, to be readers and in the church in the legal code that you use you are quite specific among some of your, involving some of your parishioners in the case of Doug and Martha, perfect case in point, how does -- The marriage made no sense!
James Kavanaugh No, utterly rejected him and ultimately they forced him to kind of break with the family. This is a common Catholic experience where the the crippling of the whole family cut him off because of a code, that's what it amounts to.
Studs Terkel This matter of code and legalism, you say that theologically it makes, theologically just, well, just as a matter of history in the past there was -- You speak of the seminar learning of moats and drawbridges, the idea that this is of a medieval time.
James Kavanaugh Yes, absolutely, because we, we've, theology has really moved today in the last five years and I really think it started when the wars in Europe reminded the thinkers of that day how little Christianity had done. As one German Jew said, Mark Schaler, "Either Christianity has failed or it has not been tried." I think that kind of summed it up. And with this and there came this great theological ferment, the law has remained firm. Our laws go back centuries in evaluating modern marriages. Birth control. The whole problem is as has failed to keep up with the current development of theology.
James Kavanaugh Yeah, and we've always had the excuse in the church, "Well, it takes time and it will come around," you can see that in some of Diane's statements that there was kind of a patience there. It may come. Well, the world unfortunately doesn't move that way anymore, and what is whispered in Europe today is is heard in the afternoon in America, and theology is moving that quickly. So I think I really don't feel there's anything new in the book. We've talked about these ideas for years, and it's time now that they were among the people, because theological change I'm convinced comes from the people.
Studs Terkel Question I must ask you, Father Kavanaugh, James Cavanaugh our guest, Father Kavanaugh, the -- How much of the young priesthood you represent. You, you paint pictures here of the young guys on the make, really, the young monsignors, a phrase you [rep?] by the writing is excellent: "With confident smiles and ambitious eyes." You know? And others, the young priest, [unintelligible] be a boy to you rather than the man, he was like a machine
James Kavanaugh I think I am I'm I'm I'm growing more and more typical. The priest I'm 38 now, ordained 13 years, and the priests that are of my vintage, their educational structure makes it very hard to grow. And I've talked to different ones around the country who almost pleadingly say, "Well, how do we get out of this bind?" Educationally, it's hard for them to move. But I would say that the young priest has shaken us, he just needs the support of someone speaking out and that's why I think Thomas Merton said in writing to me, "We need three or four books like this, because is the only way we're going to have the kind of personal faith and personal
James Kavanaugh Didn't expect it, you know, and in fact he wrote me two letters and after "America" came out with a rather savage review of the book, the Catholic journal "America," he said, "Well, that's to be expected, but don't lose your courage," he said. "You have the right idea, and hang in." So that was really very
James Kavanaugh Well, there hasn't been too much Catholic support, although I think Bernard Cok did a fair job, the Jesuit from Marquette who was head of theology there and wrote a very fair review, and "National Catholic Reporter" had a good, reasonably good review. I don't expect total agreement, but at least they were fair and they stuck to issues, and the latest, the latest reports in the Catholic press is somewhat less hysterical.
James Kavanaugh Yes, and I think Vatican II established that, Studs, in the sense that religious liberty that which was one of the results that Vatican II brought about. Well, we've been practicing that for years. I learned it in my own neighborhood, actually with the kids that I was raised with, Jewish and Protestant kids. And I think the same way with the new democratic ideals in the church, the so-called collegiality. I think America played a great part in that, just putting it into practice now. And I think it -- I think the birth control issue is [solved? sound?] because sincere people know that it just doesn't make sense not to limit your family.
Studs Terkel Since you mentioned birth control, could we hear our friend again, Diane, let's hear her now, she's talking, here's Diane, who is very strong, [but?] quite a remarkable woman in her community, a friend of Florence Scala, perhaps Chicago's most remarkable lady. And Diane was also involved in fighting for the neighborhood Harrison/Halsted and grew. Tells about her conversation with her mother and she had six kids she wasn't sure she is -- Well, let's hear her talk about it. [pause in recording] What's your feeling on this?
Diane Romano I definitely feel that there should be birth control because the church is making sinners out of -- I venture to say 85 percent of the Catholics, because they say using contraceptives or of any type is a sin. And you know darn well that 85 percent of the Catholics are using some kind of birth control. So what they're doing is really making sinners out of good Catholics. A person cannot afford more than three or four children, why in the good Lord's name have them if you can't take care of them? And I believe I'm a devout Catholic, but how? Good gravy, I think that's the biggest, that's, that's the thing they really ought to do something about and I have heard that they intend to do something about it besides what they've already got out. But really, I think this is a matter for the married couple. For them to decide how many children they want. God bless them if they want six or better. And God bless them if they only want two or they feel that that's all they can cope with. I have a girlfriend who is a very good Catholic. She's at number seven. She is a person that can least take care of two children, much less seven.
Studs Terkel And here she talks of her friend, too, who has got seven, says the girl can hardly take care of two, she was crying, yet there seems to be this lack of understanding. She says the point that 80 percent of the of Catholics really are sinning when it comes to the church and that they're practicing.
James Kavanaugh I think, and too, you know, see these are the real hard problems that she's discussing, and so often in a legalistic structure an individual can keep the rules. You take the person who may be fairly middle-class, well-off financially has a regular period or a good old [B?] man or something, she can resolve all these problems and may not be giving her husband or family love, may really be a very selfish person who is disgusted with sex and simply goes through the motions, and then she got very involved, passionate people like these, and they're sinning and this just isn't, this isn't Christ talking.
James Kavanaugh Yes. And I think that the whole concept of sin is built very much into our educational structure. When you, when you're playing for such stakes as hell, every man fears death. I guess all fear in some way is centered on death, but the Catholic ethic has gone one step farther and it has made this death potentially absorbed in eternal suffering. And the Catholic has been taught since childhood that by a single act he could actually inherit this. And I think every Catholic listening to me can go back in his own life and remember the terror. There was an impure thought or maybe look at a billboard and see a gal in a suggestive bathing suit or something. I remember reading in "Life" magazine at 10 or 11 years old just panicky, trying to look away from this picture and then rushing to confession or any of the adolescent problems of masturbation or your first dating and so forth, everything was sin, sin, the whole hang-up was on sin, and the other thing that it did, it made it a very personal thing, a very self-centered relationship with God, it didn't involve going out to another person to see what was actually happening in the relationship.
Studs Terkel I was thinking, you know, in James Joyce in "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" speaks of that sermon he heard by the priest of all hellfire, the terror he felt, that this eyes flashing.
James Kavanaugh And that's not exaggerated at all. You know, it's in no way exaggerated. I think Mary McCarthy has written very knowingly about this, too, memories of a Catholic girlhood, this tremendous concept of fear and unless an individual has experienced it, it's hard to describe it. I can remember college kids coming to me when I was a Newman chaplain, maybe just back from a date, and they get a little too passionate with a girlfriend and couldn't go to sleep that night or couldn't drive 30 miles for fear that they'd end up in an accident or God would take them. These weren't simply superstitious non-entities, these were really very intelligent young men, yet they couldn't shake this guilt.
Studs Terkel I think what's terribly moving about Father Kavanaugh's book is just that, that it's personal, that you speak of your own memory and quite obviously, it seems to reach so many of the readers, Catholic readers, "That, that's the way I felt!" And you touched upon that very thought that they had never expressed.
James Kavanaugh Well, yeah, it's it's it's your own your own nerve endings, I guess, in a sense, and you reach the point where I've given 23 years to the church, since I was a boy 15 years of age. I've lived this life, and if after a while you've read all the books, Studs, and you've studied all the various theses and you've gotten the doctorate in it, all this just doesn't mean anything. The thing, pretty soon you look and you say, "This is my life, it's the only one I got, and it's going to be over." And if I have any experience what they're describing in this way, then I don't have any feeling that anybody else has, either, so I'm just going to lay it out, and that's the way it's going to be.
James Kavanaugh That's what I think the whole concept is, it's, you know, you can't think of some kind of a primeval myth that made man simply evil. But it's this this real struggle within all of us, to give ourselves kind of that that gamble that I guess you take in marriage or friendship or anything else that you'll
Studs Terkel As you were talking, there are so many aspects of this book, the book itself, "A Modern Priest Looks at His Outdated Church," that I've marked throughout, a matter of confessing, the one act or as you say, the one act that might condemn a person to hell. A guy coming to you confessing he's a money grubber, he's anti-Negro, he's confessing to the fact that he swore once.
James Kavanaugh That's right. How many times did you ever hear a person say that -- I think in my priesthood I could number them on both hands and thousands of hours I spent in the confessional a person saying, "Father, I've gotten very materialistic," or "I'm losing my way," or "I'm really concerned about this Negro situation." And I think that I think the reason is is that we've had the tremendous race problems in areas that the church had strong educational structures here in Chicago, in Philadelphia, where we really didn't make any impression. And right now you wonder if a man is taking it at face value, I still see us mixed up in all the folderol, one can't help reading when we see our cardinals being made and so forth, "Gee, I was just hoping one cardinal would say to the Pope, send me the red hat C.O.D. I'm not going to go through all the all this nonsense of dragging half my curia over with me and having endless parties and celebrations. I've got a job to do and I'll just do it."
James Kavanaugh Yeah. When you're so much inbred, you forget after awhile how others must see you. And I think that's been one of our large problems that we've been, we all have people kissing our hand and calling us "Father" within the structure, but if we could just stand back from that structure long enough and see ourselves as the world sees us, it would be most enlightening, and one of the best ways of doing that I find is just to get that collar off and just be among men. I had a fantastic experience this summer when, if I may
James Kavanaugh When I took my leave of absence from the diocese, the bishop asked me to take a parish and I told him I needed some time to think, because I didn't want to create a row in a parish, I thought maybe I better write about it. So he reluctantly gave permission. I went out to California and for the first time in my life, I took an apartment. And I'd write maybe from seven in the morning 'til four in the afternoon or so, and fix my own lunch, which was new, and then I'd go down to the pool and there'd be Air Force pilots there in California and girls, office girls and so forth, and I walk on the scene in my bathing suit, and absolutely ignored. And it occurred to me I'd never been ignored in my life. I had never walked into a crowd and had somebody not say, "Hi, Father" or go to a party and immediately the champagne or the coffee is in my hand, I'm well taken care of, I'm introduced to the guests and the conversation starts. I was there two weeks, Studs, and I don't think anybody knew my name or really cared, because I and I I found myself nervous and scared for the first time in my life of [having to?] actually have to saying, "Hi, I'm Jim," and "What do you do?" "Well, I write. I'm a priest" and you wanna tell him I was a priest on leave of absence and it was no big thing, you know.
Studs Terkel Father James Cavanaugh is our guest, and for those who may have tuned in late, I hope you haven't, 'cause this will be replayed, I'm sure, several times. "A Modern Priest Looks at His Outdated Church" and this is the book that critics describe as explosive, and explosive in the sense that an explosion is good, if it -- Explosion and that the human being is filled with passion and explodes at times. You have done so.
James Kavanaugh Yeah, I think it's just something you can't help. I mean it's it's it's there and you're ready to say it, and I don't feel like I exaggerate or underspeak, I just speak right from my heart and call it as I see it, I guess.
Studs Terkel Before I ask you about your thoughts here and your thoughts on parochial schools and their relevance to the 20th century, there's someone else, the question of sin pursuing everyone consistently, a young actor who is a homosexual. Stan Leonard, I call him; a devout Catholic, he's gone to several priests, and one said, "Why don't you find a girl?" Another one said, "That's a terrible thing." The third one sort of understood. But here he's talking about the one moment he felt free from sin when he was a small boy. And we hear him now. What sort of world would you like to see? Remake the world.
Stan Leonard I suppose I'd like to see the kind that I remember. There's one time in my life when I felt absolutely pure, white and clean and good inside and outside albeit 50 percent of this feeling was due to the white communion suit, probably, but that was my first Holy Communion day. It was a marvelous feeling because it was sunshiny, the suit was bright white, clean. The shoes were white. Everything was white. And I felt white and clean and good. And I'd like to have that kind of a world, a world where naivety comes back into being. That's not a silly word. It's a beautiful word, really. And the kind where anybody can say whatever they would like to say and be perfectly honest about it. I think that we've gotten so wrapped up in stories and red tape and all this other jazz that the world has lost so much
Studs Terkel Let's stay with this white communion suit and this day. You've seen Fellini films, haven't you? 'Cause I'm thinking about that he -- Of course, this is with -- How old were you when you had your first communion?
Stan Leonard Right. Purity and truth and yes, innocence. And, and I think that's what is lacking from so many adults, supposedly adult, human beings today is an innocence. They're ashamed to use the word, they're ashamed to -- So many people are ashamed to cry, ashamed to really have feelings. I must include myself in the group, because maybe this is one of the reasons I have not been able to open up myself to accept anyone else into my life, anyone really closely.
Studs Terkel This is Stan recalling, he says the white communion suit, that moment. Now what happened to him after that, to all human beings, when he was free at that moment, he felt good. He felt sinless. He didn't know what sin meant, really.
James Kavanaugh Yeah, it's a very touching experience I share, you know, and I think that's one of the points I try to make is that this was a great religion when you were a child, because it was all very structured and everything fit in. But when you become a man, it somehow deserts you and it made you great promises and I think a boy like Stan is typical of so many of our moral positions. You know, what have we ever done for the homosexual? I remember having one at confession one time, and he told me his story, you know, involved with a couple other guys and at the end of the confession I must have been almost brokenhearted myself. And I said, "I just don't feel I can let you go away," and that little bit of kindness, which was not much, made him come to me outside the confession and just want to talk it over. But we've never had the courage to take a stand in a in a question like this. We've never had a bold moral theology. So for example, the homosexual once he's 20, 21, 22, and this is pretty much inveterate, there's not anything he can do about it. Okay, he faces a choice. He's either going to get into some kind of a relationship that's meaningful, or he's going to be constantly troubled with promiscuity. And I don't say I know the answer, but I remember meeting one in my travels in Mexico who bought me a drink and I didn't know he was homosexual and we got talking, and he actually made a kind of overture to me, and I told him, I said, "I'm really not inclined that way, but I love to talk to you." So and he really poured out his heart to me, a very gifted person. And I think he gave me an understanding I had never had, of the problem but it was all told us how we were to react to these people.
James Kavanaugh And every moral question like this, Studs, this is kind of my point. Every moral question like this will come in on the tail end, will be the Johnny-come-lately, interracial marriage, for example. The closest thing we've ever come to it was saying, "Well, it's permissible." I think a Christian stand would be to say that maybe in this our generation it might be recommended in several instances. No, but we'll barely touch it. And the same way with homosexuality, we askance at things that are said in England and then maybe five years later, when somebody has the courage really to face the situation, that this may be a natural type of life for them or that there's just a lot we don't know, we'll come in on the tail end of it again.
Studs Terkel So we come it seems to me, you're touching throughout the book that the core is always life, life as it is now in the 20th century. It's life and humanity again. A ghetto, you speak of the Catholic ghetto. We hear the word "ghetto" and we think of people who are deliberately the Negro, Puerto Rican, or Eastern Europe the Jewish ghetto of past times. So there's you're describing something as a Catholic ghetto.
James Kavanaugh Oh, absolutely. The Catholic ghetto, and it just grew more sophisticated, you know. And it seems as so often happens when you get out of the ghetto yourself, or start to get out of it, you forget those that are still in it. And I think that the Catholic ghetto has been written about a good deal when it kept its national origins, when there were the Italians who did have the heavy accent and so forth. But this ghetto remained a kind of a moral religious ghetto long after our nationalistic origins had become somewhat obscure, where we actually thought ourselves better than the rest of men. There's no question about this.
Studs Terkel So today there's the, the look, as you say, it's not a question of converting. There's one here, a chapter on "A Look at the Non-Catholic," have big "C", the big C. I don't know if you ever heard Lenny Bruce, talking about the "Big C."
James Kavanaugh Well, this is really a new idea that I don't develop as much as I would like to in the book. But it's the whole concept of the Catholic was always interested in the Catholic value. We weren't really interested in education, we were interested in our schools. Even in the abortion question now, I don't truly think we're as interested in the life value as we might be, as much as we're worried that that society becomes a threat to a traditional moral position that we've held. And I think even in undermining our president's birth control program, or the federal birth control program, when the Catholic bishops came out and spoke, they weren't speaking for all Catholics. And again, were they truly interested in the problem of world poverty and overpopulation? Or was it again possibly an invasion of the Catholic ghetto where our rights might be questioned? And I would like to see
James Kavanaugh Very good. Touche. And I think actually you look for a church that would serve, that just can be of service to the people. What matter does -- What's the matter whether it's a Catholic, Protestant, anybody? That's what the church is for, to serve a man.
Studs Terkel Well, this leads to the question of your thoughts, they are very provocative ones, indeed, on the parochial school. Do you think that the parochial school is, has become, is becoming irrelevant to the 20th century?
James Kavanaugh Yes, I feel this very strongly, and I can't believe that bishops are still raising money to build more parochial schools. I would like to see them phased out, beginning almost immediately with our grade schools, and you wouldn't believe this, but I think about seven out of 10 hours that I've spent as a priest, and about 80 percent of our money has been invested in education, Catholic education. This is a ghetto concept to preserve the young immigrant who came here and thought he might lose his face -- Faith in this pagan America.
James Kavanaugh Might have been. That's right. You know, and they had great instructions, Polish, Irish, Italians, so forth to keep that their own priest. And it was more important that the priest be Italian and that he be a priest, or Irish and that he be a priest. And I think that the school is representative of that kind of thinking. So, what would happen if we really were to get interested in the racial problem and throw all of our talent and energy into this, or truly interested in the poverty program? Then you'd have vocations and then you'd have a kind of creative excitement which we don't have now. Preserving our image and we've always been impressed by our statistics. We need tangible signs of what we're doing and this our schools provide. But, dear God, that day is over.
James Kavanaugh Yeah, that's right. You know, we took a look at our society and we said, "Where are we needed?" And I think religion has entered enough into our society so that there are many institutions which are concerned with values, educations, I mean, once upon a time maybe orphanages were our work and hospitals and schools and so forth. But now we have to be the people in the forefront of society looking for the new needs, work with the aged, which I think we could do so much. I was in a parish in New York for a time and the average age was about 60 years old, and we were still having our same little forms, our same clubs and groups. And I think the greatest thing we could have done in that period would be to open about six little bars and giving these people an afternoon beer where they could just be treated as human beings. That wouldn't be religion, maybe, but would to me.
James Kavanaugh Oh, no. And immediately I was thinking earlier when we were talking about the young priest comes into the parish and 25 years old and completely without experience for the most part of any kind of business, never even went to a college where he had to do his own laundry. Everything was taken care of, and then he's out at 25 and grown men are asking him for advice and out from this youthful mind comes the advice and then the man bows very graciously, "Thank you, Father." And this is the Catholic and his priest, and it's tragic.
James Kavanaugh Yeah.
James Kavanaugh Yeah, I can remember when I was working in a Negro parish at one time, where standards were pretty rough in this particular parish and the only thing we had for these people, lovely people, and the only thing we had was the same old structures, our middle-class structures to fit them right in and take them to the church, and show them the liturgy of the mass and the vestments and things like that, and gee! The hours I spent doing that, knowing it was wrong, but not knowing that I was free to do anything else.
Studs Terkel Before I ask you to, I know you have to catch a plane soon, to ask you to read something toward the end of the book which is I think one of the themes, the theme, perhaps, man more important than the system. Aside from Pope John coming along on the window being opened, there's a new kind, new kind of young priest or new young nuns, you speak of them, middle-class background and colleges, in contrast to the nuns who came from, I guess, working families, parents little education, this is rather interesting, isn't it, life in the convent has taken a sort of change, isn't it?
James Kavanaugh What I think has to take a very aggressive change in the sense that it was almost as if these girls in former days could fit into the convent life as just as a kind of a part of their home. They were from the farm and the immigrant family. Now we get a pretty sophisticated girl whose virginity is a gift and she can be trusted and knowing that virginity is not something that has to be protected behind a convent wall, but that she truly can live in an apartment and the kind of community life that she has is an occasional thing where she gets together with other sisters, but that her work is her virginity, that her dedication is her absorption in something that has a place in society, that she's really working with people. I know nuns, I've taught them and they're longing for this. It's a beautiful kind of devotion, which again is not permitted.
Studs Terkel But this isn't their -- This is a delicate question, of course, just as it is with you, you know, the question that we speak of celibacy. This is a question of sublimation, then, is it not?
James Kavanaugh Sure, and there's a danger, I mean, there's a there's a risk to a celibate priest. I mean, I think that celibacy has a continuing place in the church, even though I strongly believe in a married clergy. But even the man that say, would choose a celibate life, or the nun that would in this dedicated kind of, say, work in Appalachia, there's the danger that sometime, in loneliness, they're going to get involved. This is the gamble of someone that loves. So what they get involved? What's the big deal? And I think it was Saint Augustine in his "City of God" to the violated virgins made the statement that they never knew what purity was, they just had virginity. They didn't have purity. And after their violation, he said, "Now that you'll have the humble kind of life that can produce real virginity." And I think this is the kind of involvement I'm talking about.
Studs Terkel This is, to me, this is one of the most fascinating points what you just said, of course, there was a play by a Frenchman, Giraudoux, called "Duel of Angels." And the question is, one was considered the sinful woman and the other the pure, virtuous woman. The pure, virtuous woman had never, ever been tempted, the sinful woman had indeed gone through a sort of purgatory, you might say. She was infinitely more, the more virtuous of the two at the end.
Studs Terkel Come back to involvement with life. Come back to a theme, involvement with something personal. A man more important than the system [than don't have a Christ?] was personal. Back to that again. So God exists when he becomes my God, that's our friend Diane again.
Studs Terkel Father Kavanaugh our guest, and there's an epilogue to this book, the book we've just, all we've done is just touch upon little aspects of it, the vary the contents themselves, it goes to the ideal becomes the law, the man who was priest, the Catholic parish, loss of personalism, confession and mortal sin, marriage and divorce, birth control, the schools, life in the convent, man who is not a Catholic. But throughout your longing here, your passion here, is to be considered a man. Perhaps if we say goodbye now, we just, and all we've done is just, you know, this is worth several hours, I know. Just beginning. Oh, you and censorship! Before that, your seminars you conducted, so here were works, could be "Catcher In The Rye," and you found the movie, the Swedish movie, "Dear John," far more religious than "Song of Bernadette."
James Kavanaugh Absolutely. So, so relevant. And again, it was a, "What are we trying to do?" You know, it's something that really speaks to man and is an actual experience, and it shows you the degree of insulation in our life that we could see something like that and and condemn it, when it's the real substance of what life is about.
Studs Terkel Could we end, it's the epilogue, the last three paragraphs or so for, just your reading it, because it seems to have been the impulse that led you to do it. Can I ask you that question? A P.S. before a P.S. I have to ask, how you came to question. I know it wasn't a one moment.
James Kavanaugh I guess I don't really know how it how it happened, it began so gradually, but I think perhaps ultimately it was just kind of being smothered with the cries of people and then I think going back to school and getting out of the parish just for a short time and being able to stand back and have some time just to look at everything that was happening and then I think -- I don't know, Studs. Once, once a man opens up, I don't know what opens that little chink, but once it takes place and a lot of things suddenly become clearer, and it seems strange to say it, 38 years of age, but I think the last year or so is the first time in my life that I really felt alive. You know? It's a tragedy to say that, but maybe say, it takes some people even longer, so I should be grateful at this age.
Studs Terkel Father James Kavanaugh, our guest, the book "A Modern Priest Looks at His Outdated Church," which you will read a great deal, trust you will read the book. Trident Press, and perhaps the last part, Father Jim.
James Kavanaugh Okay. "Now I am lost but free, honest but afraid, certain but ever in doubt. I do not fear hell because I cannot fathom it. I do not seek heaven because it offers no image I can grasp. I only struggle to find myself, to love my fellow men, and to hope that in this way I am truly loving God. And in my struggle I would like the church to be my servant, as Christ promised that it should. I need to know the wonders of the Mass and the comfort of confession and the perils of my search. But I will not be absorbed or crowded or refused permission to be a man. I do not look for the church to agree with me for the church is as various as the people men it serves. I only ask that it not refuse to help me because I refuse to be as every other man. I prize the uniqueness that is [mind? mined?] and you must do the same. I am God's own child and no man can tell me that I must live and die as alien. I can respect the church's goals even as I formulate my own. I can listen to her directives even as I decide how I must live my one and only life. I can pray with brothers who do not agree with me, eat with brothers who find me bold and independent, speak with brothers who regret I ever ceased to be a child. I can do nothing else, for I am a man designed by God. I need my family, my friends, my church, but none of these shall forbid me to be myself. No longer can I stand before my bishop and smile in shy assent when I know he is wrong. No longer will I bow before a pastor when I know his mood has formed the policy of his church. No longer will I accept in silence the travesties that a dishonest theology has imposed on simple and unsuspecting men. Nor will I leave the church, even if they demand it of me, for it is my church. I should be a Catholic, a vocal and honest one, even if my superiors forbid me to be a priest. I shall be a Catholic who follows his conscience, demands meaning and relevance from his church, and will not permit his God to be reduced to empty ritual and all-absorbing law. I shall be a Catholic until one day, perhaps sooner than I think, I shall return to ashes and to God. He will judge me as He must. But I can say to Him as honestly as I say to you, I have tried to be a man.