One priest says the book is "scandalous and extremely offensive" and even apologized to both Jesus and His Blessed Mother for it having been used in a college classroom.
Another priest says the book is "decent literature" and "helps you grow intellectually."
The first priest mentioned is Franciscan University of Steubenville (FUS) President Sean O. Sheridan, TOR, who in January publicly apologized for the fact that Emmanuel Carrere's book, The Kingdom: A Novel, was once assigned reading for students taught by Professor Stephen Lewis, then-chair of the university's English department — and in the "truth is stranger than fiction" department, a man apparently still serving as acquisitions editor for Franciscan University Press.
The second priest mentioned is Legionaries of Christ Fr. Matthew P. Schneider, who is also a blogger at the ever-troubling Patheos Catholic Channel, where he has this past month posted a defense of Lewis' use of this book in class, despite the fact that it contains pornographic and blasphemous passages directed toward the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Like I learned on Sesame Street, one of these priests is not like the other.
That any Catholic is still out there defending this utterly inappropriate book is beyond my comprehension. But that a Catholic priest would defend it? My most charitable conclusion is that he could not have seen Fr. Sheridan's January apology, nor could he possibly have read the book.
Indeed, notably, his defense of the book is based unsurprisingly upon two secondary sources — a former FUS student named Mark Spencer and, naturally, Professor Stephen Lewis himself. Also, Schneider's take on the book is aligned with the view of his Patheos Catholic Channel editor, Rebecca Bratten Weiss, a past colleague of Stephen Lewis who maintains a close relationship with Lewis' wife Suzanne (which I've covered here).
Father Schneider says that reviewing literature is not his "greatest strength," so he punts almost entirely to these two obviously unbiased sources (right?) who apparently do have that "great strength" needed to give readers a truly objective assessment of this controversial work. Except Spencer and Lewis are of course decidedly not objective.
Schneider effectively exposes his own bias even before considering the book itself by selecting only sources that support the "decent literature" claim he starts out with in his post. He makes no attempt at balanced coverage of this serious matter.
Instead, he first goes to Facebook to retrieve that former student's opinions after he (not Schneider) read the book.
Mark Spencer writes, "I most strongly recommend this book to you all! It's really quite excellent." Spencer more or less gushes about author Carrere's literary style and how the book "shows what is unsettling, odd and beautiful about Christianity" despite the fact that the author has abandoned the Faith altogether. Spencer notes it was "spiritually beneficial" for him.
Shockingly, however, Spencer (and by extension Fr. Schneider) asserts this: "And yes, he does describe a pornographic film at one point … and he expresses some hopes about Our Lady's sexual life. ... The passages fit, though, in context."
Is it really too bold to wonder out loud what "context" can possibly justify having Catholic students read a porn-film description in class, coupled with someone's "hope" that the Blessed Virgin Mary experienced sexual gratification, either in intercourse or by herself, and that after all, she had the requisite female anatomy for that?
I'm sorry, Fr. Schneider, but are you kidding? There's an acceptable "context" for that?
Schneider's muse Spencer seems to think so. He suggests that these passages are OK because they add "aesthetic value" to the book. He says that describing a porn film is "not the same as that thing." But here's the kicker: Spencer claims that the "objectively disrespectful and maybe sacrilegious" words about Our Lady are just fine because "we Christians don't worry about our honor; we turn the other cheek."
Has this alumnus of a Catholic university never heard of the term hyperdulia reserved exclusively in the Church for the Blessed Virgin Mary? Will someone please — and quickly — look up hyperdulia for Spencer (and again, by extension, Fr. Schneider) and explain it?
Space won't permit us to consider Schneider's regurgitation of Lewis' self-defense, nor is it a surprise that Lewis is on record defending his appalling lapse in judgment which has proven so costly to the FUS community.
Instead, we must consider a different angle and ask a remarkably difficult question at this point. Whose appalling and harmful level of influence is greater: Professor Stephen Lewis' influence over his student Spencer and perhaps many others like him? Or Fr. Schneider's influence over his readers at Patheos and those in the scope of his priestly ministry?
I don't have a good answer to that question, frankly. Both appear to me to be unconscionably reckless and disturbing, both have the care of souls in different ways and both are failing to give due care to those souls.
But I must be in the wrong — after all, Fr. Schneider concludes that "this controversy was clearly overblown," and he is critical of Church Militant for getting "up in arms" about all this. Father Schneider personally excuses the "few scandalous passages" of the book by claiming he once had to read "more scandalous" stuff in a Catholic high school. Also, he thinks people reach a "level of maturity" that makes them "ready" for these things.
I'll beg to differ. If I live to be 120 years old, I'll never, ever, be "ready" enough — "mature" enough — to read porn or someone's sex talk about the Virgin Mother of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ — never. It's not a question of "handling" such stuff. On the contrary, God didn't make me for the purpose of "handling" such stuff. I was made for holiness.
But Fr. Schneider says something else. His final word is: "It is helpful to get varied perspectives so we can understand the world around us not just get caught in our own reality."
Wrong — emphatically wrong. I don't need the "varied perspective" of porn and blasphemy to understand the world around me. And as a priest, Schneider should know this and believe it with every fiber of his being.
It's the world and its disbelief, its sexual debauchery and its blasphemy that is what's at its core "unreal." And I understand all that just fine without swimming in its toxic illusions or encountering that garbage in a Catholic classroom.
No one — not Professor Lewis, not Mark Spencer, not Fr. Matthew Schneider — should be trying to facilitate the intrusion of all that unreality into the reality of our call to Christian perfection and holiness.
Ultimately, for each of us, that's what we were made for, and that's the only reality there is.