(See an earlier postting called "Tony Hendra's Past Scandals" that is this piece is good background for)
From October 30, 2004
I have noticed a trend in the literary world in the past decades: in the rare cases when a Catholic is portrayed sympathetically, that person is someone who diverges from Catholic teachings on sexual morality in either opinion or practice.
In Fr. Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul, Fr. Joe is portrayed as a hugely sympathetic character who befriended Tony Hendra, and as Tony found out after the priest's death, befriended many other people also, including--how did that first meeting ever happen?--Princess Diana.
Fr. Joe is shown as a hero because he always gave Hendra a huge dose of what the writer perceives as the benevolent love of God. In face of rave reviews on the book's cover from prominent "Catholics" who are mostly estranged and who mostly don't give a fig about authentic Church doctrine, such as former Catholic Frank McCourt (author of Angela's Ashes), and Andrew Sullivan who is a homosexual who is touted as "Catholic" commentator for the New York Times Review of Books, I decided I would like to write a review that addressed Fr. Joe's and Hendra's decidedly unorthodox views on what it means to save a person's soul.
And then I was temporarily derailed. I went to the Internet and found what almost everyone but me knew already, that in August 2004, Hendra was accused by his daughter, Jessica, of having molested her sexually. Subsequently I found that an old piece of Hendra's writing has surfaced from September 1971 issue of the _National Lampoon_ called "How to Cook Your Daughter." Matt Haber in an article in the Village Voice (http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0428/haber2.php) called Hendra's piece a satire that could best be described as Jonathan Swift meets Humbert Humbert.
I read it and I have to say that Jessica's accusations gained much credibility in light of how "How to Cook Your Daughter" nails Hendra in his own words as someone unabashedly with incest on his mind.
How could this be?
Hendra met Fr. Joe when as a 14 year old he was brought to Fr. Joe's monastery by a man who had been teaching Tony Catholic doctrine and who had caught Tony in a compromising situation with his own wife. As many other reviewers have repeated as if it was to Fr. Joe's eternal credit, Fr. Joe told Tony that he had not sinned, except for being selfish. And in fact, according to Fr. Joe, "the only sin was selfishness."
That phrase identifies my real objection to the book: even though Fr. Joe's opinions contradict the teachings of the Catholic Church about sexuality, he is portrayed as practically a saint.
Contrary to how most people in the Western world seem to view things these day, I and others who share my beliefs see the Church's teachings on the purpose of sexuality and its rules as liberating. We understand the need for rules.
Parents know vastly more than their young children are able to grasp because of their youth and inexperience. Loving parents protect their children and help them flourish by teaching and enforcing rules to live by, God, we know, is a perfectly loving parent who gave His people during the time of the Old Testament a set of commandments as a gift to guide them and help them live fully human lives.
We also believe as the New Testament teaches (Colossians 1:18) Christ is the head of the Church, which is His Body on earth, and made up of all of its members. We believe that Christ's Holy Spirit lives in His Church, and guides its teachings. Believing also that God designed human sex for both union and procreation, we understand that we can be truly fulfilled and made whole only when we live within God's design. We know that the Church teachings about these things don't mean that the Church hates sex. We just know that sex out of its proper place harms individuals, families, the community, and the world. And if we hate anything we hate the harm it causes when people use sex outside of the divine plan, and we hate when people are taught incorrectly and led to their harm.
Controlling sexual expression takes discipline, which is painful, but it leads to people living healthier lives. Our former Pope, John Paul II, had written and spoken extensively to explain the Church's teachings on these matters, while Fr. Joe and others like him within the Church have been trying to explain them away. (See _The Theology of the Body According to John Paul II: Human Love in the Divine Plan_ and _Theology of the Body Explained_ by Christopher West. Both books are available at amazon.com. )
Following are some quotes from Fr. Joe in Hendra's book with some comments interspersed: "Sex is a wonderful gift, a physical way to express the most powerful force in all existence -- love. Sex is a brilliant idea of God's, I think. Almost like a sacrament." "Sex is a sacrament?" "D-d-don't tell the Abbot!"
Actually, that notion of Fr. Joe's is completely far off from what the Church teaches. Marital sex is a gift. A sacrament is a sign. As a sacrament, marriage symbolizes the union of Christ and the Church (see Eph 5:31-32).
Unlike what Fr. Joe told Tony Hendra, Pope John Paul II affirmed that sex is only psychologically, spiritually, and physically fulfilling when it is practiced between a faithful and committed man and woman within marriage and only when it is open to life.
As an aside, I want to tell you something I observed when I was a young woman in the 60s when the "sexual revolution" was moving into full gear. Every woman I asked who had a "relationship" in which there was no commitment told me she had never had an orgasm. Hmm, I thought, so much for the joys of liberated sex.
People like Playboy's Hugh Hefner promoted the philosophy of sex without commitment because by "freeing" women from the biological connection between sex and reproduction and from the societal connection between sex and marriage, that philosophy made women available for men to use them and to otherwise behave in a totally selfish manner.
Married sexual expression without contraception is a gift between the partners. Pope John Paul II taught that it mirrors the free, total, faithful, fruitful love between the three Persons of the Trinity. And at the same time it is a mystery that expresses on this earth the total gift of Jesus' gift of His Body to us. Jesus gives Himself to His bride the Church, which is a mystical body. The Bible says in several places that marriage between man and woman is a mystery that proclaims the self-giving love of Christ for His Bride the Church.
Here is some more of the conversation between Fr. Joe and Hendra. Hendra replied: "There's no sin in having sex?" "Yes yes yes. There can be. But sex is a sin less often than we're led to believe. It's all a question of context. If you have sex to hurt or exploit another, or to take pleasure only for me, me, me, and not return as much or more to your lover . . . then it becomes sinful. . . . They've made sexual sins the worst sins of the lot, haven't they? Because sex is so powerful, people are fearful of it! We must take the fear out of sex as well."
Fr. Joe, while speaking as a representative of the Catholic Church, a spiritual director and a Benedictine monk, obviously had not bought into the Church's teachings, and even in 1955 when the first conversation occurred, had a 1960s attitude of paranoia and mistrust about the sources of the Church's teachings about sex. "They've" created these prohibitions because they are "fearful" posits Fr. Joe. Phooey, says I.