The Cardinal Virtues

The Cardinal Virtues

3.8 9
by Andrew M. Greeley

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Father Laurence O'Toole McAuliffe, the pastor of Saint Finian's parish in Forest Springs, is weary and worn out, his priesthood and faith in tatters. Once literally a bomb-throwing radical and then a Vatican Council liberal, Lar McAuliffe has grown old and cynical. To make matters worse, he's smart enough to know what is happening to him.

God, the cardinal, or

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Father Laurence O'Toole McAuliffe, the pastor of Saint Finian's parish in Forest Springs, is weary and worn out, his priesthood and faith in tatters. Once literally a bomb-throwing radical and then a Vatican Council liberal, Lar McAuliffe has grown old and cynical. To make matters worse, he's smart enough to know what is happening to him.

God, the cardinal, or some combination of the two plays a dirty trick on Lar by sending him Father James Stephen Michael Finbar Keenan, the "new priest." Lar expects a classic confrontation between young and old, between sardonic maturity and enthusiastic inexperience. But the new priest does not fit the stereotype and the two become friends.

Together they face the conflicts and joys, the hopes and pains of the contemporary Catholic parish—the old-fashioned school principal; the broken family; the reactionary finance committee; frustrated young lovers; and the chancery office and a timid Cardinal, who interferes with the priests' work on every possible occasion.

Alternately sad and uproariously funny, The Cardinal Virtues is about the meaning of religion, the meaning of faith, and the meaning of life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This extremely busy follow-up to The Cardinal Sins brings back Father Larry McAuliffe (aka Lar), the former ``bomb-throwing radical'' now ``disillusioned'' pastor of St. Finian's parish. Pressure from the Cardinal persuades Lar to take on an assistant, Father Jamie Keenan, a man from what Greeley terms the ``new priesthood,'' whose homilies offend the traditionalists. Particularly offended is George Wholey, leader of the ultra-right-wing Catholic group, Corpus Christi, who makes life hard for the young priest. Fighting to save Jamie from a vile set-up helps Lar regain his youthful enthusiasm, and several parishioners benefit as well. While the plot is plausible, Greeley simply fails to engage us; with the possible exception of Lar, the characters remain two-dimensional, serving Greeley's nostalgia for those who believed in Vatican II and his revulsion for those who fought the reforms. The bestseller lists prove there are many who revel in relentless detailing of rectory life; the suggestion, however, that this tale is a taut thriller, is preposterous. Literary Guild selection; author tour. (May)

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Grand Central Publishing
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4.12(w) x 1.18(h) x 6.75(d)

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The Cardinal Virtues

By Andrew M. Greeley

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 1990 Andrew M. Greeley Enterprises, Ltd.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-4900-2


"Father Lar," Jackie shrieked into the phone. "Father New Priest is here!"

With those words, the crisis in my priesthood, already serious, entered its acute phase. Even at that moment I was dimly aware of its onset. I was losing faith in myself, in my parish, in my priesthood, and in God.

"Is Father Keenan cute?" I tried to laugh away my unease. Must not let the troops know I had my doubts about the new priest.

"Awesomely," the red-haired teenage receptionist giggled. "He's fixing the computer!"

"No one can fix the computer." I hung up the phone gently.

Or anything else that is broken in Saint Finian's parish. For us the new technology never works.

I had become a priest to save the world. Now I wanted only to save the people of the world writ small that was my parish. What would happen to me when I lost even that dream?

It's hard to sustain a spiritual dream when so much of your time is devoted to fixing busted machinery.

I sighed, almost as loudly as our West-of-Ireland Cook when none of us had finished our immense helpings of her latest culinary masterpiece. I had been a New Priest once, not awesomely cute perhaps but still filled with enthusiasm and energy and youthful zeal. Now I would need all of the four cardinal virtues — justice, temperance, fortitude, and prudence — to cope with my new associate.

A long time ago I had lots of those four virtues, too.

Well, I had always been a little short on prudence.

"McAuliffe!" shouted the seminary's Prefect of Discipline (in a more modern Church now called the Dean of Men), "you're imprudent!"

"Imprudent or impudent, Father?"

"Both! And that question proves it!"

My hand rested on the phone as I searched for the physical energy to walk down the stairs to greet the New Priest. Long ago I had been a bomb-throwing radical. Then I had become a liberal enthusiast. Now I was a worn-out, angry, disillusioned Old Priest. I was quite incapable of responding to the vitality and zest of someone fresh out of the seminary.

Color me Mass Appeal. Well, I wasn't a drunk like the pastor in that play. Not yet, anyway.

Moreover, I could still banter with teenagers like Jackie, I thought as I forced myself out of my chair. That, however, was a genetic trait. I had inherited it from a parent who, before he became a captain, was your all-time all-American genial cop on the beat.

A new priest and the Condon crisis on the same day. Probably a fight with Jeanne Flavin. It never stops. Maybe I could assign him the Condon case. What else are associate pastors for if they don't take your worst problems for you?

Maybe he could cope with my self-defined Stalinist director of religious education. She had already defined him as a rival, a class enemy. Poor woman. A lovely, wounded Stalinist, so pretty and so haunted that she'll break your heart.

I had not wanted a new associate pastor. After twenty-eight years in the priesthood and six years at Saint Finian's, I was confident that I could respond to the religious needs of the People of God (as we call the Church these days) in Forest Springs without an associate pastor.

"No," I said firmly to the chairman of the personnel board when he phoned.

"But, Lar —"

"No," I repeated. "I don't want one and I won't take one. The two residents and I can cope."

"But, Lar —"

The personnel board is not interested in making good appointments. It gave that up long ago. Now it fills slots. Better the old days when the Vice Chancellor was alleged to throw darts at the list of priests to make appointments.

"I said no." I then hung up on him. No more Father Nice Guy. I was tired, and especially tired of new priests.

That was not the end of it. Joe Simon, the Vicar General, called me the next day.

"Lar, what's this I hear about you not taking an associate?"

Joe remembers the days when the VG was the Fourth Person of the Trinity, and tries to talk tough like some of his predecessors did twenty years ago. It doesn't always work, mostly because Joe is an overweight North Side German who oozes political sleaze. He scares quite a few of the older generation of pastors, however.

"You heard right."

"Why?" he snarled, now moving into his supertough mode.

"I've had three associate pastors since I've been here, right?"


"Who were they?" I demanded.

"First, there was Tim Kelly," he mumbled.

"Who made passes at all the women on the staff and half the women in the parish, carried on at least three love affairs, and then resigned because there was no future in the priesthood."

"We won't send you another of those." He was on the defensive, unprepared for Father Nice Guy playing hardball.

"Then there was Ron Lane, né Lesniak, a gifted musician and artist. He's still recovering from the nervous breakdown that the Corpus Christi crowd gave him."

"Corpus Christi" is not a city in Texas or a feast in the pre–Vatican Council calendar. Rather, it is the moniker of a "secular institute." It was founded in France after the War and spread to Spain during the declining years of Franco and the Falange. Their membership, lay and clerical, are notably to the right of Pope Innocent III.

And right of Caesar Augustus, too, as far as that goes.

They are now trying to repeal the Second Vatican Council and restore the glorious Church of the thirteenth century. They have amassed so much power in Rome that they might be able to do just that. If they succeed, Catholics can prepare to have their lives ordered by folks that think daily self-flagellation should be a staple of the devout life.

"You have to defend your people and priest against them," he said piously.

"When you and the Cardinal get them out of power in the Vatican, I'll throw them out of the parish. ... Then came Terry Howard, a genial conversationalist who turned on his TV for Kathleen Sullivan in the morning and didn't turn it off till David Letterman at night."

"He is a bit lazy."

"So lazy that even the laity noticed it. Look, Joe, you and I both know that the priesthood is in trouble. Things are going to get a lot worse before they get any better. I'm too old to play nursemaid to the misfits you guys ordain these days. Just leave us alone out here in Forest Springs."

"I'll talk to the Boss."

"You do that."

There was silence at the other end of the line for a moment, Joe Simon thinking. I strained to hear the sound of the gears meshing.

"You think you're pretty smart, don't you, Lar?"

"Smart enough to know what you are."

"I'm a guy that's doing a tough, rotten job. I'm serving the Church and the Boss in tough times. I'm giving him the best I have for the good of the Church. You're just a smart-ass who sits out there and takes potshots at us."

"Wonderful metaphors, Joe. Highly original."

"Someday you'll go too far and we'll get you. I'll love every minute of it."

"Be my guest." I hung up on him.

I leaned back in my desk chair feeling considerable satisfaction. No more Father Nice Guy.

Then I felt sorry for Joe Simon. No doubt he believed his self-justification. It was indeed a rotten job. I wouldn't mind, if Joe didn't so obviously enjoy the power that came with it.

The Cardinal cornered me at the funeral of Red Murphy, who had once been my pastor and for whose departure from this world I could mourn only with some difficulty. The Cardinal's public persona is that of a shy, vulnerable man, almost like a hobo asking for a quarter to buy a cup of coffee.

Joe Simon had to point me out because the Cardinal doesn't remember names too well.

"Larry." He clapped me on the back and beamed, one of the most astute Polish diplomats in recent history, until you figured him out — and 90 percent of us had figured him out.

"Your Eminence."

"I don't have enough skilled pastors as it is. Who will train the young men if priests like you don't?"

"You want my resignation, you can have it."

The Boss recoiled as if I had slugged him — the public persona is not entirely an act. The word had not reached him that Laurence O'Toole McAuliffe was no longer a nice guy.

"That's not the issue, Larry."

"Cardinal, no one calls me Larry. It's been Lar for forty years at least."

I walked away.

My family calls me Laurence, not that it matters.

I suspect that the Boss, who is given to worrying and then praying about his worries, didn't sleep that night. Good enough for him.

So here I was, working up the energy to walk down the spiral staircase to the office to welcome Father New Priest. How come?

I don't know. I guess the nice guy won after all.

Damn him.

He was taken in by the Cardinal, for whom the nice-guy role fits easily if deceptively.

The Cardinal had stopped by the rectory one morning during the summer on the way to his one-week vacation at some fishing stream in Arkansas. Dressed in old black trousers, a worn black sweater, and a collarless shirt with a stud in it (his version of sport clothes), he soft-soaped me while drinking a Diet Pepsi.

"Larry, I have a newly ordained priest who has a great future in the Church. He is someone special. They tell me that no one can train him as you can. Please do this for me and for the Church."

I knew even then that the New Priest was less important than the Cardinal's need to be liked. He delayed his vacation by a couple of hours to win me over.

How can anyone turn down someone who looks like a bushy- haired French farmer in a 1940 film and drives a dirty, four-year- old gray Pontiac?

So this "Father New Priest" of Jackie's was so special that a Cardinal would personally worry about his assignment?

Well, we'd see about that!

On my first assignment I had to wait three days to get an appointment to see the Monsignor Red Murphy (who was egg bald even then). Early on he decided that my first name was Marty, which is what I was called by the other curates for my full term at the parish. The pastor was always right, by definition. Some things do change, you see.

Red Murphy did not need a conscience. I was plagued by one, usually after the fact.

My conscience bothered me about Ron Lane more than about the other two new priests. I tried to protect him from the Corpus Christi complaints to the Chancery and to Rome about his modern art exhibit and from the hostile articles in The Drover and The National Catholic Review that made fun of the show. Dolph Santini, the Vicar for Liturgy in the archdiocese, appeared at the rectory, under pressure of a formal Roman complaint, to inspect the exhibit. (We don't have a Vicar for Art because art isn't important to the Church anymore.)

After much shaking of his head and sighing, Dolph (of whom it is said that he not only never had been inside the Art Institute but was unaware of its existence) advised Ron to be more "prudent."

Ron thereupon retreated to his room, locked the door, and brooded. Poor, sweet, innocent young man that he was, he expected the institutional Church to protect him from the crazies.

When the crazies started to harass his parents on the phone with promises of prayers for the "conversion" of their only son, poor Ron went round the bend.

I wondered whether I could have done more to protect him, as Joe Simon (who had sent Santini out with his verdict formulated before Dolph had seen the art show) had argued.

As I walked down the spiral staircase, I consoled myself with the thought that George Wholey and his Corpus Christi bunch would have a harder time with this New Priest than they did with poor Ron. The Keenans were not people to mess with.

That's right: I did say spiral staircase. Saint Finian's boasted the standard suburban Catholic white brick modern church (it could serve as a zeppelin hangar in an emergency), school, convent, ministry center, and parish hall. But the rectory was a vast old Gothic home that the founding pastor had bought and next to which he built the rest of the parish plant. It does not seem to be haunted, but in its nooks and crannies and turrets and battlements, there ought to have been scores of ghosts — clerical and lay.

"Hey" — the New Priest looked down at the recalcitrant word processor, which had not worked properly since the day we bought it — "I think we have this creep shaped up. Hold your breath, Jackie, and pray."

He slammed the top of the three-thousand-dollar machine with his massive paw. It jumped like someone had stuck a needle into it.

And the monitor obediently lit up in the appropriate color of amber.

Outside, Forest Springs was washed in the blue and gold of a perfect September afternoon.

"Hooray for Father New Priest," Jackie shouted.

Jackie had not exaggerated his good looks. In his clerical shirt, with the white Roman collar tucked in the breast pocket (I was wearing a sport shirt and gray slacks, by the way), my new curate had Robert Redford good looks. He was over six feet, though not quite as tall as I am. In every other respect, however, I would be the clear loser if I were vain enough — and dumb enough — at my age in life to make comparisons. Blond hair, long and slightly curly, dancing blue eyes, dimpled chin, an engaging smile, strong, broad shoulders, thick arm muscles, flat stomach, James Keenan looked like he could hit a golf ball 250 yards dead straight down the middle of the fairway and model golf clothes at the same time.

In this respect I made an error. Two hundred and eighty-five yards would be a more accurate estimate. His handicap, as he would later admit under some pressure from Cook (her self-designation) at the supper table was three.

Special, huh?

"I can fix anything, Father." He grinned boyishly. "Pipe organs, word processors, golf carts, volleyball nets, difficult head ushers, leaky roofs, Mothers Superior — should there be such on the premise, as seems improbable — walls that need tuck-pointing, rebellious teenage doorbell answerers like this young person here ... you name it, I'll fix it."

"Ah," I replied with what I hope was notable lack of enthusiasm, and thought, Omigod!

"The Big Boss, His Eminence, Jackie," he took no note of my notable lack of enthusiasm, "the Boss said, 'Jamie, you go out there and help my friend Father McAuliffe for the next six years. Fix everything that needs to be fixed. And, Jamie,' the Cardinal says in a whisper so the VG — that's the Vicar General, Jackie, Father Simon — can't hear him, 'just between the two of us, there's a hell of a lot that needs fixing out there.'"

"Ms. Flavin is going to LOVE you, Father Jamie," Jackie said with that instinct for the political jugular with which Irish women are born and too many, alas, lose after their teens.

"Porteress," I said, whispering a prayer to a number of Irish martyrs, like my patron, Saint Laurence O'Toole, to protect me from their fate.

"I beg pardon, Father?" My new curate grinned cheerfully.

I must explain the presence of Jackie in the rectory on a late afternoon of a school day. There are two approaches to gatekeeping at a Roman Catholic rectory. The first is the old way: the doorbell is assigned to the housekeeper, who often doesn't hear it. When she does, she requires five minutes to answer it. If the waiting lay person has not already departed in anger or despair, then the housekeeper's routine response is "Father isn't home."

The experience is likely to discourage further visits.

It's an effective technique for protecting rectory peace; in this day and age, however, it leads to angry letters to the Chancery office and angry phone calls from Joe Simon.

I hasten to add that such would not be the problem with Brigid, our cook and housekeeper. On the contrary, given half a chance, Brideheen (to use one of the many nicknames we Irish have for the goddess, later the patron saint of spring) would spend the whole day in the rectory offices, gossiping with parishioners.

The other approach is to hire teenage women (note I do not call them girls) to guard the doorbell after school and in the evening. They bring vitality, charm, and empathy to the gatekeeping role. It's hard for the most angry Lay Person of God to sustain his or her wrath in the face of Jackie's defiant red hair, sturdy young body, and happy grin. On a good day the porteresses will remember to write down half of the telephone messages they take, which is better than average for a rectory.


Excerpted from The Cardinal Virtues by Andrew M. Greeley. Copyright © 1990 Andrew M. Greeley Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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