The Sacrifice

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Precisely when the solemn ceremony receiving renegade Episcopal priest Father George Wheatley into the Roman Catholic priesthood is set to begin, a bomb explodes under the altar. Fortunately Father Wheatley arrives late, but poor old Father Farmer dies in the tragedy.

Father Wheatley’s switch to the Roman church has certainly stirred up murderous passions in the parish. His son and ...

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Precisely when the solemn ceremony receiving renegade Episcopal priest Father George Wheatley into the Roman Catholic priesthood is set to begin, a bomb explodes under the altar. Fortunately Father Wheatley arrives late, but poor old Father Farmer dies in the tragedy.

Father Wheatley’s switch to the Roman church has certainly stirred up murderous passions in the parish. His son and daughter–one already an Episcopal priest, the other studying to become one–are seething. Conservative Catholics are enraged by the very idea of a married priest. As blind prejudice, jealousy, and thwarted ambition swirl around St. Joseph’s, that shrewd sleuth Father Koesler meditates on one question: Who placed the phone call that made Father Wheatley late for his own murder?

From the Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“William Kienzle is the Harry Kemelman of Catholicism. . . . Robert Koesler is the Detroit response to Rabbi Small.”
–Los Angeles Times

“As Kienzle addresses serious modern issues, he stops to digress and tell his wonderful stories . . . providing a neat solution with a twist.”
–The Philadelphia Inquirer

From the Paperback edition.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The latest in the author's long-running series of didactic mysteries featuring Detroit priest Father Robert Koesler (following Till Death) restores a better balance between mystery and religion. As usual, a thorny religious issue is at the center of things, and Kienzle has posited a doozy. Father George Wheatley, an Episcopal priest of some renown, has undertaken to convert to Roman Catholicism. That decision has caused great consternation in Wheatley's family as well as shock in the Episcopal and Roman communities. In addition to continuing to flog the changes wrought by Vatican II, the author explores such issues as the differences and similarities between Anglicans, Episcopalians and Romans (all of whom consider themselves Catholics), and whether Catholic priests should be permitted to marry and women allowed to become priests. Sharing center stage, and danger, with Wheatley are Father Koesler, who has befriended him during his conversion, and Father Zachary Tully, whose church will be the site of Wheatley's ordination. Plenty of folk are opposed to Wheatley's ordination, including his (Episcopal) priest son, Ron; his seminarian daughter, Alice; and various lay and clerical Roman Catholics who see Wheatley's conversion as one more assault on their venerable church. When a murderer strikes before the ordination can take place, Koesler and the police must scramble to unmask someone willing to kill for his or her beliefs. In a series that has not been aging well, this is a refreshingly strong entry. (Apr. 1) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The impending ordination of a former Episcopal priest into the Catholic church in Detroit turns into murder when an explosion at the altar kills a priest. Homicide detective Tully, retired detective Koznicki, Father Robert Koesler (series "resource person"), and George Wheatley, the "changeling," immediately analyze, inform, and hypothesize. Suspects are numerous, including two of Wheatley's own children one an Episcopal priest, the other a closet lesbian seminarian so police face an uphill struggle. A tedious exposition, argumentative and/or didactic digressions, and cheap narrative tricks label this a potboiler; nevertheless, buy for Kienzle's (The Rosary Murders) steady following. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345482983
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/26/2002
  • Series: Father Koesler Mystery Series
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,022,826
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

William X. Kienzle, author of twenty-two previous Father Koesler mysteries, spent twenty years as a parish priest. After leaving the priesthood, he became editor of MPLS magazine in Minneapolis and later moved to Texas, where he was director of the Center for Contemplative Studies at the University of Dallas. Kienzle and his wife, Javan, live in Detroit, where he enjoys playing piano as a diversion from writing.

From the Paperback edition.

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Read an Excerpt

"The Catholic Church is dead. It just doesn't know enough to lie down and roll over."

Father Daniel Reichert recoiled as if he'd been struck. "How can you say such a thing! You, of all people!" "Just look around you," Father Harry Morgan responded, with an all-encompassing gesture. "Everyone running about like chickens who've been relieved of their heads." He turned back to Reichert. "And what for?"

What for indeed, thought Reichert. The ceremony that was about to begin was meaningless at best and heretical at worst. But that it threatened the very existence of the Church--the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church? Certainly his boon companion, Morgan, had to be hyperbolizing. Harry knew as well as he that the Catholic Church was indefectible. Jesus had said so. "Behold I am with you all days. Even to the end of time."

No, the one, true Church could not be dying, let alone dead. "You ought to have a more open mind," Reichert rebuked.

Morgan's lip curled. "You should talk!"

In effect, each priest had just accused the other of being narrow-minded. If truth be known, it was simply a matter of degree.

Reichert and Morgan shared an epoch. Born in the twenties; parents staunch Catholics; the priesthood looked upon as an exalted calling. The two had entered the seminary a couple of years apart; Morgan was the elder by two years.

They advanced through the seminary--high school, college, and theologate--in what would later be known as the pre-Vatican II era. The transformation that rumbled through the Church when the beloved Pope John XXIII opened some windows and let the present in affected Catholics variously. Where once Liturgy, law, and theology had been marked by a universal rigid sameness, after the Second Vatican Council indisputability was replaced by uncertainty. Gradually, two camps formed.

One was the conservative wing: fundamentalist, dedicated to a counterreformation, committed to a return to the pre-Vatican II Church. The other held to a liberalism that would not be static no matter how uncompromising the Vatican remained.

Fathers Morgan and Reichert were devoted to a fairly firm conservatism. Even so, they could and sometimes did differ between themselves.

This was such an occasion.

The Archdiocese of Detroit was about to receive into its presbyterate a former Episcopal priest. His wife and a younger son would follow the priest into the Roman Church. The other son and a daughter (middle child) were quite another matter.

The decision as to whether to accept such ministers or priests into the Roman Catholic priesthood was left up to each individual diocese. If such a judgment was affirmative, there were still many bases to touch, steps to be taken. But in any case, the matter clearly was controversial.

On the one hand was the incontrovertible fact that Catholic priests were in critically short supply. And that shortfall was pretty much worldwide.

In Detroit, for instance, parishes that had once been assigned as many as three or even four priests in the fifties and sixties now commonly were staffed by only one. And many parishes that had held one or two priests were now closed for simple want of a pastor.

Recruitment was one obvious avenue toward a solution. Detroit, as well as other dioceses, gave that possibility a professional shot--to little avail.

Priests who had become inactive, in many cases choosing married life rather than celibacy, had a snowball's chance in hell of being called back to priestly duty.

Offering ordination to married men and/or to women was a proposition that the Vatican had shot down repeatedly.

In fact, Rome considered the latter two potential solutions dead issues. Proponents kept insisting that there was life in the concepts yet. But those who wanted to reactivate priests and/or invest women and those living in matrimony were not in charge of making the rules.

Then, seemingly out of the blue, came an unforeseen phenomenon. A trickle of Episcopal priests left their Church to seek refuge in the Roman Church. By no means was such defection of gangbuster proportions. But it was interesting, if not noteworthy.

Ordination to the priesthood, which some Roman Catholic feminists desired, was accorded to women in the Episcopal Church and then to women in the Church of England--mother church of all who call themselves Anglican.

Such a drastic turn of events had its own reverberations. Many male Anglican priests took extreme umbrage at what they saw as a betrayal of tradition. As a result, many of these men now wanted out. They felt there was no place for them in a priesthood that included women--let alone female bishops, a development that followed inevitably on the heels of the breakthrough.

But these men had given their lives to the Anglican Church. What were they to do? The toothpaste was out of the tube. A female clergy was now part of the Anglican Communion. That would not revert to a former discipline. Some of these aggrieved men felt impelled to abandon their denomination. But where could they go?

For some, the obvious path led back to the Roman Catholic Church, pre-Henry VIII version. But would they be welcomed by Rome?

The answer was--what else?--the creation of a commission . . . to address this specific matter. In 1980, the Vatican, responding to petitions from both Episcopal priests and Episcopal laity, created a Pastoral Provision to give the question special pastoral attention.

These Episcopalians desired full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. In this Provision, former Episcopal priests accepted as candidates for ordination in the Roman Catholic Church would undertake theological, spiritual, and pastoral preparation for such ordination.

Thus, ordination of married Episcopal priests as priests of the Roman Catholic Church was made possible. The Provision also authorized the establishment of "personal parishes" in Roman Catholic dioceses of the United States.

This was the response to the request of the former faithful of the Episcopal Church that they might be permitted to retain certain liturgical practices proper to the Anglican tradition.

Since 1983, close to one hundred former Anglican priests had been ordained for Roman Catholic priestly ministry. Just under ten personal parishes had been established wherein the Book of Common Prayer was authorized.

However, news of the Episcopalian migration--not to mention the Pastoral Provision--qualified as trivial in scope. The parade of a handful of Anglican priests toward Rome might be reported in religious publications at most. The secular media generally overlooked the story.

But now this event was a first for the Detroit archdiocese as well as the metropolitan area. As was the case with most premier events, this ordination attracted some attention.

In addition to this being a first, there was the fact that the priest involved was a local celebrity. A string of accomplishments fattened Father George Wheatley's curriculum vitae. His relevant activities included a weekly column on the op-ed page of the combined Sunday edition of the two metropolitan papers, as well as an hour-long weekly radio program on CKWW, a Canadian station serving Windsor and Detroit. He was sought after as a lecturer and after-dinner speaker. His every church function, whether it be the Eucharist or an informal prayer service, was well attended. Before committing to a specific service, people phoned to ascertain which Liturgies he would be celebrating so they could be sure of having him in the pulpit. Far from objecting to the admission of women into the diaconate or the priesthood--not to mention the hierarchy--Father Wheatley had supported this feminist cause long before it became a reality. Indeed, his only daughter was now in the seminary studying for

Holy Orders.

As was typical within the Anglican community, he was able to inject a good many of his personal beliefs into his sermons, columns, speeches, and teachings.

In short, from those who knew him well, to more casual congregations, he had his world on a string in the Episcopal Church. Why would he want to switch from a religious organization that allowed him to put a bit of bully into his pulpit to one that was top-heavy with autocratic authority figures?

There seemed no apparent reason for the step he was about to take. Nor had he volunteered any rationale to fascinated news media.

All that seemed apparent was that he was a big fish and, for whatever reason, the Roman Catholic Church appeared to have caught him.

The movie Guess Who's Coming to Dinner featured actor Sidney Poitier as an affluent, handsome, well-spoken African-American engaged to marry into a white family that preached all the proper liberal doctrines of the age. Now, white parents were to have their professed values tested. Would they accept a black man as their son-in-law?

It helped that the color question rested on the indisputable fact that Sidney Poitier would be a catch in anybody's game.

Until this moment, the Archdiocese of Detroit had shown utterly no interest in having an Episcopal priest join their local presbyterate. Not until the many-talented Father George Wheatley appeared on their doorstep. Then it was Guess Who's Coming to Dinner at the altar table.

Now, in Old St. Joseph's Church, Fathers Reichert and Morgan, while contemplating the consequences of admitting Anglican priests into the Roman presbyterate, were exchanging their barely divergent views on the subject.

Neither could see much point to it. But Reichert was open to considering an option, whereas Morgan's mind was inexorably closed.

Some years back, a Jewish man with no personal connection to the Catholic Church had been waked in the very church building in which the two priests were now standing.

Father Reichert had bitterly opposed this liturgical favor and loudly condemned the move. But when the possibility of a miracle occurred during the event, he had spun 180 degrees and championed the cause. Even after the Church dismissed the miracle claim.

Had it been Father Morgan at that scene, he would never have changed his mind, nor believed for an instant the claim of a miracle.

So it was by no means peculiar that Reichert left the door of his present conviction slightly ajar, while Morgan saw the matter as an unalloyed tragedy.

"Uh-oh," Reichert, leaning toward Morgan, stage-whispered against the crowd's noise, "here comes Bob Koesler . . . and he's heading straight for us."

"No need to be concerned," Morgan replied. "He's the Enemy. We know that. We just keep our guard up."

It did not occur to either Morgan or Reichert that it might be considered odd for any priest to look on another priest as "the Enemy." Ostensibly, all were united in their goals. Their attitude was, rather, a testimonial to the intensity of feeling left in the wake of Vatican II.

The three priests were contemporaries, in their early seventies. Two had dug in their heels and evolved not a whit from each and every lesson learned in their seminary days over fifty years before. The third, Robert Koesler, lived in both eras eclectically, choosing the better insights in both traditions.

Whether from coincidence or not, the three differed likewise in their physical appearance. Reichert and Morgan were of moderate height and slim to the point of ascetic moderation. Koesler remained tall and robust. It fact, it wouldn't have hurt him to lose a few pounds.

"Dan . . . Harry . . ." Koesler greeted them.

"What happened?" Morgan responded. "You come back out of retirement?"

" 'Out of retirement'?" Koesler was puzzled. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"We've been watching you work the room," Morgan said. "You look for all the world as if you were still pastor here."

Koesler laughed. "Nothing of the sort. But I was pastor here a bunch of years. You know how it is: Returning to a parish where one has pastored brings back memories, old friendships, catching up on what's going on in each other's lives . . ."

"No," Reichert snapped, "the way we heard it, there's no going back."

Morgan's approving smile ratified Reichert's correction.

"Well . . ." Koesler left the word an orphan. From long, hard experience he knew that it was only a matter of time before disagreement would insert its ugly countenance when liberal and conservative met head-on. It was like trying to mix oil and water.

On this occasion the bristling had risen a bit earlier than usual. In this case the contentious matter was the place of residence and the theoretical need to separate and distance oneself from one's previous parish. Following the letter of the law, a pastor who retired from the active ministry was expected to move elsewhere and to divorce himself from the management of his former benefice. The purpose of this direction was to forestall possible whipsawing between a former and a present pastor by any interested and usually meddlesome parishioner.

If one were to interpret the direction literally, which priests like Reichert and Morgan were likely to do, a former pastor would not even talk to--or indeed even admit the existence of--such former parishioners.

Koesler well understood the problems that could crop up in these circumstances. Such awareness, coupled with the prudence that came with age and experience, could derail any such problems.

Besides, Koesler was very close to Father Zachary Tully, the present pastor of St. Joe's. Indeed, Father Koesler had arranged that Tully succeed him as pastor. There was no problem in this arena that the two had not handled or could not handle in the future.

But Koesler also understood that there would be no settling disputes between himself and the other two priests. That might have been possible had he been able to consult with Reichert alone. But as long as Reichert was guided by his mentor, Harry Morgan . . .

After an awkward silence, Reichert spoke. "How come you're having the ceremony here at St. Joe's? I mean"--he gestured toward the TV cameras and newspeople positioned throughout the church--"you've got the media here. But why not go to the top--why not the cathedral?"

"First," Koesler disabused, "let's get something straight: This is not my idea. There was a lot of discussion on how to handle this--"

"You were in on this discussion?" Morgan interrupted.

Koesler hesitated. This was nobody's business but those who were personally involved in the matter. And that very definitely included him. He had been Wheatley's initial contact, and the one who had steered the Episocopal priest through the tortuous process.

But Koesler was nothing if not polite. "Yes, I was in on the planning. And, as a matter of fact, the cathedral was the committee's first choice. But the consensus was that this would have been like waving a red cape at a bull. We felt the media would be all over this event if we held it in the mother church of the diocese."

"Well," Reichert almost sneered, "you certainly solved that problem, didn't you?" He pointedly turned to stare at each of the TV cameras as well as the reporters who were hustling about interviewing members of the congregation and searching sedulously for any VIPs who might be present.

From the Paperback edition.

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  • Posted June 11, 2011

    Great mystery; intricate, detailed characters; bad editing!

    I enjoyed the story very much. Characters well developed and flowed really well. On editing, however, fell below standard. Two parts in the book had the wrong character names and at least four grammar and punctuation mistakes. Get a better editor, for goodness sake!! This is published work not an in-progress manuscript. Learn to edit, Dorothy o'Brien.

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