Finding, Losing, and Defending God: The Wildest Catholic Memoirs

Finding, Losing, and Defending God: The Wildest Catholic Memoirs

While there certainly is no typical path to God, these seven memoirs are as varied as Jesus’ original disciples. Drawing on backgrounds of alcoholism, closeted homosexuality, and abuse, these writers’ stories prove that no path is too far gone from the road to salvation. Some of these devout believers find their solace within the Church, others shed light on the darker inner workings of the men behind the altar—but the shared experience is a renewed belief in purpose. For those struggling to establish or reconcile their own faith, or those who are looking to fill the next 40 days of Lent with inspiring reads, we recommend these books.

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    1. Memories of a Catholic Girlhood

    Mary McCarthy lost both of her parents to an influenza epidemic at a young age. She chronicles this loss and its repercussions in her memoir Memories of a Catholic Girlhood. McCarthy is subsequently abused by a member of her extended family, eventually abandons her Catholic identity. Ultimately, McCarthy’s tale is one of loss, but it also deals with the ephemeral and ever-shifting nature of memory: She admits to the reader that she has fictionalized portions of the book for the sake of the narrative, and acknowledges that events she describes are remembered differently by others who were present.

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    2. Crossbearer

    As the writer of dark films like Basic Instinct and Jade, Joe Eszterhaus would not be easily pinned as a devout Catholic. Eszterhaus was no saint: He was addicted to alcohol and cigarettes, which led to throat cancer. His diagnosis forced him to confront the need not only to change his ways, but to ask for help in doing so. And that’s where the Big Guy came in. With a powerful, often humorous, in-your-face attitude, Eszterhas discusses how he found God and how it helped him overcome his addiction and love life again.

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    3. Rome Sweet Home

    Jokingly called “Luther in reverse,” Scott Hahn once boasted of his ability to convince Catholics to convert to Presbyterianism. Now he and his wife Kimberly travel the country, sharing the story of their conversion. It all started with a baby—or rather, the idea that contraception was contrary to God’s plans. Hahn, an academic at heart, began researching Catholicism and found not only solace, but answers in the text he had once thought was wrong. Believing strongly in the idea that God’s sacred covenant established a worldwide family in the Church, Hahn and his wife converted a few years after their son was born.

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    4. God Underneath

    Father Edward L. Beck’s memoir recounts years of hard-won spiritual growth. Aside from his candor regarding hurdles, at every step Beck is thinking of his audience: Not only does this book recount Beck’s journey, but it also helps the reader to better forge and understand his or her own. Most impressive is Beck’s tone, which is anything but sanctimonious. He’s quick to admit where he’s made mistakes, which both humanizes him as a narrator and endears him to the reader.

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    5. A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church

    In this behind-the-scenes memoir, the former Archbishop Rembert Weakland sheds light on the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, what it was like to be a closeted gay man while serving, and his regrets behind the two sexual abuse scandals that marked his career. Originally regarded as a liberal voice in the traditionally conservative religious world, Weakland was held up as a champion until the news of a confidential payout to a former gay lover broke headlines. In this candid confession, Weakland takes readers on the road from shameful secrets to eventual liberation.

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    6. Loyal Dissent

    What do you do when the religion you believe in and have made your life’s work, forbids you from teaching because of your liberal ideas? If you’re Charles Curran, you stick around anyway. Curran has a long history of differing from the Catholic Church: He’s spoken out in support of homosexuality, abortion, contraception, and other hot-button issues for Catholics—a big no-no as an ordained priest and teacher of theology. In 1986 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—led by the future pope, Benedict XVI—banned Curran from teaching Catholic theology. Despite this, he remains a loyal Catholic. In his memoir, Loyal Dissent, Curran discusses why he kept his faith and how you can remain a Catholic even when you don’t agree with all of its teachings.

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    7. Radical Reinvention

    When you envision someone returning to the fold, you may not have in mind a vulgar, bohemian, mosh-pit enthusiast and pro-choice activist. That’s the first way that Kaya Oakes’ memoir grabs your attention. What keeps you reading is the candor with which Oakes describes her initial rejection of Catholicism and the frustration, fear, and doubt that plagued her slow return to the church. She doesn’t mince words, whether it’s about her wild past or the fact that she still doesn’t agree with the Vatican’s politics. This is a memoir based undeniably on truth.


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