But the review is, by itself, an excellent if rambling essay. It is as thoughtful and sensitive a treatment of its subject -- Rome and the gays -- as one is likely to read in periodical literature.
One passage, however, struck us with particular force. It is easy to lose, since it occurs well into the piece, and isn't especially controversial, so we will quote generously. Toibin shares his own memory of seeing John Paul II's 1991 visit to Jasna Gora, the monastery of the Black Madonna:
This is a shockingly powerful moment, a reminder of what evangelism can look like. One thinks of Philips Brooks' idea of preaching as the communication of "truth through personality," a notion that is easy to mock, but only when it goes south. One also thinks of George Herbert, advising that the defining character of his Country Parson's sermon is "holiness."
Of course, the spell is broken when the liturgical moment ends. The next day, John Paul held a press conference, for no reason other than to declare that a woman had not slept in the monastery, recently or ever -- in other words, to assure the world that his church had remained faithful even to the most pointless of its rules. The spell is far more broken now, as both world Christianity and the world itself contemplate the freedom with which the Church's real rules, the essential ones, were violated, and the violators protected, and the victims denied justice, by prelates under John Paul's own leadership.
We have no special brief for John Paul, as we have no special animus against Benedict. Their job is incomparably difficult, and they are merely human. Many pastors, we imagine, are more impressive behind the pulpit than at a vestry meeting. Probably most.
We just can't help wondering what it would all be like if, through some miraculous reconfiguration of reality, what Toibin has seen at Jasna Gora had not been merely the truth (which we believe it was) but the whole truth. What if there were no more to it than that, than the communication of holiness, of "larger things," things "exquisite and exalted"? Parishes might run riot, what with all those otherworldly holy men running things. But the Church would surely be a better place.