David Rice’s book, Shattered Vows, in 1990 revealed a deep malaise within the Roman Catholic Church. Rice had travelled the world talking to Catholic priests who had left the ministry. Mostly men who had left the priesthood to marry. Each had taken a vow of celibacy at their ordination. Each had found the demands of a celibate life beyond their human capability.
Now another book from a former Catholic priest sees the light of day. Here we get to read one man’s story in which he sets out to put on the record his enormous struggle with the normal sexual urges of the young male. A struggle which ended with his abandoning the priesthood because of a young woman, a parish worker with whom he’d fallen helplessly in love.
Walter Keady, a young man working in Dublin for the Irish civil service back in 1956, felt that God was calling him to the priesthood and soon signed up to the Spiritans, a Catholic missionary order of priests. He underwent a six year preparation consisting of study and spiritual immersion.
In his book, Being and Becoming, he describes those years in terms which conjure up a vision of enforced isolation from family and friends, a total withdrawal from the affairs of the world strongly reminiscent of the religious cults which later became notorious for their brainwashing techniques.
Keady’s book differs from Rice’s in its fundamental approach. Here we have a personal memoir which describes in detail the tortured struggle of one man who finds himself ‘on the missions,’ in an alien culture thousands of miles from his homeland and who is beginning to question the very foundations of the religious doctrines he imbibed from early childhood in a deeply Catholic Ireland.
There are twists and turns here which will catch the reader by surprise. Not least the author’s journey from fervent Catholic to total non-believer which he explains with reference to his own theological study.
Walter Keady tells his story with a brutal honesty sparing neither himself nor some of those who sought to influence his actions. Whether you are believer or agnostic you’ll find this book makes for compelling reading.
Walter has agreed to be interviewed here on my blog. You will find his answers cast a fascinating light on what inspired him to write this book.
PJC……Hello Walter. It’s a great privilege to welcome you to my website. Let me start by saying I found your book fascinating. Being and Becoming is a highly personal and totally honest account of your spiritual journey. It cannot have been an easy decision to go public in this way. What prompted you to do this?
WK……I am approaching my eightieth birthday and no longer believe in an after-life. So I decided, for my own benefit more than anyone else’s, to articulate how I went from being a fervent Catholic with a strong faith in heaven and hell to becoming a firm believer that this life is all I’ve got. And yes, it was difficult for me to express my innermost feelings for public consumption.
PJC……Your book is rich in detail, recalling events from fifty odd years ago with extraordinary clarity. Either you have a remarkable gift of memory or you’ve done a good deal of research to reconstruct events. Or perhaps a combination of these two?
WK……I wrote a great deal of the memoir from memory. Some old photographs, which I included in the book, jogged the memory; and I had kept some letters about the process of seeking a dispensation, which I reproduced verbatim in the memoir. A tiny book written by my former superior in Brazil about his experiences in that country also helped.
PJC……Your book recounts in a fair amount of detail how you came to leave the priesthood and the events surrounding that decision. Do you feel any sense of bitterness towards those who would have stood in your way?
WK……Absolutely not. The events are much too long ago, and I am much too old now, for any lingering bitterness. Anyway, those who stood in my way, apart from being now dead, thought they were protecting the Church by making things difficult for me.
PJC……Would you like to see Being and Becoming widely read? And how have you set about letting people know about the book?
WK……Yes, I would like to see it widely read; I think it will be of interest to both believers and non-believers. I tried, without success, to get many publishers, including several Irish publishers, interested in it. My agent called it “masterful,” but refused to promote it because my previous book, The Dowry, had not sold well. I have sent press releases to several reviewers, and e-mailed many friends. I am also doing readings at book shops and to book clubs. I will continue to promote it.
PJC……You have five published novels to your credit, including Celibates and Other Lovers. Which do you prefer to write, memoir or fiction?
WK……I write novels and short stories for fun. The memoir was a one-time effort, which I will not repeat.
PJC……Some people of significance in your memoir were left, I thought, in a sort of limbo. I’d love to have heard what happened to them in later years. Do you plan to follow up with a fuller account of your (and their) subsequent lives?
WK……No. The purpose of the memoir was to relate my own spiritual journey only. Besides I have very little knowledge of what happened later to those I talk about in the memoir.
PJC……At the relatively young age of twenty-one you made up your mind to leave the world and become a priest. Do you now regret having done so? Was it a serious mistake would you say?
WK……I really have no regrets. What I did has made me what I am. Our lives are always the product of decisions we make without being able to see the future. Besides, I like what I have become; looking back, I like the life I have lived. I did what I thought at the time was right for me. I believe now, looking at my own life and that of other mature people, that for the most part we bumble our way through life. Twixt cup and lip, and the best-laid plans …etc.
PJC……Do you keep in touch with your former colleagues in the clergy and if so what is your relationship like?
WK……I have good memories of my former confreres and have dedicated the memoir to them. In particular, I have one Holy Ghost (Spiritan) priest friend who has stayed the course with me; we see each other whenever he comes to the US or I’m in Ireland. A number of others have dropped by to visit me over the years. One man recently wrote to me from Brazil. None have tried to ‘bring me back to the fold.’
PJC……You are described in the book’s blurb as a religious agnostic. What is your attitude now towards the Catholic Church and religious belief in general?
WK……As they say in Ireland “you can take the man out of the bog but you can’t take the bog out of the man.” I no longer go to Church and have no religious beliefs, but I am always interested in the goings-on of the Catholic Church. I have suffered for my former confreres as they, innocent as most of them are, were tainted by the paedophile scandals. I have regretted the medieval theology of the last few popes which has done harm to mankind, and I rejoice that the new pope seems to better understand the world we live in.
PJC……I found your book on Amazon.com. For those who prefer to read from their Kindle or other device, is there an ebook version available?
WK……Yes, the memoir, like my novels, is now available on Kindle. Print copies can also be had through world-wide Amazon, or can be ordered through any bookseller. The memoir will rarely be visible on bookshelves as it is a print-on-demand book.
Being and Becoming, the memoir of a former Catholic priest, by Walter Keady.