Catholics is a very short novel and easy to read, but it is anything but light. The story takes place at an Irish monastery built on a remote,rocky island on a cold, harsh rainy night. The stormy weather matches the personal and internal conflicts of the characters. There’s not much plot; instead the narrative consists mainly of conversations and internal monologues.
Catholics was first published in 1972 during the chaotic period following Vatican II. However, it takes place in a fictional time following Vatican IV. In some of its details Catholics is definitely dated. Many of the supposedly shocking elements — such as a priest travelling in non-clerical garb — are commonplace now. Others seem far-fetched — such as private confessions banned by Rome. One “battle” is timely though — the Irish monks have returned to saying the Mass in Latin, and Father Kinsella has been sent from the Vatican to make them cease and desist.
The novel is neither a criticism of Vatican II nor an advocation of it. The main point of the story is not how ecumenical the Church should or should not be; it’s not about the Mass in English or in Latin. It is, rather, a confrontation between two men of authority within the Church which raises questions of faith and it’s source.
Catholics is available at Doherty Library.