Interview: James Carroll

The full transcript of the Phoenix's conversation with the author
By ADAM REILLY  |  April 1, 2009

Catholic tilt: James Carroll justifies his faith. By Adam Reilly.
The Phoenix's Adam Reilly recently spoke with Globe columnist James Carroll about his new book, Practicing Catholic (Houghton Mifflin), and his critical but durable relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. An edited transcript follows.

Start by telling me what the genesis of the new book was.
A decade ago, I was working on a book on the history of Christian anti-Semitism, and I published the book in 2001. It's a very negative story; it's a sad, tragic story of how, century in, century out, Christians — Catholics in particular — have betrayed the message of Jesus by attacking Jews. And that tradition is part of what led to the Holocaust. How much more negative can you get?

And one of the great questions that I faced everywhere I went, and still face, was: knowing this history, and clearly being so affected by it, how can you still be a Catholic? And it wasn't just a question I had to field; it's a question I had to ask myself. I'm not just a Catholic. I take it seriously. I go to mass regularly because I need to and want to, it's a source of consolation and support and strength in my life that I can't live without. And I felt like I owed myself and my readers an explanation of what this is.

Why does it matter so much to me? I'm not the kind of Catholic I was as a child, or a young man, or even a middle-aged man. I'm 66 years old, and I'm actually able to imagine the end of my life in a way that I didn't used to be able to. So the meaning of this tradition is different now — and I knew that I would only be able to actually understand that meaning if I wrote this book. So I wrote it to answer the question: Why am I still a Catholic?

And I had a similar experience to the one I had with Constantine's Sword. By the time I finished Constantine's Sword, I was more committed to the church than ever, even as I was more aware then ever of its fallibility and tragic flaws. And I hope that readers find, in this book, a description of this flawed institution that will help them understand it better, and be less offended by it. I'm not looking to get anybody to sign up for the Catholic Church, but the church's flaws are not its problem. Its flaws are its solution, really, because what the church is about is proclaiming that God loves humans the way we are, not the way we wish we were. And I find the love of God in this flawed institution, which is a way that I have of living with my own flawed character.

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