Catholics discouraged by the sexual-abuse scandal and by declining vocations to the priesthood should take a look at the work of Jean Sulivan, the French novelist and essayist who died in 1980.
In his spiritual journal, Morning Light (1976), Sulivan conceded: “Like the storm clouds of the Exodus, the church’s face is more luminous today than when it seemed to rule. It has found glory in its humilation.”
Sulivan was a diocesan priest of peasant background who did not publish his first book until he was forty-five. “I write,” he said, “in order to lie a little less.” After the success of his third novel, The Sea Remains, which won the Prix Catholique in 1964, Cardinal Clément Roques of Rennes approved Sulivan’s request to be relieved of priestly duties in order to devote his time to writing. Regularly critical of institutional religion, Sulivan described the style of the gospel as “just the opposite of a message that tries to control our lives with slogans and principles.”
Sulivan moved to a run-down neighborhood in Paris and wrote tirelessly, completing book after book before dying in an automobile accident at the age of sixty-seven. Earlier he was called back to Rennes by his mother’s hospitalization, the central subject of his powerful memoir, Anticipate Every Goodbye. Her agonized death, rejecting the “priestly consolation” of her...