BY ED WEST
LEFT-WING "social" Catholicism falsifies the Gospel and can promote violence, according to Catholic novelist Piers Paul Read's new book. The Death of a Pope, published in America on May 1 and available in Britain later in the year, intertwines real events with fiction, and is likely to be controversial for its attacks on secularism and liberal Catholicism, especially liberation theology. Mr Read told the Herald: "The anti-hem is an aid worker, a Basque who was once a Jesuit in Salvador and left to join the guerrillas. He's now an aid worker. "The themes are Catholic ones, you could say it's about the battle between liberal and conservative Catholics, a debate between the Tablet and The Catholic Herald. There is also a certain amount of satire." Mr Read said the theme originated with a visit to El Salvador in 1990, where many Catholics supported the Communists. "I wrote a piece for the Independent about the Jesuits at the University of Central America, and more broadly the Catholics who supported liberation theology. I was
once a Catholic radical but El Salvador was a long, drawn-out disaster. I began to realise, as Pope Benedict XVI puts it in his encyclical Spe Salvi: 'Jesus was not Spartacus, he was not engaged in a fight for political liberation' ." In an interview on the website of Ignatius Press, the book's American publishers, Mr Read said: "When I was w young I was a zealous exponent of liberation theology. As I grew older Hike to think I grew wiser and came to see how 'social' Catholicism, however superficially appealing in the face of the suffering caused by poverty and injustice, in fact falsifies the teaching of the Gospels. "This is particularly true when it condones or even advocates the use of violence. Yet this was precisely the message preached from the pulpits in Catholic parishes and taught in Catholic schools in the last decades of the 20th century. "The two visions of what charity demands of a Christian confront one another on the issue of the Aids epidemic in Africa. It is this confrontation that gave me the idea for my novel."
Mr Read also tackles secular hostility in the book. The novel starts
with a quote from Polly Toynbee that "the Pope kills millions through his reckless spreading of Aids". "Toynbee is an atheist and militant secularist, and she sees in Catholic misgivings about the use of condoms to prevent the spread of Aids a stick with which to beat the Church. Her views are widely shared in the secular media, even if they are not so pungently expressed." The 68-year-old novelist, journalist and playwright is most famous for his novels Knights of the Cross and Alice in Exile, and the non-fiction titles Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, The Templars: The Dramatic History of the Knights Templar, Alec Guinness: The Authorised Biography and Hell and Other Destinations. Death of a Pope centres around a love triangle involving a British woman called Kate and an intelligence analyst, Kotovski, which reflects the moral confusion of post-Christian Britain, as well as disillusionment with liberal Catholicism in El Salvador and elsewhere, where he said those Catholics who opposed "replacing the Cross with the AK-47" were in fear of their lives. Ignatius Press is a Catholic publisher founded in 1978 by Fr Joseph Fessio, a Jesuit and former pupil of Benedict XVI. It has published works by the current Pope as well as apologists such as Scott Hahn. Mr Read correctly predicted that Cardinal Ratzinger would replace Pope John Paul II as pontiff in 2005, and told Ignatius Press that "from the mid-Eighties, when I first became aware of the then Cardinal Ratzinger with the publication of The Ratzinger Report, I have adkired him for his patent holiness, his intelligence, his lucidity, his coherence, his charm and the quiet courage with which he insists upon unpopular truths. "His very elevation to the papacy has routed the 'spirit of Vatican II' advocates of an alternative Magisterium. His encyclicals Deus Caritas Est and Spe Salvi, the Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, and his book Jesus of Nazareth are all superb." He added: "His courage and lucidity were clearly apparent in his Regensburg address. I share entirely his insistence that beauty and mystery should return to the celebration of the Eucharist."