A Review of At the Crossroads by Frankie Schelly

Through the eyes of these four women many of the controversial issues of today’s Church are discussed. Schelly perceives accurately the crisis of an institution built heavily on medieval theology inadequate for today’s social problems. Women are accepted as equals in nearly all other western institutions: as government and business executives, scientists, astronauts, political leaders and even rabbis, but according to staid Catholic dogma they are still subordinate.
Reviewed by Pogo

At the Crossroads,
by Frankie Schelly
2001, FireSign Exclusives
ISBN: 1-931391-32-7,
RRP$26.50 USD, 369pp

Today’s kids knew more about Pap smears, herpes, AIDS, birth control, and do-it-yourself pregnancy tests, than they knew about dental hygiene, InVivian’s high school family course, Father Cyprian had said, “In marriage any body part of one partner may touch another body part of the other without sin.” Someone snitched because suddenly, Father Cyprian didn’t teach their class anymore. Still that didn’t keep her and her classmates from fantasizing how tht vital bit of information might be applied.

“Jennifer, what do they teach you in school about…you know.” The girl looked away, mumbled, “That at Planned Parenthood we can find out what teachers aren’t allowed to tell us, that we’re welcome there.” If you had heeded that advice, you wouldn’t be pregnant. The girl poked at the missing eyespot on the monkey, said, “I know what’s a
sin.” (p165)

In the small farming community of Sleeder, Illinois, Jennifer faces adulthood alone in the tenth grade. Like all small towns, gossip spreads faster than wildfire and growing problems can’t be easily hidden, particularly when raised with strict Catholic teaching in a Catholic school. Jennifer faces a crisis, but so do the teachers of the school led by four religious sisters, suddenly confronting past traditions and exploitation of women in subordinate roles. What can she do, but turn to Vivian, the Sister Superior, at the school for consolation and advice to avoid the fears of scandal and a ruined life?

With Vatican II long past and John Paul II at the helm of an ancient ship, the seas of faith are never smooth as four nuns cruise into turbulent strange waters, exploring dangerous areas of religious life. With vows of poverty, purity and chastity, human sexuality is a topic that is avoided only to be confronted in the daily realities of life as society radically changes from the 60’s to the 21st century and nuns remove their habits to dress in civilian clothes. Constrained by the sexual politics of the Church as defined by St Paul’s misogyny and enforced by the manipulation of Father Rupert of the local parish church, the women question the dictatiorial authority of the Church over their personal lives as being obedient zombies without individual rights to follow their inner voice even when it conflicts with the presiding authority. Individual conscience rebels against the conformity of religious rules and orders as crisis peaks to
crisis with inadequate financial support to run a school. They are forced to do extra work to pay off the basic necessities for daily living in a world where the priest lives in ease, making more demands of their austerity. The time is gone when women retreated to the convent to avoid inconvenient marriages or to escape the world as a safe place away from the confrontation with sex. The double-talk of religious dogma no longer
satifies the minds of the younger generations and leaves much to consider with double entendres such as:

Whatever did Father mean when he said, “Purity of intention renders the conception of the child holier.”? (p13)

In a world of public scandal where priests escape legal prosecution and are furtively shifted from one appointment to another, this book questions the sexual ethics of the holy Catholic Church. In a time when school teachers go to prison for sexual misconduct with students, autocratic priests can still use sexual politics to manipulate their wills upon others, demanding obedience of nuns and live sacrosanct lives of polished hypocrisy. For although, St Paul lived and died centuries ago, his influence still dominates the spiritual lives of women today, leaving women in secondary roles as teachers, nurses and chalice holders, but definitely not priests or bishops, taking from them their rights to act and think independently as each new situation arises.

Vivian, trained to be obedient to vows, to ask permission for every act and forgo simple pleasures such as bubble bath, becomes transformed through self-realization that she can act independently and that individual choicemay be more important than enforced dogma as personal conscience comes in conflict with stated Catholic theology. Is it right that a young girl’s life is made harder by an unwanted baby at a inappropriate time. Aren’t there really two issues in balance? Shouldn’t Jennifer also be given a chance to live? What about love? Should she be punished her whole life for a foolish mistake ? What kind of life would the child have in a hostile environement or without its natural mother? Mirrored in the heart of Vivian, the plight of Jennifer becomes clear. The girl has no one else to whom she can turn or trust. The crisis brings fresh revelations about her own personal conflicts. She must act and change to face a different world that’s not longer encrusted in medieval thinking.

Kimberly, the novice, in smart clothes, disturbs her with her brash rebelliousness. Experienced in the bitter struggle of life through illicit activites for illegal immigration, Kimberly is not able to humbly mingle with the sheep of the herd. She must have her voice heard and sees each individually with the potential of being someone different with the spiritual imperative of being me. Life can be lived only once, and then it should be lived fully with the awareness of fulfillment. Life is a gift to be given through involvement in others’ lives. Through the death and suffering of others, and her own personal griefs she questions also the Church’s stand regarding sexual ethics, pregnancy and family planning. Unable to accept the dictates of canon law and dogma, she rebels in secret, involving herself in another form of imposed hypocrisy.

Mary Ruth is Christ’s bride, given by her father into the order. Her personal conflict with authority is much harder as she doesn’t know how to challenge it since she has been dependent on others all her life. To earn the extra necessary money to help pay for the household need, she gives piano lessons after school hours. Financial pressures cause her to accept Mr Clyde Johnson as a pupil, but his interest becomes personal.

Sister Dominic is the oldest and lives in the shadows of old age. The school was her refuge and hme for many years, to uproot and change to the infirmary would be too difficult without familiar companions, and so she hides her physical pain in order to remain.

Through the eyes of these four women many of the controversial issues of today’s Church are discussed. Schelly perceives accurately the crisis of an institution built heavily on medieval theology inadequate for today’s social problems. Women are accepted as equals in nearly all other western institutions: as government and business executives, scientists, astronauts, political leaders and even rabbis, but according to staid Catholic dogma they are still subordinate. The hypocrisy and double-standards are questioned with acute understanding of the sexual politics that exist. With the growing scandal of sexual misconduct and pedophilia among priests, this book accurately reflects the growing social crisis in the church. In a world where kids surf the internet, play the stockmarket and create theorems to calculate the size of black holes, catechism and dogma can no longer be accepted submissively through memorization. Strangely, the Catholic Church is faced now with the similar problems that the Jews confronted with Emancipation and secular education. Today there are women rabbis and cantors, but there are no female catholic priests. Definitely a read about the sexual politics of the Catholic Church.

For more information about At the Crossroads visit: At the Crossroads

About the Reviewer: pogo, alternatively known as Mary C. Legg, or ardela dimwit, grew up in the beautiful San Juans of Washington State with the luxury of nature and literature. She acquired a degree in Classics, English Literature and Creative Writing, followed by a Masters of Library and Info Science; thus completely deranged, she left the States to study solo soprano literature in Vienna and has had the misfortunate experience of teaching English in Prague where she is currently turning over a new leaf for the pen. She can be contacted at:pogo@writethinking.net

 

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