Responding to Criticism: Sometimes I Can’t Help Myself

I received this lovely missive today. At my work email address, no less.

Mr. Wheaton,

I have just finished reading your debut novel.

When I picked up a copy of this book in the library on Saturday I thought I was in for a good read. Thought I had found Anne Rivers Siddens or Dorothea Benton Frank meets Janet Evanovich. Or perhaps a male Mary Kay Andrews.

Well, was I disappointed. As someone who was raised Catholic but left the church many years ago, I was shocked and appalled at your portrayal of Catholic priests. Any member of the clergy, no matter what religion deserves more respect.

I’ve been pretty disciplined about not responding to criticism since the book came out, but this one was just too much. Besides, it being Christmas and all, I was in the mood to give.

My response:

I’d challenge you to point out one instance where I didn’t show respect for the characters. As someone who was raised Catholic and who also left the Church, I also spent a fair amount of time with priests. Priests are people and they don’t deserve any more or less respect than you or I do just because of their job description. Some priests curse. Many of them drink. Some gamble, others steal. I know of one who did all of the above. There are also a large number of gay priests, who struggle every day with their identity and the thought that they’re doomed to hell by their very nature.

Of course, this doesn’t even begin to tackle the subject of priests who abuse children and the superiors who shelter those priests at all cost. I guess they deserve respect as well. At any rate, I wanted to write a comedy, not a tragedy.

Many people, including many Catholics–including my Catholic-school religion teacher–enjoyed the portrayal. I’ve had former seminarians and a couple of people who work for the Church ask if I went to seminary because parts of the portrayals were spot on. Indeed, at my very first reading I learned that there was a priest in South Louisiana with the last name of Sibille–and he left the Church to marry the woman he fell in love with.

Sorry if you are distressed by realistic portrayals of life. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I’m pretty sure the back cover of my book indicated that this wasn’t going to be the standard tale of a priest.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

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