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The other "Cardinal Mahony"

July 6, 2008 |  8:33 am

Cardinalmahony Science fiction is usually (usually) the genre which creates alternative histories of the world -- histories in which, for instance, Napoleon triumphed at Waterloo or Hitler in World War II or the computer emerged in Queen Victoria's reign, or....

Now there is a novel, "Cardinal Mahony," which imagines a different leader for the Catholic archdiocese of Los Angeles. How different? According to the book, this Mahony gets kidnapped by liberation theologians and, in the end, "falls in love with his kidnappers and leads the American Catholic Church into a radical new way of being."

The author, Robert Blair Kaiser, is a longtime journalist who has written books about Robert Kennedy ("RFK must die!") as well as about the Catholic Church in the years since Vatican II ("A Church in Search of Itself"). He's a former Jesuit, an activist Catholic deeply concerned about the Church as many are.

American Catholicism has been tainted often in recent years, in particular by the priest sex abuse scandals (something the real Cardinal Mahony is still handling today), and many activists have written polemics about the Church's mistakes and what should be done next. Kaiser could easily have done the same, but instead he frames his views as fiction, explaining in a brief preface that he hopes to "help seventy-five million American Catholics see the possibilities--to help them understand how they can be Catholic--and aggressively American as well. And why they should."

Not just your average work of speculative fiction.

Nick Owchar