The Cardinal Sins by Andrew M. Greeley was released in 1981 and was six months on the National Bestsellers lists. For me, it was an interesting read as it gave an honest insight into the world of the priesthood. I say, “honest” because it is my understanding that Greeley is a priest. The story, of course, is a work of fiction, but as we all know, many great works of fiction are based on hidden truths. Greeley, himself, says the book is a story – not history or biography or autobiography – but, it is, nonetheless, true.
What are the cardinal sins, and how do they relate to this book? The story centres around four main characters, and is told by the main character of the tale, Kevin. His weakness is pride. Patrick’s is covetousness, Ellen’s anger and occasional glutton, and Maureen’s is sloth.
The four young people grew up in small village USA, Kevin and Pat are best friends, Maureen is Kevin’s beautiful cousin, and Ellen is the poor girl whose parents load familial responsibilities on. Kevin’s dream is to be a priest. In his early years, Pat was embarrassed around girls, but in 1948 (when the story actually begins)he has nothing else on his mind – especially, Maureen.
Both young men struggle with their physical attraction toward girls, but Kevin seems able to keep his emotions under control. His focus is on the priesthood, and celibacy. Pat’s continues to be on girls, but he soon learns that he has a demon inside of him that causes him to have bursts of abuse toward the young lady he might be out with at the time. One day, after having to deal with his demon, he believes he has a vision of the Blessed Mother telling him to enter the priesthood, which he does. Of course, throughout the story, no matter how high Pat moves up in the church, he still has to deal with his demon, and he never has it completely under control.
Kevin, on the other hand, despite his attraction to Ellen, forsakes all physical love for his higher calling. He, also, is the one they all turn to when they are in trouble, especially, Pat.
The story weaves through the years, from 1948 to 1981, as each of these characters struggle with their faith and their relationships with each other. Do they all have victory? That is for you, the reader, to decide. I have my opinion, but it would not be fair for me to taint yours before you read the story.
I will say this, though, “The Cardinal Sins” does give a deep insight into the real world of the Vatican and its branches, and it was well worth the read.