I’m a bit embarassed that despite spending four years as a religion reporter, during which I wrote often about the Catholic Church, I had never heard the name James Kavanaugh before Saturday. That’s when I read his obit in the LA Times and learned of his 1967 national bestseller, “A Modern Priest Looks at His Outdated Church.” From the LAT:
The book, in which he called for church reforms on issues such as birth control, divorce, premarital sex and celibacy for priests, quickly became a national bestseller.
A New York Times reviewer called it “a personal cry of anguish that goes to the heart of the troubles plaguing the Catholic Church.”
“I was naive enough to think that ‘Modern Priest’ would turn things around in the church and that I could still stay in the priesthood,” Kavanaugh told the San Diego Union-Tribune in 1984. “I had no idea the book would have the impact it did.”
Look magazine purchased the serial rights, and Kavanaugh made the rounds of talk shows, including Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” He also was in great demand to speak on college campuses around the country.
The book followed up an article Kavanaugh had written for the Saturday Evening Post’s “Speaking Out” page. Written under the pseudonym Father Stephen Nash, it was titled “I am a Priest and I Want to Marry.”
The article reportedly generated “Speaking Out’s” heaviest reader response, and the magazine forwarded the missives to Kavanaugh.
“He got so many thousands of letters, it filled up half my garage,” recalled his brother, Dr. Philip Kavanaugh.