A Bloomington, Minnesota, man has written a novel imagining what life might be for today’s priests, but of course it had to be self-published; no book publisher of note would even think of putting its imprint on the story of a priest who hasn’t some evil secret waiting to be discovered.
It isn’t that Father John Krentz, the main character in Jim Koepke’s “Confessions of a Priest,” doesn’t have his flaws. He can be sharp-tongued, impertinent, anti-authoritarian and somewhat narrow-minded. But he’s a good priest, and he grows as a person throughout the story.
All of which makes the novel seem almost pollyannish. That’s okay with Koepke; it’s what he intended.
“It seems as though everyday Catholics are inundated by negative press about Catholic priests,” Koepke told The Catholic Spirit. “I wrote this for people who might like some good news about priests. Our priests are the best of the best, and I hope this offers people some relief.”
Fifty-year-old Father John has a comfortable life serving a parish that’s not as large as it used to be but still doing all right. The story unfolds when his bishop — who takes the brunt of the priest’s vitriolic tongue — disturbs that comfort level, and not just once.
Parish priests will recognize some of the other characters that present challenges and opportunities, including the mean-spirited parish gossip, and the story doesn’t skip issues of the day like clergy sexual abuse, homelessness, addiction and homosexuality.
Koepke calls team-teaching confirmation classes — which he’s done with his wife, Mary, for 26 years — “the most fun thing I do,” and pages of his book could be mistaken for pages of a catechism at times, as Father John draws upon the teachings of the Church to counsel parishioners and deal with what life brings to his rectory door.
This is a fast-paced work with superbly written dialogue. The repartee between the characters is so true to life, you can easily imagine enjoying the give-and-take of the conversations in the rectory.
The main flaw of “Confessions of a Priest” is a cosmetic one, a result of self-publishing I’m afraid. There’s just a lack of professionalism in the book from the front and back covers to the inside pages, with wide leading between the lines and a smattering of typographical errors that unfortunately cheapen a pretty decent story.
Pick it up anyway, either at St. Patrick’s Guild in St. Paul or on amazon.com ($13.95).