Book review: Crossing the Street
by Robert LaRochelle
If I recall correctly, I requested this book from the author, rather than it just being sent to me for review. It struck me as interesting that a Roman Catholic of 45 years, who served as Deacon within the Archdiocese of Hartford, would leave it all behind to become a minister of a Protestant church … while still affirming the validity of the Catholic Church! LaRochelle not only crossed the street to see what the neighbors were like, he took up residence there.
Why step down from the one true church? What is the difference between Catholic and Protestant, anyway? And how does it feel to be excommunicated from one’s lifetime heritage … for that is Roman Catholic canon law for LaRochelle’s situation.
He left in part because he could not uphold certain doctrines, such as the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary. He also felt uncomfortable with conservative church stances against such things as abortion and gay marriage, and even more innocuous issues like birth control and annulment. (Odd that over 90% of Roman Catholic couples practice some form on contraception in opposition to official church teachings.) He notes differences in religious philosophy, such as the Catholic reliance upon papal decisions versus the Protestant insistence that our only needed answers come from the Bible.
The book was a little dry in places, but it still held my attention well. The most powerful passages are the personal ones, telling LaRochelle’s own maverick story. The most interesting were the insights into Catholic doctrine, and how it has shifted in emphasis over the last half-century. The most meaningful are surely those that extol the positive contributions of both Protestant and Catholic traditions to the universal church. By “universal church,” LaRochelle means Christians; while he briefly encourages opening our understanding to other religions as well, that is not the focus of the book.
LaRochelle speaks of being “profoundly grateful for the gifts I have received from both my Catholic and Protestant heritages,” but he notes that crossing the street isn’t easy. Those on the Religious Right tend to label more progressive believers as possessing something less than the truth faith. Conversely, it is extremely difficult for the progressive side to be at ease with a fundamentalist position. Yet LaRochelle points us to the words of Jesus who, in a moment of prayer not long before he was killed, pleaded that those who would be his followers might “all be one.”