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TV Reviews : Schism Underexploited in ‘Even to the Fire’

The legacy of Vatican II, Catholicism’s 1965 call for a church-wide commitment to social action, has created a dramatic schism that “Faith Even to the Fire” (at 10 tonight on KCET Channel 28) doesn’t make as scorching as the title suggests.

Writer-producers Sylvia Morales and Jean Victor view the Church through a very different lens than Robert Hilferty’s frantically received “Stop the Church”: Made in the quiet, staid fashion of so many crafted, soporific public-TV documentaries, “Faith” is a meditation next to “Church’s” often crude hysteria. But both offer harsh critiques of an institution caught between words and deeds.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Sep. 30, 1991 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday September 30, 1991 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Column 6 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Review error-- Sister Marie de Porres Taylor is still an active member of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. It was incorrectly reported in Tuesday’s Calendar that she left the sisterhood.

The irony swirling around sisters Rose Martha Zarate, Marie de Porres Taylor and Judy Vaughan--feminists all, politically radicalized by the liberation theology that came in the wake of Vatican II--is that while they took the revolutionary call literally, their actions have brought them into direct confrontation with a conservative, male-dominated church structure.

Zarate has sued the San Bernardino Archdiocese for wrongful, and unexplained, dismissal from her post there; she suspects that her efforts to organize Latino poor have made her superiors “afraid.” Taylor left the sisterhood because of what she viewed as pervasive racism in the church hierarchy, but she continues her efforts to bring fellow African-Americans into the faith. Vaughn’s refusal to retract her name from a signed public letter advocating female reproductive rights led to a face-off with Rome, which threatened excommunication for all signatories.

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Their faith tested, all three women remain hard-working Catholics while being acutely aware that they are in the middle of a critical turning point in the church’s history. It’s a sea-change that sister and sociologist Marie Augusta Neal argues began with the mid-20th-Century awareness that mere obedience to institutional commands is morally indefensible. When the faithful no longer obey Rome’s every edict, will Catholicism change, or break? “Faith Even to the Fire” only begins to explore the implications of this great debate.


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