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The Crime of Father Amaro by José Maria…

The Crime of Father Amaro (1875)

by José Maria Eça de Queirós

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Re-read Project. Read originally in Portuguese in the 80s in my Eça de Queiroz phase.

“Her old religious devotion was reborn, full of sentimental fervour; she felt an almost physical love for the Church; she would have liked to embrace and to plant lingering kisses on the altar, the organ, the missal, the saints, on heaven itself, because she made no real distinction between them and Amaro; they seemed to her mere appendages of his being.”

In “The Crime of Father Amaro” by Eça de Queiroz, translated by Margaret Jull Costa.

I remember my feelings when I first read it. My take is quite different.

For starters, let me just state that I was raised a catholic and I'm still a practicing one.

Since the 80s I learnt a few more things along the way, namely that the first pope (Peter) was married and so were many subsequent ones. In the Greek Church, parish priests are required to marry, primarily to head off problems like the ones depicted in this classic of Portuguese literature. In 2 Corinthians, Paul says it is better to marry than to burn with sexual desire and risk "fornication". This biblical injunction was one reason the protestants dropped the requirement like a stone. The original reason for priestly celibacy is that priests were handing down their offices to sons, taking them out of church hands. Concubinage was winked at partially because any children would be illegitimate and thus could not inherit. The pope who declared celibacy the rule was warned about the problems it would generate, which we see to this day. I no longer believe "The Crime of Father Amaro" was an attack on Catholicism, neither to Catholics in general, but as an attack to corrupt people and corrupt institutions. The priests are human beings; therefore, some are better persons than others. But the truth is that most priests have to live in a world of hypocrisy and power. And as everybody knows: "Power corrupts". I am not saying that the whole of the Catholic-Hierarchy is full of hypocrite people, but that several of them succumbs when faced to the power and wealth. What I am saying is nothing new or a revelation by any means, it happens since ancient times, not only among Catholics or Christians in general but among ANY members of ANY institution where power and ambition are present. That means: Everywhere... from politicians to priests thru entrepreneurs and military. Corruption is everywhere as the opposite: well-intended people.

I've known despicable people who are Catholics, Protestants, Jews or Buddhists or atheists and good people from any religion (or without religion) as well.

The usual take on this movie is "corrupt (catholic) church exploiting its followers, in a world where God is absent". This makes sense if you are an atheist or agnostic, but not otherwise. If God is ever-present in our daily lives, he must be given a role in this book. The Bible has many stories where the Lord uses temptation to judge and strengthen the character of his servants. Mortals use their free will when faced with temptation. Those who fall are sinners and God will punish them, but also forgive those who repent.

How does this fit with the story of "The Crime of Father Amaro"? Father Amaro is a young promising servant of God, however he is also weak: he is lustful, and his rapid career has made him inclined to pride/vanity. The Lord chooses to try the character of his servant, by tempting his lust with (the also lustful servant) Amelia. Amaro falls, partially because of his weak commitment to abstinence ("I was forced to"). Amelia herself falls, but also commits the sin of trying to seduce Amaro away from his vocation. Amaro resist this, thus proving worthy of God's trust. Amaro is a sinner, but he doesn't repent. Thus God tries him (and Amelia) a second time, this time on the 5th Commandment. Although Padre Amaro is the instigator and accomplice, he tells Amelia in front of the church altar, that she must use her free will. She does and violates the 5th commandment. For this God punishes her with death. Amelia's death is also the instrument God uses to punish Padre Amaro, who finally admits his sin and repents. The Lord tempted, punished and forgave Padre Amaro.

In the end, from a spiritual perspective the book is a strictly moral story about the faith in God. Amaro keeps his and proves worthy and Natário loses his and are condemned to eternal damnation. From this point of view, only an atheist could see this film as an attack on the Holy Roman Church. Father Natário is truer to his faith than either Brito or Amaro. Father Natário can turn away from the Church without turning away from God. Not once does he imply that it is God who wants him to leave his people, that it is God forcing him to make a choice between reassignment and excommunication. He knows full well he is up against the Bishop, not God. He chooses his honest mission rather than give in to the Bishop.

The Catholic Church is hardly "God's sole appointed representation on earth" ... even in a small country village where someone like Dionisia can raise a crowd to attack the "heretic," there are still many who can see the small-mindedness of that "one true religion" idea. Certainly someone as intelligent as Father Natário would fall into that group. If anyone deserves to go to hell, it’s probably Padre Amaro. Amelia's sin was one of desperation, while Amaro's is one of selfishness. Who is the one who commits the bigger sin, the desperate mother who kills her child, or the person who urges her to do so? We all have moments of desperation. Thankfully, most of them do not lead to the death of another person, but Amaro was hardhearted in his treatment of Amelia and his child. His punishment is that he has to live with the blood of Amelia and their child on his hands.

Of course, the politically correct response to my comment is "well, if Amelia had access to legal abortion, she would not be dead". Yes, and if all cliffs and bridges had protective railings, then any desperate mothers who wanted to push their children off them would not be at risk at falling off themselves. The clue is not to facilitate abortion, but to counsel those desperate enough to consider it.
On a side note. I'm so sick of people that would love to tell a a writer how to make his/her books. SO WHAT if they don't tell all the sides of a story? Would the Wizard of Oz be a better book if we spent book time exploring all the positive contributions flying monkeys or munchkins make to society? No! SO WHAT if it blasts something about your particular group? People of all religious groups do and say horrible things. There should be more movies that dare to say and do the things that people do in real life. Priests rape, deacons kill abortionist, abortionist kills fetuses, Jews kill Arabs, Arabs kill Jews, Americans kill anything they can get away with, particularly each other, and kid-show hosts have child porn. Life just sucks sometimes so would you mind:


and let the rest of us enjoy learning something.

Even if I hated this book (which I didn’t; on the contrary), I’d have to stand up for it because if I didn't, then we’d have lost a little more freedom and even that is waning by the day. ( )
1 vote antao | Mar 12, 2017 |
« Leiria, 26 de Agosto de 1939 — Todo o dia Virgínia Woolf. Um Proust sem a grandeza do outro. (Chega a fazer impressão a maneira como este Proust influencia a literatura inglesa contemporânea). À noite (três da manhã) um passeio pelos becos da cidade. A Sé, a botica do Carlos, a rua da Misericórdia, a casa da Sanjoaneira. Grande Eça! Arrancar desta terra um tal romance, parece obra dum deus.»
Torga, Diário I, 7.ª ed., Coimbra, 1989. ( )
1 vote biclaranja | Oct 22, 2016 |
Eca de Queiros is fast becoming one of my favorite 19th Century novelists. This is both his first and his fourth book. An unedited version of the book began being serialized without his knowledge in 1875. A second version was written in in 1876, and the third and final version was written in 1880, with a preface by Eca de Queiros stating, "Corrected, rewritten and entirely different, in form and plot from the original edition."

The novel is set in the provincial Portuguese city of Leira. Newly ordained Father Amaro, for whom the seminary "merely combined the humiliations of prison with the tedium of school", has arrived in town, and is taken to board with the widowed Sao Joaneira and her beautiful daughter Amelia. Each evening the prim, proper and religious women of the town, together with some of the clergy, gather at Sao Joaneira's for conversation, cards and other entertainment, a "gathering of skirts and cassocks." Gradually, Father Amaro and Amelia begin a demure and surrepticious flirtation hidden beneath the watchful eyes of her mother and the church ladies. When he learns that the pious Sao Joaneira is conducting an affair with his superior Canon Dias, Father Amaro begins to resent his celibacy and decides to act. He dreams of what a good husband he could be, and resents that he was pushed into the priesthood.

At first, our sympathies are entirely with Father Amaro. Then, he plots to destroy Amelia's suitor--"It was not a plot to take her away from her fiancé, good heavens no; his motives (and he said this out loud the better to convince himself) were honest and pure: it was his duty to drag her back from Hell; he did not want her for himself, he wanted her for God! True, his interests as a lover did coincide with his duties, but even if she were squint-eyed, ugly and stupid he would still, in the service of Heaven,...unmask Senhor Joao Eduardo as a slanderer and an atheist."

The turning point for me came when Father Amaro connives further to arrange for private time with Amelia as her confessor, in order that they might consummate their love affair. He tells Amelia's mother that Amelia "needs...a confessor who will be firm with her, who will say to her--go that way!--and accept no rebuttals. The girl has a weak nature and, like most women, she simply cannot cope on her own; that's why she needs a confessor who will rule her with a rod of iron, someone she will obey, someone to whom she will tell everything, someone she is afraid of...that is what a confessor should be." His ploy works, and, using the cover of saving her soul, he and Amelia are soon engaged in a florid affair. While Amelia entered into the relationship willingly at first, Father Amaro comes to dominate her, and "did not allow her other interests or curiosities about anything other than him. He even forbade her to read novels or poetry. What did she need knowledge for? What did it matter to her what went on in the world?" When Amelia begins to believe that they are sinning, and that she will fact the wrath of God, Amaro tells her that being loved by a priest was special, and would call down upon her God's interest and friendship.

Not surprisingly, Amelia becomes pregnant, and Amaro's response is to pity himself--"he had been so affectionate and kind to her, and now she wanted to repay him with scandal and disgrace." It comes to the point that Amaro is seen "weighing the pros and cons--growing up fostered or suffocated shortly after birth." He rationalizes to himself that should the latter course be taken, "it was clearly God taking pity on the child, not wanting one more wretched orphan on the earth, it was clearly God demanding his angel."

This book has been described as an indictment of small town hypocrisy, the celibacy rules of the Catholic church, the venality of the clergy, and a portrait of the stultification of women in 19th century Portugal. It is all that, but for me, most of all, it a fascinating and masterful character study of an innocent and good individual and his gradual evolution into a degraded monster. ( )
1 vote arubabookwoman | Sep 1, 2015 |
Not everyone who enters the priesthood comes to it with a true vocation. Father Amaro was a perfect example. The orphaned child of servants to the Marquesa de Alegros, he was brought up by her in her household with the goal of entering the Church. Then the Marquesa died in turn and the young boy went to live with his surly uncle, the grocer.

While Amaro had never chosen the monastic life, he "began to think of the seminary as a liberation" from his relatives, and so, at the age of fifteen, he entered the seminary. However, by this stage, he knew it was not the life for him, absorbed as he was in discovering women. Unfortunately for him, there were no other alternatives.

The idea of women pursued Amaro even into the seminary. The images of the Virgin did not depict the pure Mother of God to him, but rather a pretty blonde girl. Then there was the kind of woman the priests warned of, the woman who personified the Path to Iniquity. What kind of creature was this, then, who, in theology, was either placed on the altar as the Queen of Grace or had barbarous curses heaped upon her? What power did she have, that this legion of saints should one minute rush to meet her, passionate and ecstatic, unanimously handing over to her the Kingdom of Heaven, and at the next, uttering terrified sobs and cries of loathing, flee from her as if she were the Universal Enemy, hiding themselves in wildernesses and in cloisters so as not to see her and to die there from the disease of having loved her? Unable precisely to define these troubling feelings, he nevertheless experienced them. They would constantly resurface, demoralizing him, so that before he had even made his vows, he was already longing to break them.
By the time Amaro was ordained and made his vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, it was obvious that at least one would be broken.

Amaro's second parish was in the town of Leiria, a comfortable provincial town, run by the usual suspects and full of devout elderly ladies. Both factions were "narrow minded, credulous bigots". The priest he was to replace, the "glutton of all gluttons", had died of apoplexy bought on by overeating on Easter Sunday. He had never been popular, so the handsome youthful Amaro was a welcome addition to the town.

Amaro's new superior would be Canon Dias. Dias decided Amaro would be lodged at São Joaneira's house, as it was clean, full of good food, and well located. What Amaro did not realize at the time, was that his new landlady was the Canon's mistress. The coadjutor of the town suggested mildly that this might not be the best situation for the young priest, since Joaneira had a lovely young daughter, Amélia, and tongues might wag. The coadjutor was overruled.

Matters between the two young people took the very course any town gossip starved for fodder would predict. But while breaking religious vows is a sin, it is not a crime. Father Amaro had a long way to go before he crossed that Rubicon.

The Catholic Church teaches that there are not only sins of commission, there are also sins of omission. As Father Amaro tried to deal with the inevitable consequences of his sins of commission, he was led just as inevitably into sins of omission. While he himself did not commit legal crimes, the omissions were contributing factors to crimes by others. Amaro did not sin like Ambrosio in [The Monk], or Schedoni in [The Italian]. What then were his crimes?

Eça has written a classic nineteenth century novel of social realism and for him, Amaro's crimes were moral crimes against the society he should have served. The translator, Margaret Jull Costa, calls the novel "an attack on provincialism, on the power of a Church that allies itself with the rich and powerful, tolerates superstition and supports a deeply unfair and unChristian society.. It is also... a critique of the position of both men and women in Portuguese society of the time." It is also an attack on institutional celibacy.

There are two moral standard bearers in the novel. One is the doctor, the rationalist and nonbeliever. One is the elderly Father Ferrão, the man who represents all that the Church should be. The Church and the small town politicians and all who support them are the hypocrites. Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride; all the seven deadly sins are committed by the town's leaders. It is their corruption, which Amaro is a part of, which is the crime against the ordinary people of the town: the poor, the unemployed, those without connections. People like João Eduardo, Amélia's would be suitor, don't stand a chance, and so turn to ideas considered dangerous, like those of the Paris Commune.

Amaro's crimes were in the moral realm, against society. This may sound like a heavy read, but Eça de Queirós has the sly touches of Dickens, the social eye found in Zola and Balzac, and the social conscience of Hardy, making this a rewarding read.
4 vote SassyLassy | Mar 12, 2015 |
A story of life the small town of Leiria, Portugal, where the priests run religion, politics, and people's life in general and where newly ordained Father Amaro arrives to takes a lurid, and eventually tragic, interest in young Amelia. This is first and foremost a great and highly enjoyable story to read, but its overall purpose (for lack of a better word) is to provide a very sharp satire of corrupt priests' intrigues and their power over their parishioners. For me, as a modern reader, the most interesting parts were the ones that were about Amaro and Amelia's love-story, which is almost impossible not to compare to Emma Bovary and her various love-interests, but where Emma makes stupid decisions based on disillusion and boredom (and annoys me to bits), Amaro and Amelia have true passion on their side, which makes me care for them, regardless how ridiculously they sometimes behave. And, the novel comes with a proper 19th-century Realism ending, but still manages to use its last chapter to take a final stab at the "baddies." I've only recently discovered Eça de Queirós, but I'm fast becoming a huge fan. If you plan to read this in English, make sure you get the 2003 version translated by Margaret Jull Costa, because the 1962 translation is quite simply unreadable. ( )
2 vote -Eva- | Aug 15, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Queirós, José Maria Eça deprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Masereel, FransCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pohl, GerhartForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schlichtkrull, Thomas W.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Foi no domingo de Páscoa que se soube em Leiria qu o pároco da Sé, José Miguéis, tinha morrido de madrugada com uma apoplexia.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0811215326, Paperback)

An unflinching portrait of a priest who seduces his landlady's daughter, made into an acclaimed and controversial motion picture.

Eça de Queirós''s novel The Crime of Father Amaro is a lurid satire of clerical corruption in a town in Portugal (Leira) during the period before and after the 1871 Paris Commune. At the start, a priest physically explodes after a fish supper while guests at a birthday celebration are "wildly dancing a polka." Young Father Amaro (whose name means "bitter" in Portuguese) arrives in Leira and soon lusts after—and is lusted after by—budding Amelia, dewy-lipped, devout daughter of Sao Joaneira who has taken in Father Amaro as a lodger. What ensues is a secret love affair amidst a host of compelling minor characters: Canon Dias, glutton and Sao Joaneira's lover; Dona Maria da Assuncao, a wealthy widow with a roomful of religious images, agog at any hint of sex; Joao Eduardo, repressed atheist, free-thinker and suitor to Amelia; Father Brito, "the strongest and most stupid priest in the diocese;" the administrator of the municipal council who spies at a neighbor's wife through binoculars for hours every day. Eça's incisive critique flies like a shattering mirror, jabbing everything from the hypocrisy of a rich and powerful Church, to the provincialism of men and women in Portuguese society of the time, to the ineptness of politics or science as antidotes to the town's ills. What lurks within Eça's narrative is a religion of tolerance, wisdom, and equality nearly forgotten. Margaret Jull Costa has rendered an exquisite translation and provides an informative introduction to a story that truly spans all ages.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:26 -0400)

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Satire of clerical corruption set in Liera, a small city in Portugal, during th1 870's.

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