Deaths elsewhere

January 12, 2010

JAMES KAVANAUGH, 81

Author and ex-priest

James Kavanaugh, a former Catholic priest who came to fame in 1967 with his controversial best-seller calling for reform in the church and later wrote best-selling books of poetry and other works, died Dec. 29 in a hospice in Kalamazoo, Mich. He had undergone surgery for an aortic aneurysm in July.

Ordained in 1954, Mr. Kavanaugh served as a parish priest in Lansing and Flint, Mich., and earned a doctorate at the Catholic University of America in Washington before the publication of "A Modern Priest Looks at His Outdated Church" in 1967.

The book, in which he called for church reforms on issues such as birth control, divorce, premarital sex and celibacy for priests, became a national best-seller.

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," Mr. Kavanaugh told the San Diego Union-Tribune in 1984. "I had no idea the book would have the impact it did."

Mr. Kavanaugh left the priesthood several months after his book's publication.

"He resigned formally on the stage at Notre Dame University," where he was delivering a speech to an audience made up mostly of priests and nuns, said his brother, Dr. Philip Kavanaugh. At one point, "he ripped off his collar, threw it on the ground, stamped on it and said, 'I will never wear this again!' "

In a 1985 interview with the Los Angeles Times, James Kavanaugh explained that midway through his talk at Notre Dame, "I got carried away. ... The church had done a lot of damage to people's personal lives, and I felt compelled to say so."

In the early 1970s, Mr. Kavanaugh published his first book of poetry, "There Are Men Too Gentle to Live Among Wolves."

Mr. Kavanaugh published more than two dozen books, including works of poetry, nonfiction, allegories and two novels ("A Coward for Them All" and "The Celibates").

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