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The Bishop's Daughter: A Memoir

By Honor Moore

New York: W. W. Norton & Co. 2008, 365 pp.

Honor Moore’s memoir is a meditation on three themes: the relation of a daughter to her parents; the trajectory of two people’s sexual lives—hers and her father’s; and the relationship between sexuality and religious feeling. The “bishop” of the title was Paul Moore, the Episcopal bishop of the diocese of New York from 1972 to 1989. With his headquarters at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine situated in Manhattan four blocks from the main campus of Columbia University, Paul Moore, together with James Morton, the Dean of the Cathedral, made the huge Romanesque and Gothic pile on Amsterdam Avenue an outreach center for a racially, culturally, and economically mixed community. Born to wealth and privilege, Paul Moore, though described by a colleague as “a prince of the church,” spent his professional life as a liberal activist, advocating on behalf of the underprivileged and for social justice.

Married for most of his adult life—to two different women—he was also bisexual. His daughter only discovered this fact about her father when he was seventy-one years old. By that time, Honor herself had had both male and female lovers. She came of agewhen American culture was cracking open. Martin Luther King marched in Selma—and her father with him. The Vietnam War and the protests against it polarized the country. The feminist movement challenged the traditional balance of power between the sexes. Her introduction to feminism coincided with the death of her mother and a newly felt intensity of love for this woman to whom, as the eldest of nine children, she had never felt close enough. As the personal and the political converged for her, she became partnered with the first of several female lovers. Though she had previously had relationships with men of her own age, the two men with whom she had the longest relationships were eighteen and twenty years older than herself. She does not disclose the number of therapists that she had, but it is clear that she spent many hours in therapeutic self-reflection. The result is a story that breathes with an inner life as its narrator tenderly discloses her gradual discovery of the inner life of her parents and, in doing so, reveals her own. 

How did Paul Moore reconcile his sexual life with men with his life in marriage with two women and with the history of Christian homophobia? The answer is: imperfectly. He never acknowledged his homosexual feeling to his first wife. Yet, she confided to a friend, as she prepared to separate from her husband, that he was homosexual and the unhappiest man that she knew. Yet, he said that he had never been in love with a man, and that he regarded his homosexual attraction as an addiction. In this, he reflected the times in which he had come of age. However, if his judgments about himself reflected those times, the religious persona that he presented to the world was groundbreaking. He ordained one of the first woman priests in the Episcopal Church. The fact that she was also an open lesbian made it a doubly controversial and courageous act. His inner spiritual self seemed to have forged ahead of his cultural self when he said that, in the human psyche, religious emotion and sexual feeling came from “the same mysterious, undifferentiated source,” and spoke of how “the human life of love and the divine life of love are not separate, but part of the scope of God’s love that sweeps through His creation. The love of a man for a woman, of a parent for a child, of a man for a man, a woman for a woman” (pp. 278–279).

His actual personal life seemed to have been lived somewhere between the narrow cultural perspective that defined his attraction to men as “an addiction” and his profound, publicly declared spiritual conviction of the connection between religious emotion and sexual feeling. And although he said he had never been in love with a man, there was in fact one man to whom he had professed love, a man with whom he had had a relationship of thirty years. Honor only met Andrew after her father’s funeral. When she asked him what he knew of her father’s sexual life, he said, “I was his sexual life.” Although there had also been other men, the relationship with Andrew had been the longest and strongest. As a young, gay Columbia University student who was fed up with the homophobia and hypocrisy of the Roman Catholic Church in which he had been raised, Andrew asked Bishop Moore for a meeting in order to discuss being received into the Episcopal Church. It was the older man who eventually initiated their sexual relationship.  By the time Honor met Andrew, she had moved back to men in her own emotional and sexual life. He, on the other hand, had decided he wanted to make a life with a woman and was engaged to be married. Their lives, and the life of the man who was the father of the one and the lover of the other, suggest that the direction of a person’s sexual feeling can shift, within parameters that cannot be specified in advance, in response to emotional movements within the self that cannot be foreseen or even fully comprehended. 

Honor Moore was born when her father was in his mid-twenties and not yet ordained into the priesthood. By the time that he died in 2003 at the age of eighty-three, daughter and father had traversed a long journey together. During that journey, there had been periods of misunderstanding and estrangement. Along the way, she had put together pieces of what was to become this book, but she says that the narrative did not become clear to her until the days before his death, when she told him that she loved him. 

Postscript: Five weeks after Paul Moore’s death, Gene Robinson was confirmed as the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church.