The Magazine

Well Bred, Well Fed .  .  .

If John Cheever had invented an Episcopal bishop, he would have been Paul Moore.

May 4, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 31 • By MARK TOOLEY
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The Bishop's Daughter

A Memoir

by Honor Moore

Norton, 384 pp., $16.95

The Episcopal bishop Paul Moore of New York was a wealthy scion and Yale graduate, World War II Marine hero, handsome, tall, brilliant, magnetic, devoted to the poor, and married to a woman who was herself beautiful and rich, with whom he had nine children. He marched with Martin Luther King and railed against the Vietnam war and nuclear weapons, winning him the acclaim of fashionable opinion not only in his New York diocese but across the nation. He retired in 1989 and died in 2003. But it was not until this memoir by his daughter, the poet Honor Moore, that his not-so-closeted bisexuality was fully, publicly disclosed.

Honor Moore's memoir is about her complex father and her complex history with him, her mother, stepmother, the Episcopal Church, and her own complicated emotional and sexual life which, like the bishop's, has been bisexual. After this book was excerpted in the New Yorker, three of Honor Moore's eight siblings publicly denounced her exposure of Bishop Moore's sexual secrets. But she insists her other siblings support her, and prominent reviewers have acclaimed her narrative.

Ascribing to her priestly, charismatic father almost "supernatural" powers, Moore was initially disgusted by her father's promiscuity and betrayals of her mother, whose depression had eventually confined her to an asylum. But her disappointment was mingled with continued enchantment, and she employs her father's larger-than-life story to explain her own journey before and after his death.

The enchantment was understandable. Bishop Moore, filling pulpits with his flowing robes and booming voice, speaking the cadence of King James English amid the organ blasts, was a powerful presence to anyone, especially an admiring daughter: "In the sacristy, my father left being a father and a husband to become someone more like God, God who had a son but no daughters, God who had had a son without touching a woman," she recalls.

It's tempting to dismiss The Bishop's Daughter as one more Episcopal psychosexual melodrama. But Honor Moore's descriptive prose is tightly poetic and tells a story that opens a sad window into what was once the
Protestant elite. "My father always wanted me to write about him," she wrote just two weeks after his death.

Paul Moore was converted to High Church Anglicanism while an adolescent at St. Paul's School. While studying at Yale he joined the Marine Corps and fought heroically at Guadalcanal, swimming a river to rescue two fellow Marines while under Japanese machine-gun fire. Later, he led bayonet charges and was wounded by a Japanese hand grenade. Even when injured he urged his unit on until he fell unconscious. A Japanese bullet pierced his torso, leaving chest and back scars that his little daughter would later stare at during summers on the lake.

Back from the war he penned an eloquent recollection of his time in combat. He also married a young woman who was, herself, of distinguished New England heritage, and who converted from nonbelief to Episcopalianism at his urging.
Studying partly at Union Theological Seminary in New York, Moore encountered Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich. The Niebuhrs attended the Moores' wedding, Mrs. Moore having taken classes from Ursula Niebuhr. She suggested that her new Republican husband would not be harmed by exposure to the "liberal slant" at Union, but Paul Moore was skeptical about postwar plans for peace:

"There is no permanent value in building more and more economic, diplomatic, social, and political cages for the lion or human beast," he wrote. "Rather, he's got to be trained from the inside out, then the cages are immaterial. So--let the diplomats and hot-shots decide their treaties."

He preferred another solution: "Our job, as Christians, is to think and pray like hell so that God can someday enter the lion's heart."

While at seminary, Paul Moore had his first full-fledged affair with another man, who also was married. Paul and his wife begin to see psychiatrists. But they were both committed to the church: His first parish was in a rough neighborhood of Jersey City where On the Waterfront would later be filmed. The Moores immersed themselves in helping the poor and befriended Dorothy Day of The Catholic Worker. Their dinner table was regularly filled with clergy, intellectuals, and activists of different races discussing the great issues of the postwar world.