Emory Report
September 19, 2005
Volume 58, Number 4


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September 26 , 2005
Bianchi's first novel tells take of Bishop of San Francisco

BY michael terrazaS

For five decades, Gene Bianchi has been writing about the Catholic church, first as a Jesuit, then as a scholar of religion. But the Emory professor emeritus of religion has never quite approached the subject like this.

Bianchi, director of Emeritus College, has just self-published his first novel, The Bishop of San Francisco: Romance, Intrigue and Religion, in which he examines through a fictional lens some of the same divisive issues he’s explored in his scholarly work—only with a lot more license.

The novel tells the story of San Francisco archbishop Mark Doyle, who has fallen in love with his therapist. Doyle’s determination to remain in the diocese is threatened by Ordo Novus, a fictional, right-wing Catholic group suspected of killing two of Doyle’s priests, one a gay pastor in the city’s Castro district and the other a liberation theology activist.

“It’s sort of a flesh-and-blood Da Vinci Code, in that it examines some of the same issues but with today’s people,” Bianchi said, making reference to the bestseller, which questions women’s historical role in the church by reimagining the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

“One big question in the book is the movement to a more democratic church rather than an authoritarian, monarchical church,” said Bianchi, who admitted the story is “somewhat” autobiographical. “My life has been caught up in some of that, some of the same struggles as a theological intellectual. It’s all embedded in there without being pulled out in an essay I’ve written 100 times.”

Though he began writing the story about 20 years ago, Bianchi said it’s only been in the last few years that he became serious about getting the novel ready for publication. Aside from the random short story here or there (Bianchi said he did take a few creative writing courses at Emory in the program’s early days), it is his first work of fiction, and he shared it with a few people around town (including Emory colleague Shalom Goldman) for feedback on the manuscript.

“What I had to get around was the heavier, academic, intellectual kind of prose—no long subordinate clauses,” said Bianchi, who said his task of the past couple years was to make the book “less of a 19th century novel.” He’s also had to answer inquiries from friends who wonder just how familiar some of the characters would look.

“I’ve had people ask if they’re in the novel, and I tell them that all the characters are fictional, but at the same time, how can you write something like this and not be influenced by the people and places you know?” Bianchi said. “You’ve got to write in the context of the story; you can’t write from the planet Jupiter.”
Bianchi self-published the book through AuthorHouse, though since its publication he was contacted and has signed with a literary agent to market the novel elsewhere. In the meantime, both Bianchi himself and the AuthorHouse staff are pitching the book to stores around the country. Asked whether he could follow Dan Brown’s move from the page to the silver screen—The Da Vinci Code, starring Tom Hanks, is due to hit theaters next year—Bianchi said he’s already done some amateur casting.

“My wife thinks I should go after Mandy Patinkin [for the lead],” Bianchi quipped. And what about a sequel? “If I have the energy,” he said. “But I could be up for Bishop II. You know, like Rocky II?”
Bianchi will hold a booksigning for The Bishop of San Francisco on Tuesday, Oct. 11, in 102 White Hall.

For more information on the book or to order online, visit www.bianchi.bishopsf.com.