Book Review: Honor Moore's 'The Bishop's Daughter'

Six months after the death of Paul Moore, the Episcopal bishop of New York from 1972 to 1989, his daughter Honor got a phone call. It was her father's birthday, and she was at home unpacking boxes of his belongings. The caller introduced himself as an old friend of her father's; it was a name she had not heard until it appeared in the bishop's will some months before. Moore began to talk with him, eager for insight into the man who had loomed larger than anyone in her life but had been a difficult, impenetrable figure. The caller repeatedly mentioned how close he had been to Paul for 30 years, and Moore finally asked if her father had ever confided in his friend about his sexual life. The man's answer was immediate. "I was his sexual life," he said.

The revelation, Moore writes in her new memoir, "The Bishop's Daughter," was startling but not entirely surprising. Her father's bisexuality was an "open secret" that she and her eight younger siblings had known for years, and that had been hinted at in the press and by members of the church. Still, the publication of an excerpt from her book in The New Yorker in March, detailing her father's sexuality, created a minor scandal. In a letter to the magazine, two of her siblings wrote, "Doesn't it matter, even when someone is dead, that his most fervently held private life, and the unnecessarily explicit details of his marriage, are exposed against his wishes? We believe that it does matter, and that both of our parents' good legacies have been damaged." Others applauded Moore's candid portrayal of her father. An Episcopal priest from Maryland wrote, "This story illustrates the necessity for our church to struggle honestly with the issue of healthy sexual behavior—gay or straight."

The Episcopal Church in the United States continues to wrestle with just that issue. When the first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, was ordained in 2003, it drove some congregations here to align with Anglican churches in Africa and South America that are opposed to homosexuality. As bishop in 1977, Moore himself had ordained the first openly lesbian priest in the United States. Since The New Yorker excerpt, the blogosphere has been debating whether Moore broke his vows—and whether his daughter has violated his trust. Outing is always controversial, but in this case, the matter is especially complicated: he was a parent, a husband, a public figure and a spiritual leader. Honor Moore is critical of those who so harshly condemn her father's secret life. "The negative reaction to The New Yorker piece was by the same people having the same reaction they had when he ordained the lesbian priest," she says, speaking at her home in New York City. Yet writing the book was not a political act. "It's a love story," she says.

Paul Moore was a polarizing figure long before his daughter's book. Born into a family of privilege—his grandfather, William Moore, was a founding member of the Bankers Trust Co.—he embraced a radical form of Christianity that focused on social justice, choosing poor parishes and moving his family to the then gritty Jersey City, N.J. ("On the Waterfront" was filmed in the Moores' neighborhood a few years later), where he and his wife, Jenny, opened their house to the community. He marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and Dorothy Day.

The bishop also struggled with his attraction to men and had adulterous affairs with both men and women throughout his marriage. He told his children about his double life when he was 70, after the death of their mother, when his second wife discovered an affair with a man. But he never came out publicly, despite ongoing rumors. "People would say to me, 'Why are people so surprised about this? I've known it for 20 years'," Moore says. "And I would say, 'Oh, really, have you?' "

Moore's memoir is as much about the daughter as the bishop. She's straightforward about her own relationships with men, and about a 15-year period of dating only women. Though she didn't hide her love affairs, her bisexuality gave her "a real sense of the extraordinary suffering it must have been for my father to be divided like that." She writes of her conflicts with both parents—her mother was hospitalized for depression, and seemed happy only with another new baby to take care of—and her resentment over having to share her parents' affection with eight brothers and sisters. ("It was never comfortable for me to take my baby brothers and sisters in my arms," Moore writes, "and I never had my own child.") Today, she says, she is closer to some siblings than others, and that most supported her in writing the book. Others asked her to leave out their father's sexuality, but that was never an option. "Why would I write the book if I couldn't tell the truth?" she asks. "It would be one thing if I told the truth with hatred and anger. But I didn't." Getting the call from the mysterious man turned out to be unexpectedly consoling. "I was so comforted that there was someone my father could be his entire self with," she says. After her father's death in 2003, a friend told her, "The more we come to know each other as human beings, the more we come to know the true nature of God." When she was growing up, Moore says, she went to church in search of her father. Now, in writing her book, it seems at last she's found him.