This particular review is written by Jack Miles, author of Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God, and the excerpt I share below looks at hope – the hope for renewal and reform with Roman Catholicism. To be honest, I’m left feeling conflicted by the central conundrum outlined in the last two paragraphs. Has the moment passed for real change within the Church as Miles’ contends? Is hope for such change – though “brave” – nevertheless a “faded” one? Are those of us working for reform and renewal wasting our time?
Yes, the issues and questions raised by Miles are definitely appropriate for Holy Saturday – a silent and empty day, a day devoid of ready and comforting answers; and a day which, for those very first followers of Jesus, would have been filled with a host of emotions – uncertainty, despair, grief . . . but perhaps also (and most importantly) a brave hope.
[The] ninth chapter [of Practicing Catholic], “Religion and Terror,” is an eloquently anguished denunciation of Pope Benedict XVI, “the chief sponsor of the new Catholic fundamentalism, enforced with no regard for the real cost to human beings” — a prophetic denunciation by a writer whose early, impassioned columns in The Boston Globe against the Iraq war were prophetic in a parallel way. No nose-blowing flippancy for him. He takes his country, his church, his ancestry and himself too seriously for that.
Carroll, married to an Episcopalian, reveals that he once considered becoming an Episcopalian himself: “Theologically there was no longer any substantial difference between Rome and Canterbury, with the one exception of Rome’s claim to supreme ecclesiastical authority. . . . My conclusions about the overreaching authority of the modern papacy made me more like an Anglican than a traditional Catholic. So why did I not follow the path that so many Catholics took in those years and become an Episcopalian?”
Having taken that path myself, I am predictably unpersuaded by his answer, but here it is: “By remaining a Catholic and advocating reunion of these two traditions (and ultimately of other Christian denominations), I am keeping faith with the widely held and profoundly Catholic conviction that the scandalous divisions of the Reformation must end.” His view is that “such ‘conversion’ was no longer to the point in the post-Vatican II church.” Mine is that resisting such conversion is no longer to the point.
In terms of lived religious practice, I concede, these differences shrink away to almost nothing. But behind them, there does stand one substantial divergence of judgment. “The Catholic people have already changed,” Carroll writes, “and this book” — autobiography though it may seem — “is that story. Catholics came to understand that they themselves — not their priests, bishops and pope — are the church.”
So Carroll believes. I believe otherwise. In the wake of the clerical pedophilia scandal, I thought it just barely possible that lay Catholic reform groups like Voice of the Faithful* might either force more democratic, more effectively self-correcting governance on the Roman Catholic Church as a whole or introduce it into the American Catholic Church in spite of the Vatican. But such groups never became a working majority, and now the moment has passed. The “new kind of Catholic identity” that Carroll names as the very subject of his book I see as a faded hope rather than, with him, an accomplished fact. It remains a brave hope, however, for all that, and no centurion of the pen is worthier than he to keep it alive and burning.
To read Jack Miles’ review of James Carroll’s Practicing Catholic in its entirety, click here.
To read the first chapter of Practicing Catholic, click here.
* I serve on the general steering committee of the recently formed Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR). Next Saturday, CCCR is hosting a prayer breakfast in Minneapolis that will announce and plan a series of “synods of the baptized” for our local church. This prayer breakfast will also feature Janet Hauter as keynote speaker. Janet is the vice-president of Voice of the Faithful. I look forward to talking with her about the issues and questions raised by Jack Miles’ review. For more information about CCCR’s April 18 prayer breakfast, click here.
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Emerging Church
Choosing to Stay
Of Mustard Seeds and Walled Gardens
Dispatches from the Periphery
The “Underground Church”
One Catholic Gay Parent Who Isn’t Leaving the Church
Our Catholic “Stonewall Moment”
“We Are Facing a Structural Problem”
A Time to Re-think the Basis and Repair the Damage
A Catholic Crisis and Opportunity in South Minneapolis
Alive and Well . . . and Flourishing!
An Update on St. Mary’s in Brisbane
Something We Dare Call Hope
A Declaration of Reform and Renewal
For more of James Carroll at The Wild Reed, see:
A Christmas Reflection by James Carroll
James Carroll on “Pope Benedict’s Mistake”
Thoughts on Tomorrow’s Presidential Election
Recommended Off-site Link:
James Carroll’s Official Website