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Posted April 16, 2007

Book: A Church in Search of Itself: Benedict XVI and the Battle for the Future
Author: Robert Blair Kaiser
Vintage Books, New York. 2007. Pp. 261

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Robert Blair Kaiser examines the most important and divisive issues confronting the Church: the sex abuse scandal, a ban on contraception, the roles of women in the Church, the increased and behind-the-scenes view of six of the cardinals who gathered in Rome in April 2005 to choose a new pope and through them makes clear why Catholics worldwide are increasingly leaving the Church or defying Church doctrine. With passion and heartfelt concern, Robert Blair Kaiser brilliantly illuminates the issues and the combatants in the battle for the soul of the Catholic world.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Why a bishop would want to cling to this kind of absolutism is puzzling. He would live a far less anxious existence, and his people would be better served if he shared governance in an enculturated Church with, by, and for the people.

How would he do that? Leonard Swidler, a distinguished professor of theology at Temple University in Philadelphia, has long argued that the Catholic Church in the United States will enter a new, more vital existence when it can make a declaration of independence — not independence from the pope (for American Catholics tend to love their pope, no matter who he is) but independence from a system of governance that is entirely man-made, and made in another time and in another place that bears no resemblance to twenty-first America.

Swidler is referring to the Church’s canon law, written by a foreign monarch, the pope, so that he can exercise absolute power absolutely. Americans do not understand how and why a pope, with the assistance of his courtiers, can make laws, enforce laws, and be the judge of his own justice, all in secret. “If canon law isn’t helping the Church achieve its mission, then,” he say, “the American Church should write some new law.”

The new law he has in mind would not deal with changes in doctrine but in discipline. Other theologians are beginning to see a way out for the American Church, which they suggest could become an autochthonous Church, modeled on the ancient Churches of the Middle East — the Chaldeans, the Maronites, the Melkites, the Armenians, and the Copts, for example, who are Catholics united with Rome, with their own patriarchs, their own liturgies, and their own mostly married clergy.

But could they create an autochthonous Church in modern times? It is not unthinkable. In 1925, the Belgian cardinal Desire Joseph Mercier proposed that the Anglican Communion be brought back into union with Rome whole and entire, as an autochthonous Church — with its own patriarch, the archbishop of Canterbury, its own married clergy, and its own English liturgy. Mercier was ahead of his time: Pope Pius XI wouldn’t hear of it. A little more than seventy years later, however, Indonesian bishops at the 1998 Asian synod in Rome called for an autochthonous Church in southern Asia on the stated grounds that Rome had “neither knowledge nor the competence” to make their pastoral decisions for them. In 2001, at another synod in Rome, Indonesian bishops called for a new ecumenical council, one that would launch the radical decentralization implied in the concept of autochthony. “Only then,” one of them said, “can we be free to proclaim the gospel.” the Indonesian bishops justified their position by harking back to the new charter that was written for the Church at Vatican II. They cited a series of enactments that dealt with the Church’s need to make the gospel come alive everywhere on the planet, and in every culture.

Table of Contents:

1. Politics: Toward a People’s Church

2. Death: A Call to Serve by suffering

3. Vacant: the sacredness of the process

4. Legacy: more than a pope

5. Cardinal Roger Mahony: Clericalism still rules

Excursion 1 Priesthood: no kind of magic

6. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor: people of other faiths?

7. Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga: the gospel in every culture

Excursion II Liberation: all they can be

8. Cardinal Francis Arinze: developing local theologies

9. Cardinal Julius Darmaatmadja: a truly Asian Church

Excursion III Syncreticism: the heart, then understanding

10. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger: order in the Church

11. Postmortem: a Tsunami of meaning

12. Conclave: one smart move after another

13. Benedict XVI: Keeping the people in the piews

Epilogue: Modest proposals