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A Church in Search of Itself: Benedict XVI and the Battle for the Future.

A Church in search of itself Benedict XVI and the battle for the future WRITTEN BY Robert Blair Kaiser PUBLISHED BY Knopf, New York and Random House, Toronto, 2006, ISBN: 0375410643, Hardcover, pp. 261, $35.00 CAD

Those who followed the developments of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) at the time, will know that Robert Blair Kaiser was among the influential journalists who "politicized" the Council, dividing Council Fathers into liberal progressive and conservative-reactionary types, and running with the idea that the Council was a new start and a new beginning against which much of its past traditions should be disregarded. Today, forty years later, he still believes that the Church is "in search of itself."

Although the subtitle of Kaiser's book is practically the same as Weigel's (see above), the content is almost the opposite. Whereas Weigel is full of admiration for John Paul II and delighted with Benedict XVI as his successor, Kaiser is deeply disillusioned with Cardinal Ratzinger becoming the new pope. He sees both the hierarchical structure and the Papacy as hindrances to the Church becoming a true people's church. As far as he is concerned, John Paul II was well on his way to achieving the status of a demigod (p. 46). Certainly, John Paul II must be given credit for some good things such as his challenges to the Soviet regime, and dictators elsewhere, the author thinks, but neither he nor Ratzinger understands the need for change, real change.

After the initial philosophical position taken a la Hans Kung, Kaiser proceeds by devoting five chapters to individual cardinals (Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles; Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of London, England; Rodriguez Madariaga of Honduras; Francis Arinze in Rome; Julius Darmaetmadja of Jakarta, Indonesia) all of whom he has met or visited. Under each of them he then squeezes a pet theory of his own, respectively priesthood and clericalism (Mahoney), ecumenism (Murphy-O'Connor), liberation theology (Madariaga); local theologies in Africa (Arinze) and syncretism in Asia (Darmaetmadja). I cannot imagine that any of these five cardinals will be happy once they discover the purpose for which the author has selected them.

Mr. Kaiser may think that the syncretist "theology" of some Indian or Sri Lankan Jesuit theologians merging the "best" of the world's religions into a melting pot has a great future; no one of importance in the Catholic Church I know agrees with him. Nor do I know of anyone--other than dissenters--who sees the Loretto Nuns in a "liberated" convent in Manila, the Philippines, who think they are offering the Sacrifice of the Mass without the presence of a "male priest," as harbingers of future growth. And that, ultimately, is why the author so dislikes the new Pope. He just is not open to "real reform," as Mr. Kaiser sees it.

The volume is not a complete loss; the author, after all, is an accomplished journalist. I found the section on Asia, for example, quite interesting. Perhaps it was because I was somewhat shocked at the arrogance of the dissenters.
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Author:de Valk, Alphonse
Publication:Catholic Insight
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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