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A Church in Search of Itself.

A CHURCH IN SEARCH OF ITSELF By Robert Blair Kaiser (Knopf, 2006)

Pope John Paul II departed this life amid a paroxysm of adulation. Pope Benedict XVI then sailed into office on that wave of good feeling. The crowds went home and the media went elsewhere. Into the resulting lull comes Robert Blair Kaiser's A Church in Search of Itself, which restores some of the gritty reality of the papacy.

Using the conclave as ground zero, the veteran Catholic journalist arrests the worldwide church at this crossroads. He looks behind the uncomplicated euphoria and finds, yes, politics, as if the Holy Spirit left it to the cardinals to do it their way.

He picks six candidates to represent the diversity of the church: Cardinals Roger Mahony from the United States, Cormac Murphy-O'Connor from England, Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga from Honduras, Francis Arinze from Nigeria, Julius Darmaatmadja from Indonesia, and Joseph Ratzinger from Germany. How each rose to eminence shows how the spiritual and temporal rub off on each other. These are sympathetic portraits, yet Kaiser paints warts and all.

The author argues for a people's church as imagined by Vatican II. Instead of liberals and conservatives, he focuses on those who want change and those against it. He spares a word for most movers and shakers still at the crossroads.

Finally, inexorably, the spotlight comes to rest on Ratzinger. As doctrinal supervisor, he had no doubts about the truth and no qualms about imposing it. The emerging enemy was relativism. His pivotal 2001 document Dominus Iesus insisted the Catholic Church is "the only portal to salvation."

Ratzinger, often described as a holy and charming man, worked the system to perfection. The chapter on the conclave, subtitled "One Smart Move after Another," demonstrates, step by step, how Ratzinger orchestrated his own election to the papacy. This does not mean the Holy Spirit was not involved. But in this case the Holy Spirit was ably abetted by Benedict XVI.
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Author:Farrell, Michael J.
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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