Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus.
Geoffrey Robinson is a retired Roman Catholic auxiliary bishop in the archdiocese of Sydney, Australia. He served from 1994 until 2003 as a member and later cochair of the Australian Bishops National Committee for Professional Standards, the group that coordinated the Australian Catholic Church's response to the sexual abuse crisis in its priesthood. R. submitted his resignation as auxiliary bishop in 2004, not because he had reached retirement age but as an expression of disillusionment with the Church's response to the sexual abuse scandal. He accused church authorities, including the late Pope John Paul II, of failing to deal forthrightly with this worldwide problem, referring to it as "one of the ugliest stories ever to emerge from the Catholic Church" (7).
This book has been a best seller in Australia and is to be published in the United States by Liturgical Press. Herein R. presents his reasons for early resignation and offers a lengthy, highly detailed criticism of Catholic leadership-not just for its ineffective response to the sexual abuse crisis but for a whole range of errors and missteps linked with the exercise of its teaching authority on both doctrinal and moral matters. He is especially critical of the tendency among bishops, clergy, and laity alike to look to the pope as the one and only guide to correct Catholic thinking and practice (8).
R.'s conviction is that "it is only by studying the wider church that we can see some of the more fundamental issues" involved in the sexual-abuse crisis (19). The book, he insists, is "about the wider church rather than directly about abuse." He believes that it "describe[s] a better church, a church that is not contrary to the mind of Jesus Christ" (22).
R.'s intentions, however, are compromised by two deficiencies: the one, editorial, and the other, bibliographical. Regarding the editorial, the book is much too sprawling and sometimes repetitious in its coverage of topics, all the way from theological anthropology and Christology to spirituality, moral theology, and biblical interpretation. Second, R.'s overarching interest is clearly ecclesiological, but here, as in the other areas, bibliographical deficiencies are all too apparent.
Almost all of R.'s specific recommendations for church reform are as familiar as they are unexceptionable--for example, greater participation of the laity in governance and an effective implementation of the doctrine of collegiality--and his endnotes suggest a lack of familiarity with some of the most pertinent literature in the field. There are only two glancing references to Yves Congar (in one he prefers an interpretation of another theologian to Congar's, on whether the Twelve can be considered individually or only collectively), no references at all to Avery Dulles, one relatively inconsequential reference to Francis Sullivan (none to his major works on the Church), none to Richard Gaillardetz who, like Sullivan, has written extensively on the nature and exercise of ecclesial authority, and none to Joseph Komonchak. R.'s brief catalogue of popes (105-15) makes no reference to a leading historian of the papacy, Eamon Duffy, and R.'s considerable attention to Vatican I and particularly its teaching on papal infallibility is absent any consideration of the work of Hermann Pottmeyer and John T. Ford. R. also devotes extensive treatment to moral theology (153-215) but, again, without specific references to some of the church's major practitioners of the discipline, Charles Curran for one. Even on the matter of the sexual-abuse crisis, there are no references to the works of authors such as Donald Cozzens and Richard Sipe.
There are also some distracting lapses in documentation. R. claims, for example, that Vatican II's Lumen gentium no. 25 stated that "No doctrine is understood to be infallibly defined unless that is manifestly demonstrated" (122), but the reference should be only to canon 749.3 (which is given at 135 as the second reference, after Lumen gentium no. 25).
R. is correct in his complaint that too many Catholics exaggerate the role of the pope in the Church, but is it really the case that the election of a new pope "should not make a difference to anything truly important" (140)? R. has many good things to say, and his personal witness and the courage it reflects undoubtedly account for the book's instant and wide popularity in his native country. But unless the book is substantially edited and its bibliography broadened, it is not likely to have the extensive and long-term impact that the author and his publisher surely hope it to have. That would be unfortunate because R. has too much good to say, and many Catholics need to hear it and be challenged and encouraged by it.
RICHARD P. MCBRIEN
University of Notre Dame
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|Author:||McBrien, Richard P.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2008|
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