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No Vipers in the Vatican.

Fr. Dunn has done it again. Two years ago (NCR, Oct. 21, 19994), he shared with us his observations and reflections on 23 themes selected from nearly 400 documentaries dealing with 75 countries, which he produced for Irish television.

As NCR then commented, "he is a philosopher, a humanist, a historian, a theologian and a raconteur with a sardonic sense of humor."

The commonest thread in the present book relates, the author writes, "to what many see as different failures, of judgment on the part of the central religious authority in the church of Rome." Of outstanding interest is his firsthand account of the underground church in Czehoslovakia, where bishops and priests were married and women were ordained to the priesthood.

Dunn was lucky. He stopped to greet German theologian Bernard Haring on his way to Prague and continued on with telephone numbers and a written introduction. "Now, the group in Prague trusted Haring, who had tried to help them, and because they trusted Haring, they trusted us."

The result is a more detailed account of heroism, suffering, intrigue and deception than I have found elsewhere. And a sad summing-up: "It is the kind of problem that a pope with humanity and flexibility like Paul VI would sort out in no time - just like he sorted out the French worker priests. But the present powers that be in Rome are not of that ilk."

Chapters dealing with the church in Argentina, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Haiti reflect the enormous research Dunn puts into his work. The same is true of a survey of the pre-Columbian cultures of Central and South America. Equally impressive is his handling of the 1975 condemnation by Rome of the experiments by the episcopal conference of India in introducing Hindu scriptures and other elements of Hindu worship into the liturgy.

A recurring theme in this book is the need for major decentralization of decision-making in the church and for more grassroots input. "In the New Testament, the Greek word we translate as `church' is ekklesia (from which come English words like ecclesiastic). The original meaning of this Greek word is `a democratic assembly of full citizens.' Surely that is a significant choice of a word by the sacred writer!"

Is there any hope? The only thing that could change the current depressing scene" Dunn tells us, is a vigorous young pope of the mind of John XXIII or Gregory X who would remain in office long enough to copper fasten substantial reform of the curia. ... Humanly speaking, that at the moment appears to be an impossible option. But then we Christians believe that nothing is impossible - with God!"

In the meantime, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini of Milan, Italy, has much to recommend him at the next conclave. Dunn liked the way he answered hard questions. On contraception: "I am sure that the Holy Spirit will guide the church to overcome the question of contraception as the church has overcome other moral problems in the past. Usury was an almost insurmountable impediment in the 14th century." On women priests: "We should come to it little by little. ... When people ask me, and it's usually Americans, `Will we have women priests?' I answer `Not in this millennium.' The implication of course is that it could be in the next.)"

This is a delightful book, full of wisdom, full of humanity, full of optimism.

The sad news is: Joseph Dunn died July N of cancer.
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Author:NacEoin, Gary
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 4, 1996
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