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The Catholic Labyrinth: Power, Apathy, and a Passion for Reform in the American Church
     

The Catholic Labyrinth: Power, Apathy, and a Passion for Reform in the American Church

by Peter McDonough
 

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Sexual abuse scandals, declining attendance, a meltdown in the number of priests and nuns, the closing of many parishes and parochial schools—all have shaken American Catholicism. Yet conservatives have increasingly dominated the church hierarchy.

In The Catholic Labyrinth, Peter McDonough tells a tale of multiple struggles that animate various

Overview

Sexual abuse scandals, declining attendance, a meltdown in the number of priests and nuns, the closing of many parishes and parochial schools—all have shaken American Catholicism. Yet conservatives have increasingly dominated the church hierarchy.

In The Catholic Labyrinth, Peter McDonough tells a tale of multiple struggles that animate various groups—the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, Voice of the Faithful, and the Leadership Roundtable chief among them—pushing to modernize the church. One contest pits reformers against those who back age-old standards of sexual behavior and gender roles. Another area of contention, involving efforts to maintain the church's far-flung operations in education, social services, and healthcare, raises constitutional issues about the separation of church and state. Once a sidebar to this debate, the bishops' campaign to control the terms of employment and access to contraceptives in church-sponsored ministries has fueled conflict further.

McDonough draws on behind-the-scenes documentation and personal interviews with leading reformers and "loyalists" to explore how both retrenchment and resistance to clericalism have played out in American Catholicism. Despite growing support for optional celibacy among priests, the ordination of women, and similar changes, and in the midst of numerous departures from the church, immigration and a lingering reaction against the upheavals of the sixties have helped sustain a popular traditionalism among "Catholics in the pews." So have the polemics of Catholic neoconservatives. These demographic and cultural factors—as well as the silent dissent of those who simply ignore rather than oppose the church's more regressive positions—have reinforced a culture of deference that impedes reform. At the same time, selective managerial improvements show promise of advancing incremental change.

Timely and incisive, The Catholic Labyrinth captures the church at a historical crossroads, as advocates for change struggle to reconcile religious mores with the challenges of modernity.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
McDonough's book is as multifaceted as the subject he tackles: the politics of the American Catholic Church. The author, a researcher who has twice been a Fulbright Fellow, likens his book to a cubist painting, portraying "multiple visions of the church as much as it does the thing itself." These visions go from profiles of neoconservative thought leaders to scenes from the annual conference for Call To Action, a reform group. It's not always clear why all the anecdotes, such as an interview with a church furniture builder, are relevant, though. The first half of the book provides a lay of the land for the author's analysis of four groups that want to change the church: Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), Voice of the Faithful, the Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, and FutureChurch. These reform groups face an uphill battle against reluctance and sometimes outright opposition in the hierarchy and apathy on the part of the laity. The book does not provide a map out of the labyrinth, but those who find their way through the dense text will gain insights into the obstacles and openings in the path to change. (July 15)
From the Publisher
"An informative and intellectually challenging monograph that engages the topic of reform in the American Catholic Church.... Balanced in his approach, yet presenting a clear message for the necessity of change for the church to remain viable in American society today, Professor McDonough has made an insightful addition to the literature exploring American Catholic life....A must read for those concerned about the state of American Catholicism today."—Church History

"[A] remarkably provocative book."—National Catholic Reporter

"In The Catholic Labyrinth: Power, Apathy, and a Passion for Reform in the American Church , [McDonough] compels a close examination of not only what has inhibited a certain level of change in the past but is likely to do so in the foreseeable future. In doing so he strikes at the heart of the argument that, guided by the Holy Spirit, laity and clergy will come together to "take back" their church." —Douglass McFerran, Los Angeles Pierce College

"McDonough's acute understanding of institutional structure and organizational dynamics is at work throughout....For those invested in the American church's future, it is a sobering and valuable read, though not an especially heartening one." —America

"McDonough s book...provides significant insights into the internal dynamics of contemporary American Catholicism...Recommended." —CHOICE

"With an especially good summary and critique of conservative doctrine... McDonough's work will appeal to anyone interested in American Catholic history or the state of the church." — Library Journal

"Peter McDonough brings the perceptive eye of a social scientist and a broad and deep knowledge in many areas to his very significant study of the fractured cultural and intellectual landscape that today is the 'Catholic labyrinth'. Not all will agree with his analysis, but everyone in the Catholic Church-conservatives, liberals, and radicals-will be enlightened and challenged by this book." — Charles E. Curran, author of The Development of Moral Theology: Five Distinctive Strands

"Peter McDonough creatively and constructively analyzes the 'Catholic labyrinth' that is his familiar cultural home and his scholarly preoccupation. His subject is a 'paradigm shift in the politics of Catholic belief ' which he mines from multiple perspectives. He helps us understand why Vatican II reformers have not prospered, conservatives are doing only a bit better, and the outcome will most likely feature a not very inspiring 'better engineered if not altogether accommodating hierarchy.' Catholics and their church are important, and so is this book." — David J. O'Brien, Professor Emeritus and Loyola Professor of Roman Catholic Studies, College of the Holy Cross

"Social scientist Peter McDonough explores the activities of some major organizations and individuals currently calling for change in the Catholic Church in the United States, and presents voices from right, left, and center that sound a common chorus: reform. Just about anyone will find something provocative on a walk around the 'Catholic labyrinth.'" — Phyllis Zagano, Senior Research Associate-in-Residence, Hofstra University

"...[A] sobering, provocative, and learned yet valuable take on the current state and possible renewal of American Catholicism." —Theological Studies

Library Journal
Writing from what may be seen as a liberal perspective, McDonough (political science, emeritus, Arizona State Univ.; Passionate Uncertainty: Inside the American Jesuits) provides a strong survey of current lay movements in the American Catholic Church, offering a detailed look at a fractured landscape—cultural, political, and economic. He studies organizations, conservative and liberal, that are seeking change, including the Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, Voice of the Faithful, and the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP). He offers clear treatments of the issues of church and state, sexual norms and church teaching, immigration, and the administration of church-related activities, as seen by these groups. Unlike William D'Antonio et al.'s American Catholics in Transition (reviewed above), a generally unbiased report of the most recent of five surveys of American Catholics, McDonough does make judgments, his major one being that many of the church's problems could be solved if it allowed a married clergy. VERDICT With an especially good summary and critique of conservative doctrine, while trumpeting liberal Catholicism, McDonough's work will appeal to anyone interested in American Catholic history or the state of the church.—Augustine J. Curley, Newark Abbey, NJ

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199751181
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
07/15/2013
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
408
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.40(d)

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Meet the Author

Twice a Fulbright fellow, Peter McDonough has also been a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow and a recipient of research grants from the German Marshall Fund, the National Science Foundation, and the Pew Endowment. He served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bangladesh and has taught for extended periods in Brazil and Ireland.

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