Description: This book is a methodological, philosophical, and substantive critique of the encyclical Evangelium Vitae. It provides commentary from mostly Jesuit theologians, lawyers, and philosophers, but also includes non-Catholic authors familiar and/or affiliated with Catholic institutions.
Purpose: In Wildes' words, the book's purpose, consistent with that of the encyclical itself, is "to gather responses to the encyclical from all directions: Catholic, non-Catholic, believer, and non-believer."
Audience: The book is aimed at the same audience as is the encyclical, to persons of different faiths and denominations, believers and unbelievers "those who think about morality, ethics, and society." The articles are appropriately addressed to exactly that audience.
Features: The structure is convenient, and the presence of an index, so often missing in edited publications, is both helpful and welcome.
Assessment: This book is refreshing in its readiness to critique a Church document by those most prepared to defend the encyclical and its spirit and tradition. Wildes correctly observes that readers seeking an exegesis or endorsement of the encyclical will be disappointed. The book is a Jesuit tour de force: its analysis is crisp, to the point, insightful. Commentators more often challenge the Pope's rhetorical misconceptions regarding the "culture of life and death" than provide head-on disagreement. Prejean and Walters impugn, for instance, the Pope's accommodation of, and his failure to condemn, the death penalty and the imagery of war. If this book has a weakness it is its failure to cast a sufficiently wide net in gathering perspective and appraisal. Most of the non-Catholic commentators are Protestant, while Jewish, Moslem and non-believer expressions are notably absent. More disappointing is the faintness of the feminine voice. While Olesko and Alvare provide fresh insight into the encyclical's implicit sexism, the three remaining women commentators avoid a robust sally on gender issues.