Elaborating on “A Call for Vatican III” in his best-selling book Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews, James Carroll proposes a clear agenda for reform to help concerned Catholics understand the most essential issues facing their Church. He moves beyond current events to suggest new ways for Catholics to approach Scripture, Jesus, and power, and he looks at the daunting challenges facing the Church in a world of diverse beliefs and contentious religious fervor. His case for democracy within the Church illustrates why lay people have already initiated change. Carroll shows that all Catholicsparishioners, priests, bishops, men and womenhave an equal stake in the Church's future.
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About the Author
James Carroll was raised in Washington, D.C., and ordained to the Catholic priesthood in 1969. He served as a chaplain at Boston University from 1969 to 1974, then left the priesthood to become a writer. A distinguished scholar-
in-residence at Suffolk University, he is a columnist for the Boston Globe and a
regular contributor to the Daily Beast.
His critically admired books include Practicing Catholic, the National Book Award–winning An American Requiem, House of War, which won the first PEN/Galbraith Award, and the New York Times bestseller Constantine’s Sword, now an acclaimed documentary.
Read an Excerpt
What Is to Be Done?
It was January of 2001 when I published Constantine's Sword: The Church
and the Jews, but the twenty-first century had not really begun. Politics and
religion were central to that book's consideration of Christian antisemitism,
but the meaning of politics and religion both were transformed by the event
that marked the new era's true beginning, which was, of course, September
11. A savage act of violence was committed in the name of Allah. America's
consequent War on Terrorism, inadvertently labeled a "crusade" by President
George W. Bush, is being waged with a good-versus-evil religious fervor. As
with Bush, absolutism has newly gripped world leaders, especially in the
tinderboxes of the Middle East, on the Indian subcontinent, and in central
Asia. Challenged by these unsettling developments, religious people
everywhere have undertaken an urgent new examination of the relationship
between variously held beliefs and their effects on those who do not share
We Americans have discovered with something approaching
astonishment the wild diversity of religious and spiritual impulses that has
come to mark not only the planet but our own nation. "Today," as the great
Catholic theologian Karl Rahner put it, "everyone is the next-door neighbor
and spiritual neighbor of everyone else in the world." And as Rahner argues,
even from within Catholicism, this new circumstance means the assumptions
of every religion must now be the subject of reexamination.
Ideological and religious elbow-rubbing is a global phenomenon,
but itoccurs in the United States as nowhere else. As a nation that
welcomes an unending stream of immigrants, with their plethora of faiths and
traditions, America implicitly sponsors this reexamination, as religiously
diverse peoples encounter each other in the mundane "neighborhoods" of
work, school, and living. The testing of assumptions that inevitably follows is
one of the reasons America is suspect in the eyes of rigidly traditional
After September 11, the Islamic presence in America drew
particular attention, and the still dominant assumption of the mainly
Christian, or "Judeo-Christian," character of the nation was punctured.
Americans discovered that there were more Muslims living among them than
Presbyterians or Episcopalians, and as many Muslims as Jews. Suddenly,
with Islam, on one side, being perceived as a religion that sponsors violence,
and with God, on the other, being invoked as "blessing" America's War on
Terrorism, religious differences as such loomed as flashpoints in the nation's
Meanwhile, across the globe, fundamentalist truth-claims, rooted
in various religions, were seen to be fueling conflicts with ferocious new
energy. In the Arab world, and in Europe, there was a virulent outbreak of the
old scourge of antisemitism, with some Muslims believing that the
September 11 atrocities were the work of Jews, and with some in the West
inclined to accept Osama bin Laden's deadly equation between the
existence of Israel and the misery of impoverished Arabs. Ariel Sharon,
meanwhile, surfaced as an antisemite's dream, with few of his critics seeing
his "overwhelming force" escalations against the Palestinians in the context
of America's sanctioning. After all, "overwhelming force" was the mode of
America's war in Afghanistan, the full costs of which have yet to be tallied.
Likewise, Israel's critics have painted with the old broad brush, drawing few
distinctions between the Israeli government's belligerence and the segments
of Israeli society that continued to support the ideal of peace. Some drew
moral equivalence between the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas, or
condemned IDF incursions into Bethlehem, for example, while saying nothing
about a Seder massacre in Jerusalem. Once again a stereotyped and
univocal fantasy of "the Jews" was broadly seen as a problem to the world.
Hannah Arendt, the Jewish political philosopher of the mid-
twentieth century, warned of the doom that follows from the idea of "eternal
antisemitism," as if Jews were fated to play the victim's role. As the War on
Terrorism unfolded, some reduced all of Islam to the idea of an "eternal jihad,"
as if the "clash of civilizations," in Samuel Huntington's phrase, between
Islam and the rest of the world were inevitable. As bigoted stereotypes of
Jews and their religion once more entered the common discourse, wildly
distorted characterizations of Muslim belief and practice were accepted as
fact. The religions of both groups were understood as motivating behavior,
whether approved or condemned, that had grave consequences for humanity.
All at once, the widely held twentieth-century assumption that
religion would grow increasingly irrelevant seemed naïve. The centrality of
religion to life on earth, for better and for worse, had made itself very clear in
a very short time. Yet never had the dark side of religion seemed more
manifest, with various forms of what must be termed religious fascism being
recognized as such. The Muslim suicide-murderers, wreaking such havoc in
Israel, are religious fascists, certainly, but in hindsight it could be seen that
so were the Catholic and Protestant fanatics of the die-hard fringes in
Northern Ireland. The Hindu who assassinated Indira Gandhi was a religious
fascist, and so was the Jewish student who murdered Yitzhak Rabin. What
territorial compromise is possible among people who believe their claim to
disputed land derives from God? What truce can interrupt violence that is
held to be sacred, even if it is suicidal? Regarded across time, what religion
seems free of such demonic impulses?
With numerous mainstream religions being challenged from within
by their own fundamentalist extremists, and with expressly fundamentalist
denominations ascendant over much of the world, the task of renewing the
rational element in religion, historically minded and ecumenically disposed,
has become more and more important. The capacity of each religion to
engage in self-criticism and -correction has come to be seen as a compelling
issue not only for the religions but for their neighbors, whose very lives may
be put at risk. "There will be no peace among the nations," as the Swiss
Catholic theologian Hans Küng put it, "without peace among the religions.
There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue between the
religions. There will be no dialogue between the religions without the
investigation of the foundations of the religions."
How do we correct the foundations of our beliefs when they show
themselves to be inhuman? And how can basic change in religious
affirmation be made without undermining the authority of the tradition itself?
These are grave questions, because in an era of terrifyingly rapid change,
religion functions for many people as the only connection with tradition, and it
can seem desperately important to wall off the realm of faith from the chaos
and uncertainty that plague everything else. But history breaks down such
walls. As demonstrated by the world's move to the brink of nuclear war
between Pakistan and India in the spring of 2002 in a dispute that defined
itself religiously, nothing less than the future of the human race is at stake in
our readiness to think critically about what we believe.
As if all of this were not enough, the Roman Catholic Church was then hit by
a tidal wave that, while very different from the September catastrophe, has
been for Catholics a comparable trauma. The Church has been staggered in
ways no one could ever have anticipated, even in that staggering season. A
few months after September 11, in early January 2002, the Boston Globe
published a front-page story entitled "Church Allowed Abuse by Priest for
Years." It was an account of how Boston's archbishop, Cardinal Bernard Law,
and his predecessors had protected pedophile priests, enabling them to
continue what was widely characterized as their predatory crime spree
against children. The scandal led to an unprecedented explosion of Catholic
awareness of Church failures, and the new climate of religious self-criticism
has taken on a particularly pointed meaning among Catholics, especially lay
An abused child had finally told his story to his mother, explaining
the delay in his report by saying, "We couldn't tell you because Father said it
was a confessional." That statement offers a clue to the dimensions of the
tragedy that broke over the Church—not only the betrayal by some priests,
but the corruption of something sacred that made the revelations
exponentially more shocking. In abusing their child victims, and in then
controlling them, priests invoked sacraments, their own exalted status, the
cult of sacred secrecy, and the wrath of God. In addition to all else, their
assaults were acts of blasphemy. And when, extending this magnum
silencium, priest-protecting bishops equated confidential out-of-court
settlements with the seal of the confessional, the blasphemy became
Here is a shameful example: A victim named Tom Blanchette
encountered Cardinal Law at the funeral of Father Joseph Birmingham. When
Blanchette described to Law the way Birmingham had abused him as a child,
Law, as Blanchette recounts it, "laid his hands on my head for two or three
minutes. And then he said this, 'I bind you by the power of the confessional
never to speak about this to anyone else.'"
Child sexual abuse is by no means unique to the Catholic
priesthood, but children abused by priests, in Boston and elsewhere, were
typically abused twice: once by the physical assault, and then by the
deflection and denial tied to the holy powers of the priesthood and the needs
of the clerical culture around it. Priests raped children, and their bishops
protected the priests, allowing rape to happen again. And much of this
occurred in the name of God.
The scandal in Boston soon spread across the United States, as
hundreds of previously undisclosed cases of fondling and rape came to light,
as well as dozens of instances in which bishops exhibited more concern for
the clerical institution, or even for the abusive priests, than for the
traumatized victims. The cascade of revelations concerning everything from
how Church personnel matters were handled to how Church funds were
administered revealed that a vast anomie had gripped Catholicism. An
unaddressed disorder infected clergy and laity alike, and, more broadly,
Catholic attitudes toward authority—and toward gender and sexuality.
It would be simplistic to attribute the moral paralysis that so long
marked Church responses to priestly child abuse to any one characteristic of
Catholic culture, be it celibacy, the all-male priesthood, a Jansenist
suspicion of sexuality that breeds repression, a male fear of females, or the
disparity between increasingly self-respecting homosexuals in the Catholic
clergy and a Catholic moral theology that continues to preach contempt for
homosexuality. But taken together, such notes of contemporary Catholic
conflict are indications of the dysfunction that results when the gap between
preached ideals and life as it is really lived becomes too wide—especially if
the ideals are false.
The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) was the Church's great
attempt to deal more honestly with the contradiction between a religious
culture still firmly rooted in the Middle Ages and a Catholic people who had
come of age in the modern world. Catholic attitudes toward liturgy and
theology dramatically shifted. Interreligious dialogue advanced among
Christians and between Christians and Jews. The Church questioned its own
exercise of power. Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) trusted his fellow bishops and
the Catholic people to help bring about such basic changes, but his
successor, Pope Paul VI (1963-1978), made a momentous—and, history
suggests, disastrous —decision to reserve two great questions to himself,
trusting no one. The questions concerned birth control and priestly celibacy.
In both cases the pope later handed down absolute decisions—against birth
control (Humanae Vitae, 1968) and for celibacy (Sacerdotalis Caelibatus,
1967). As noted by numerous critics, and as experienced by a whole
generation of Church faithful, these pronouncements led to a tragic Catholic
Loyal Catholics, faced with the sex abuse scandal, want to defend
the many good priests who are men of impressive virtue, yet it is these very
priests who carry the burdens of dishonesty and collapse caused by those
two Church policies. Catholics simply do not believe that birth control is evil,
nor, from all reports, do most priests; yet the rule stands. A related "idealism"
has cost the Church its credibility on all matters of sexual morality, from the
so-called evils of masturbation to the rejection of condoms even when used to
prevent HIV infection. Catholic leaders will oppose contraception even if it
means a rise in abortion rates. To protect the ideal of marriage-for-life, priests
are expected to encourage women to stay married to men who beat them.
The Catholic lie about divorce is enshrined in the word "annulment."
Regarding sex generally, a Catholic culture of dishonesty reigns. And the
bishops' inability to teach with authority on these questions is tied to a
general decline in their moral influence, so that on a matter like the death
penalty even a traditional Catholic like Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia,
a death penalty advocate, can dismiss the bishops' teaching with contempt.
This loss of credibility is destroying the very structure of the
Church. Catholics have watched the priesthood collapse around the harried
men who still serve—while the Vatican rejects the service of married men
and, most disturbingly, refuses to ordain women, on the strictly
fundamentalist ground that all of the apostles were male. The Vatican has
said its pronouncement against women priests is forever and infallible, yet
most Catholics reject it. Meanwhile, more than half the parishes in the world
have no priest, and what priests remain are aging fast. Why this crisis?
Because virginal sexlessness is deemed morally superior to an actively
erotic life—an inhuman idea that opens a gap, an ethical abyss, into which
the most well meaning of people can fall.
None of these factors, taken alone, led to the sexual abuse of
children by priests, but when that horrible crime occurs, the culture of
silence, denial, dishonesty, and collapse makes it far less likely that the
Church, from the hierarchy to the people in the pew, will respond honestly
and wisely. That is why the scandal must lead to more than accusations and
the disciplining of individuals. The abusers punished and removed, yes. The
bishops repentant and held accountable, yes. The children protected above
all. But the scandal must also lead to a new awareness of what it means to
be Catholic—no longer at the mercy of the moral paralysis of Church leaders
or the corruptions they defend. This is why the Catholic people, whose
instinctive response to the abuse crisis has been clear from that traumatic
January forward, moved at once to take the Church back. Using every forum
they could, Catholics began demanding reform—for the sake of their beloved
Church and, more important, for the sake of the children.
In parishes throughout the United States, Catholics gathered in
large numbers to discuss a range of matters spilling over from the abuse
crisis. As reports surfaced of financial settlements secretly paid to victims
over the years, Catholic philanthropists and foundations demanded an
accounting of the monies they donated to the Church, and parishioners
began withholding contributions from collection baskets. One lay group,
Voice of the Faithful, founded at St. John the Evangelist Church in Wellesley,
Massachusetts, soon had fourteen thousand Catholics enrolled in its cause,
which was defined by the slogan "Keep the faith, change the Church." Even
conservative Catholics, in rejecting the passive role traditionally assigned by
the hierarchy to lay people, found themselves enlisted, perhaps despite
themselves, in what the New York Times called "a quiet revolution."
My preoccupation in Constantine's Sword was with the history of Christian
antisemitism and how this primordial sin of the Church had prepared the
ground out of which grew the Nazi program to eliminate the Jewish people.
Recognitions tied to the Holocaust led to a massive postwar Christian reform,
nowhere more profound than in the Roman Catholic Church. But the Church
reforms begun at Vatican II were not sustained, in part because Church
authorities began to roll them back, as we saw with Paul VI's encyclicals,
and in part because the Catholic laity, despite its implicit dissent on those
and other matters, was never able to take the practical responsibility for the
Church that the council had made theoretically possible. And under the
pontificate of the charismatic and admired John Paul II, the laity, with some
vocal but always marginal exceptions, seemed happy to resume its
traditional role as adjunct to "the Church," which continued to define itself as,
essentially, the priests, the bishops, and the pope.
In fact, defining the Church as "the People of God," Vatican II had
established the principles to which the new lay-dominated grassroots
movement of change instinctively appealed in the wake of the abuse scandal.
The tragic irony, of course, was that what the Holocaust had proven unable to
do—spark a sustained awareness of the need for Church reform among
Catholics —the priest sex scandal showed every sign of doing. This can
reflect badly on Catholics, but it can also indicate the kind of power that is
generated when a large moral problem is joined to the self-interest of the
news industry. If the Holocaust never fully cracked open the Christian
conscience, it also never gripped the media like a story involving sex and the
disgrace of admired figures.
The Catholic Church, proven incapable of protecting its most
vulnerable members, has been humiliated in the twenty-first century in ways
that—despite its grievous failures in the past, notably its failure in relation to
the Jewish people—it was not humiliated in the twentieth. Pope Pius XII, after
all, may yet be named a saint. The Church failed in the face of Hitler's Final
Solution because Jews never fully belonged within the circle of Catholic
concern. But who occupies the very center of that circle if not Catholic
children? This Church, indeed, has organized itself around its children, and
this fact, too, fuels the scandal. The shock is that both the pederast priests
and the institution-protecting bishops betrayed them.
Still, the revelation here repeats what was brought into the open
by the Holocaust: the plain fact of the sinfulness of a Church that prefers to
think of itself as the sinless "Bride of Christ." Indeed, that wish to be
understood as above the human condition, as an organization existentially
incapable of sin, is part of what caused the Church to fail in both cases.
Catholics have deflected the real meaning of Christian antisemitism, and have
only partially dismantled the dogma and theology that led to it, for the same
reason that bishops could not bring themselves to face the full meaning of
priestly child abuse. "Sinful members" of the Church caused antisemitism, in
this view, as "wayward priests" (and perhaps an "obsessive media") caused
the abuse scandal. Few Catholics would any longer define the Church as
the "perfect society," as popes once did, but Rome still insists on the moral
perfection of "the Church as such," an assertion to which we will return in the
next chapter. If transgressions occur, they are always the result of the
aberrant behavior of individuals—perhaps including individual priests, bishops,
or even a pope—but never of the institutional, theological, or dogmatic
aspects of Catholicism.
And so the scaffolding of denial was firmly in place in January
2002 when the scandal broke. Priests are alter Christi, and whatever their
private flaws, they simply cannot be publicly found guilty of grievous sin.
Gospel texts are inspired by the Holy Spirit, so even if they slander the
religion of Israel, these texts simply have nothing to do with antisemitism.
The Church is simply incapable of mistakes in matters of "faith and morals."
The pinnacle of such an assertion, the symbol of it, is the dogma of papal
infallibility. That dogma, formally dating only to 1870, is narrowly applied, but
its aura infects the exercise of authority throughout the Church. We will see
more of it later.
It is out of this conviction of Catholic exceptionalism that Church
leaders, when faced with obvious failure, whether the "silence" of Pius XII in
the face of genocide or the abuse of children by priests, put such a priority on
avoiding scandal, which really means covering up anything that might call the
sinlessness of the "Church as such" into question. If sins are nevertheless
exposed, they are blamed on the members, leaving the blameless Church
with no reason to change.
An authentic reading of the history of the Church's failure before
and during the Holocaust, like any reading of the current Church failure of
children, blows this fantasy away. And there lies the hope. The Church, too,
is mortal. The Church is not divine. If the Church is the "Bride of Christ," it is
the unfaithful spouse of whom Hosea speaks13—an image not of human
faithfulness, but of God's. The wonder of biblical faith, what Christians call the
Good News, is that God has chosen human instruments as a way to be
present in history. Our humanity is the point. When we pretend to be angels,
we are not only committing the classically defined sin of pride, we are
dangerous. It is not incidental to the present crisis of the priesthood that
such angelic thinking involves an inhuman repressiveness when it comes to
sexuality. That, too, is dangerous.
Until now, the Church has treated its own humanity like a dirty
secret, yet it should be the opposite of that. If the Church were less
conflicted about its limits, it could deal with its failures more forthrightly, with
an eye to something besides avoiding scandal. This would mean, after the
Holocaust and after priestly child abuse, that the elimination of antisemitism
and the protection of children would be given the highest priority. In both
cases, real reform would follow.
But that presumes a change not only in the way bishops and
popes regard the Church, but in how the Catholic people do, and here the
lesson of a seemingly minor change in the way we attend Mass is
instructive. It used to be that those approaching the communion rail would
kneel and, with head tilted back and mouth open, offer their tongues onto
which the priest—only the priest—would place a consecrated wafer.
Catholics never gave this procedure a thought until, with the reforms of
Vatican II in the late 1960s, it changed. No more kneeling. No more
outstretched tongues. No more communion rail, even: what had been an
effective barrier between sanctuary and church was removed. Now lay people
as well as priests distribute communion. Now Catholics receive the sacred
bread in their hands and place it in their mouths themselves.
This subtle reform has tremendous significance, for it means that
Catholics no longer take the sacrament in a feeding gesture appropriate only
to small children. The subservient kneeling is gone, marking members of this
community as being of equal standing. Every Christian, not just the ordained,
is worthy to handle the Body of Christ. The hierarchy of virtue, with some
assumed to be more worthy than others, is gone.
These changes symbolize a mature Church whose members are
treated as fully of age, but alas, the Catholic Church is not really like that
yet. When the further reforms of Vatican II were stymied by a reactionary
pope and his conforming bishops, the infantilizing culture of Catholicism
survived. Such Church leaders love to speak of the Church as a family but
always assume that they are the parents—"Father"—and everyone else is a
child. One of the reasons Catholics are so shocked by the betrayals of
priests and bishops is that Catholics continued to regard them, as children
do parents, as morally superior people. That they are not comes as a big
surprise. "Father" is mortal too.
In fact, Catholics who have come so fully of age in other ways
remain religiously immature. They may be superbly educated in a range of
disciplines, but they tend to be theologically illiterate. They may be
presidents of universities and corporations, but in church lay people still do
little more than take up the collection or arrange the flowers. And when they
have dared diverge from the paternalistic hierarchy, making their own
decisions about birth control, for example, Catholics have done so in the
manner of adolescents, defying authority slyly rather than openly. In the face
of the criminal Vatican rejection of condoms for HIV prevention, Catholics
have been passive instead of outraged. That Catholics seeking divorce
willingly undergo the humiliations and lies of the annulment system is
another signal of immaturity. By submitting to the paternalistic Church
structure, otherwise adult Catholics have allowed the culture of Church
dishonesty to worsen to the point of the present pathology. We all share
responsibility for this catastrophe.
But the present crisis makes it impossible for Catholics to
continue this childish arrangement. Once the myth of the perfect parent is
broken, the young can grow into adulthood, taking responsibility for
themselves. Catholics can never regard priests and bishops uncritically
again, nor can they cooperate any longer in the small dishonesties that have
spawned such massive betrayal. Now when Catholics go to Mass, the
symbols of maturity and equality already in place must be matched with new
political structures, which means that the most ecclesiastically incorrect
word of all must at last be spoken aloud. The next time someone announces
that the Church is not a democracy, the reply should be that that is precisely
the problem. Checks and balances, due process, open procedures,
elections, a fully educated community, freedom of conscience, the right to
dissent, authority as service instead of as domination, moral leadership by
rational explanation instead of by assertion—all of this must come into the
Church, and later in this book we will see why.
Here is the lesson: a power structure that is accountable only to
itself will always end by abusing the powerless. Even then, it will
paternalistically ask to be trusted to repair the damage. Never again. Not only
the discredited bishops who protected abusive priests must go; the whole
system that produced them must go. Full democratic reform is the Catholic
Church's only hope. If we can take the Body of Christ in hand, we can take
the Church in hand too.
But is a genuine—and necessarily radical—reform of the Roman Catholic
Church really possible?
I am inclined to answer that question with other questions: Who
would have thought that real reform of the Soviet Union was possible? But a
grassroots movement, beginning with an unknown electrician in a Gdansk
shipyard, made it so. Who would have thought real reform of the brutal
apartheid regime in South Africa was possible? But a grassroots movement
led from an island cell by a state-demonized prisoner made it so. In the
United States, grassroots movements changed the legal and social status of
black people, and a grassroots movement stopped the Pentagon's
escalations of the Vietnam War. Around the world, grassroots movements of
women and girls, whether identifying as feminists or not, are changing
institutions and societies, even the most repressive of them. And it is far from
incidental to the project of Catholic reform that a grassroots organization that
played a crucial role in ending the arms race—the joint Soviet-American
International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which won the
Nobel Peace Prize in 1985—was cofounded by Dr. James Muller, who was
also a founder, in 2001 at St. John the Evangelist in Wellesley, of Voice of
the Faithful, the grassroots organization of lay Catholics already mentioned.
The Catholic Church is a command society, but it is neither a brutal
dictatorship nor an apartheid regime, and once the Catholic people fully
assert themselves, real reform will follow.
Returning to the historic challenge facing all religions after
September 11, we begin to see why the struggle within Roman Catholicism
matters so much. Every Catholic has intensely personal reasons for wanting
a renewed Catholicism: the consolation of the sacraments, the access to
transcendence, the healing memory of Jesus Christ made present, a way to
imagine life after death. But Catholics also see that the stakes for Church
renewal are far greater than the merely personal. At a time when the global
gap between rich and poor widens every year—the very precondition of
terrorism—will the Catholic Church survive as one of the few institutions that
inherently bridges that gap? Will the Church sustain its traditional role as a
defender of the poor and its more contemporary function as a rare critic of
free-market capitalism? In the twentieth century, the Catholic Church in
Europe, and even more in the United States, overcame its ancient affiliation
with wealth to become a friend of labor; in the developing world, often despite
the Vatican, the Church has been on the side of liberation. Its image as a
bulwark of social conservation, in other words, is only partly accurate. The
Church has also been a force for progressive social change. Will it continue
to be? Or, like other religions, will it, too, emphasize spiritual beatitude over
the passion for justice?
As mindless superstition encroaches on every religion, and as
new-age banalities increasingly satisfy the human need for a language of
transcendence, will the Catholic intellectual tradition, which gave rise to
universities and even to scientific rationalism, survive as more than a side
chapel of nostalgia in an otherwise enthusiastic Church? With scientific
rationalism itself exposed by the twentieth century as an inadequate source
of meaning, can Catholic thought contribute to its correction? Or will
Catholicism follow major components of world Protestantism into the cul-de-
sac of fundamentalism? Will biblical scholarship and historical criticism of
theology, and the related capacity for correcting dogma, move from the
margins of Catholic academia into the parishes, or only into the past? Will
the Catholic prejudice against violence, embodied in John XXIII's Pacem in
Terris and in John Paul II's opposition to war, including wars waged by
America, be lost to a world increasingly on a hair trigger? The September 11
catastrophe has shown how religious impulses can be perverted into
sectarian fanaticism, resulting in violent horrors. Respectful exchange
between religions, and correction within them, are now preconditions of world
peace. Can the shaken Catholic Church rise to this challenge?
It is too soon to know the answer to these questions. But to put
my own conviction plainly: the twenty-first century desperately needs an
intellectually vital, ecumenically open, and morally sound Catholicism, a
Catholicism fully itself—that is, a Catholicism profoundly reformed. The world
needs a new Catholic Church.
It is with such stakes in mind that I have returned in this book to "A Call for
Vatican III," with which I concluded the long history of the relations between
Catholics and Jews in Constantine's Sword. An unyielding look at the tragic
and wicked tradition of sacred hatred of Jews brought to the surface
numerous problems in Church belief and practice that have still not been
completely confronted. Those problems run deep in the Catholic character,
with dread consequences for more than Jewish-Christian relations. The
chapters that follow, adapted from "A Call for Vatican III," lay out the
elements of reform that seemed essential if antisemitism were to be left
behind, but here I elaborate and adjust those elements in light of the new
crises of religion in general and Catholicism in particular.
The priest sex abuse scandal is a Catholic catastrophe. That word
in Greek means reversal or turning point. In Hebrew it is rendered as shoah.
A catastrophe, classically defined in the literature of tragedy, is the occasion
on which humans are finally able to see the truth of what is wrong in their
lives, and thereby to see what must happen to reverse what is wrong and
make it right. That is the genius of the human capacity for change, and it is
the promise of reform. In seeing how reform is necessary, we will see how it
This terrible time, in which awful sins of the Catholic Church have
been clearly laid bare, can be the start of the Church's great renewal.
Therefore, despite our heartbreak, anger, and fear, we say, as biblical people
have always said, "Praised be thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who
has allowed us to live to see this day."
Copyright © 2002 by James Carroll. Reprinted by permission of Houghton
Table of Contents
Contents 1 What Is to Be Done? 1 2 The Broad Relevance of Catholic Reform 20 3 Reform Proposal 1: A New Biblical Literacy 44 4 Reform Proposal 2: The Church and Power 61 5 Reform Proposal 3: A New Christology 72 6 Reform Proposal 4: The Holiness of Democracy 89 7 Reform Proposal 5: Repentance 105 Notes 117
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book, written by former Catholic priest James Carroll (Boston Globe), is an important book, especially in today's world of fundamentalism, religious pluralism and rumors of war. With election of Pope Benedict to the papacy, talk of where he will take the Church has been in the news and in scholarly journals. In this book, Carroll offers a nice summary of five issues the Church must address if it is to be relevant for a contemporary world. They are 1) A New Biblical Literacy 2) the Church and Power 3) A New Christology 4) the Holiness of Democracy and 5) Repentance. Carroll's book is a welcome addition to the reform-minded literature dealing with the Church's theology. It will also alarm traditionalists who want to maintain a biblical literalism, a high Christology, the substitionary atonement, as well as other orthodox teachings of the Church. Whether or not one agrees with Mr. Carroll he has raised important questions that, unless addressed, will continue to isolate Catholics and others outside the Church who long for transcendence but are unable to join the Church either for moral and/or intellectual reasons. Toward a New Catholic Church is a must read for all reform-minded Catholics who want a compact summary of what difficult issues lay ahead for the Catholic Church as it enters the twenty-first century. Highly Recommended.