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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on October 22, 2001
In Breaking Faith, Cornwell's outstanding coverage of the Catholic Church worldwide provides readers of all faiths and beliefs with an intriguing study of the Church and the crisis and huge challenges facing it as it embarks on a new millennium. The book goes way beyond a socio-political, economic and religious audit of the Church - don't expect an annual report! Whilst this is a personal account of an author who has undertaken a religious journey through faith, disbelief and back, an informed critical analysis shines through and offers, by way of fascinating detail and eloquent prose, a fast-track to the understanding of the key issues, both organisational and theological, of the global Church.
One of this book's many strengths lies in its ability to communicate what are for many of us deeply personal, potentially explosive and important issues in a manner which facilitates and encourages informed, balanced but extremely lively debate: centralised power of the Church and the rejection of pluralism ; Papal succession; gay, married and women priests; adultery and divorce; the Church in the developing world, the Church on the web etc etc. What is encouraging in this debate is the author's refusal to pander to particular interest groups, promote a DIY approach to religion or offer a diluted or `lite' version of Catholicism as an easy way out for the Church. Unlike some of the more conservative elements of a centralized Church that this book uncovers, the author's suggested route to unity and strength focuses on a return to the spirit of Agape and `authentic inclusiveness', one that has real meaning and relevance for today's faithful and is based on love and repsect.
At a time of much soul searching and discussion over the global influence of religions, their leaders and these leaders' influence on the faithful, this book is a timely and welcome addition to the debate.
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37 of 47 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEon November 20, 2001
Differing religious views cause conflict with greater speed between family and nations than virtually any topic. With his book, "Breaking Faith", John Cornwell addresses trends in The Catholic Church and the circumstances that have resulted. Some will find him courageous, others will condemn his audacity/temerity to question, or to air issues within the church. The Catholic Church is a massive body of persons (est. 1 billion) spread over the globe, it must cope with the many cultures that have embraced Catholicism, a laity more educated than ever before, and tremendously diverse groups found within given cultures. The contemporary church is faced with members/potential members, who like an inquisitive child continually question why. The church is ill equipped to deal with its far-flung membership, for while results of Vatican Two remain the subject of debate, 40 years have passed, and the world has changed at a rate never imagined. Four decades is a brief moment for the church. For the laity it is two generations, a lifetime.
The current Pope is a man of remarkable constitution. He has traveled more than any Pope, he has appointed 159 Cardinals of whom 135 would vote for the next Pope were a new Pontiff required. This latter number is again the highest in church history. He has nominated 2,650 of the church's 4,200 Bishops, has started more individuals toward canonization than any Pope, with 798 beatified and 280 canonized. His Pontificate is noted for its active nature and for one of integrity, of influence, as with the end of Communism in Poland, and the Pope's strength he continues to summon despite illness, age, and the shots of an assassin.
His Pontificate, begun on October 16, 1978, marked the day that a historically young Pope, a Pope many believed would recognize the contemporary church, and while not becoming a liberal Pontiff, would be progressive on issues that were causing difficulty for the church. He has proven to be a conservative who has written widely and stated without ambiguity on issues of great import to Catholics, and the Vatican.
This is where the divergence begins. Authority resides in Rome, and many believe what issues from The Holy Father is the beginning and end of discussion. Being Catholic is not a matter of dining al a Carte, one is either a participant or not. The evidence is there are great numbers who have left the church, and many that remain, but do so on their terms.
The Pope has reminded his flock without ambiguity that issues like contraception, female priests, one's loss of position in the church if divorced, and the conduct required if remarried, has not changed, and to the extent he can, has written so as to ensure they do not change soon. This "time" would likely include that of the next Pope, as 93 percent of those who will choose the next Pontiff owe their position to the current one.
How can a Pontificate be measured? Is this topic one the laity should contemplate? Whatever the answer, they have commented and questioned by leaving the church. Seventy percent of Catholics reside in Third World Countries. Some areas have 1 Priest for almost 7,000 church members; these members may see a Priest once every 2 or 3 years. Catholic ritual has often become syncretic in these areas, as Catholic Ritual mixes with local and regional pagan beliefs. This is a direct result of having no Priests. And few are on the way as new Priests being ordained are fractions of the rates of decades ago, and the decline continues. Studies provided track the decline of many meaningful events critical to the church's survival. Ordinations of Priests and the women choosing to become Nuns have and are declining. Attendance at services is down and declining, as are baptisms, and the decline of Catholic Marriage. The elements rising are destructive also; Church closings, expanding number of issues that widen the gap between the laity and Vatican, increases in the rate of divorce among Catholics. These issues come in addition to the rise of homosexuality in the Priesthood, incidence of pedophilia (I suggest NO relationship between the two issues), and while Priests may not marry, they may leave the church, marry, have children and return, or a minister from a Protestant Church may become a Catholic together with his family. The latter issue is so convoluted as to defy logic. Divorced Catholics may remarry, but per the church the second marriage must remain chaste. Annulments while coming under fire are reminiscent of buying indulgences. Pay a fee and your marriage never happened, and any resulting children are illegitimate.
No Church can thrive by contracting. No Church can survive by maintaining the glacial pace adopted by the church as change. The days of treating the faithful as children ended for the faithful regardless of church recognition. Taking 500 years to state the church erred with Galileo, does not comfort those desirous of meaningful much less momentous change.
Mr. Cornwell may not be ideally Catholic as defined by Rome. He is a scholar, he is a man of faith who loves his church, and is clearly distressed by what he sees as continued intolerance, and the decline of membership. A Church, which states through the highest of offices that there should be respect and tolerance for differing faiths, and then separately states the only true religion is that defined by Rome's Catholicism, appears conflicted.
Mr. Cornwell closes with, what if we had a Pope who genuinely believed that those in trouble, with broken lives, relationships, and faith, are in greatest need of inclusion and love? A Pope who would mend the breaking faith of our Church must love all the faithful without exception; he must trust them, in deed as well as word, and see in the very least of them: the sinners, marginalized, dissidents, and the discouraged: the continued future of the One, True, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2001
Cornwell has eloquently described both his own journey through faith and the current state of the Cathlic Church. He had the courage to leave the church as a young man, when he genuinely believed that his faith was making him a narrow and loveless person. In middle age, he rediscovered his religion and became a returning Catholic. In the intervening years he has become increasingly alarmed at the defections and divisions within his Church. Most of all he is dismayed by the growing divisions within Catholicism which could lead to schism, especially in the United States. What is the answer? Cornwell argues that the whole Church must return to a state of genuine love: agape, the imperative to love one's neighbour as one self which is the only underpinning for a genuinely pluralist world. This is a timely book which should be read by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Religion has its dark face, as well as its beautiful face. This book reveals the mechanisms which make religion antagonistic and violent. REad it.
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20 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 2001
I would echo those thoughful co-reviewers who comment on how this book addresses the numerous issues confronting Roman Catholicism. I won't recapitulate the obvious here. I simply wish to recommend this book highly. For strong ethical and moral reasons, I left the church -- politely, but without reservation. Nonetheless, my entire education -- from first grade to my graduate degree -- has taken place at Catholic institutions. Of course, one could argue that a Jesuit education is not a Catholic one (;-)). And, as an adult, I revisit my history and the Church's history often. It is regrettable that my own experience is rather unexceptional. My own decision is but one of millions with a similar outcome. Our journeys in faith are long, trying and difficult ones -- as well they should be. Unfortunately, the modern history of the Catholic Church is a dismaying testimony to a hierarchy that has betrayed contrapuntal strands in its own history and treats its faithful, sincere and hungry members as illiterate, unreasonable, unreceptive (yes, a loaded word) children. This book, which leans neither to the so-called progressive "side" or toward the so-called traditional "side" (and ignore the right wingnut further down the list), addresses the myriad problems, issues, concerns and crises confronting Catholics both now and in the future in a manner most thorough and thoughtful.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2003
'Breaking Faith' is John Cornwell's essay about the Church being torn out between two contradictory movements. On the one hand, exclusivity - the belief that Church is the infallible and only way to salvation, and that its teaching are God's truth, and thus objectively correct. On the other hand, the Pluralism of the Western world, where secularism and respect for other beliefs are consistently preached, though inconsistently practiced.

Cornwell does not hide his views - he is a Liberal, and this book is written from a Liberal perspective. But the bias is easy enough to overcome, as the issues are the same for both conservatives and liberals.

In a short, easy to read and Journalistic book (unfortunately lacking the substantial scholarship of Cornwell's better known Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII), Cornwell presents some main areas of conflict in the Church - including the issues of homosexuality, the truth of other religions, papal infallibility and the making of saints. In each, essentially the same battle is fought - between the pluralists and the conservatives.

The subtitle of the book I hold in my hand is 'Can the Catholic Church Save itself?' The answer if obviously yes - the Roman Catholic Church is the oldest institution of mankind. It has survived the fall of an Empire, the disappearance and reappearance of science, immense corruption, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment. It has survived loss of Earthly power and two world wars, the rise of Nationalism, Fascism, Communism and Capitalism. It will survive this age and its problems as well.

The question is, what will it do to survive, and where will it survive. Cronwell believes that the Church should open up, be more pluralistic, inclusionist and down to earth. He believes it must change.

Personally, I think he is wrong. If the Church will surrender the mysticism and exclusionism it currently practice, it will lose much of its power over its believers. Like reform Jews, relaxed Catholics will merge into the general Judeo-Christianity of the Western world. The pluralists are lost to the Church on any event - it is the core believers who will remain with the Church in the future. The Fundamentalists and conservatives are the basis, the 'loyal consumers' of the Church, if you will, and it is them it must guard. The growth of the Church must inevitably take place in the less pluralistic parts of the world - the third world. There, the zeitgeist is probably more suitable for an exclusionist Church then in the Western world.

One interesting question, that Cornwell fails to explore, is whether there will develop an official movement, whose members will consider themselves Catholics but refuse to follow dictates from Rome. In an unorganized fashion, this is true already, witness the case of 'Dogma' director, Kevin Smith. Smith's movie is critical of basic Catholic themes and ideas, and would certainly not be sanctioned by the conservative official Church. But Smith considers himself Catholic nonetheless. Will we see churches which will carry out things the official Church does not approve (like ordaining women priests), and yet still regard themselves as Catholic? And how will the Church react to such churches? Certainly, if there will only be a small number of such churches, the Vatican will ex-communicate them. But how will the Papacy react to a large movement of self proclaimed Catholics who disregard official Catholic preaching?

Another interesting question is the high human cost of the Church's principled conservative stand. How many people suffer from AIDS because the Church refuses to sanction condom in Africa? How many people in the West suffer from the much tamer problems of the conflict between their Church and their society? And, perhaps most importantly, can the Church, while maintaining the general hard line, find a way to reach out for these people and elevate their misery?

You will find no answers to these questions in this book. Ultimately, those are questions for Catholics to figure out, while outsiders such as myself watch with great interest. Frankly, I am not quite sure what outcome I prefer, but I learned much from this book and, whether conservative of liberal or not even Catholic, I think you will too.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2009
I am quite late in reviewing John Cornwell's critique of the Catholic church, but the book is just as relevant today as it was when published in 2001. In fact, it is especially prescient because John Paul's "autocratic rule" and eccentric sexual morality, as described by Cornwell, has continued under his papal succesor Benedict. I found this book most useful in the research for my recently published, "An Irish Tragedy," which describes how sex abuse by Irish priests helped cripple the Catholic church. Cornwell wrote his book before the sex abuse problem exploded in America, but he takes note of the implications of John Paul's out-of-touch views on sexual morality. I found that those views came to haunt him when he did nothing to stop widespread sexual abuse in Ireland, while preaching a strict personal morality.--Joe Rigert, author
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13 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 2001
The Crisis of Hierarchy
John Cornwell's new book, BREAKING FAITH, juxtaposes the author's deep, personal, and moral concerns with the policies of the Vatican and Pope John Paul II's backward-looking position. Exploring step by step such burning issues as sexuality, marriage, the role of women, and the frozen hierarchical structure of, the Catholic Church, Cornwell's book demonstrates the need for institutional change. Like HITLER'S POPE, calling attention to the autocratic rule and tragic misjudgment of Pope Pius XII, BREAKING FAITH reveals that beyond any doubt, beyond any counter-argument, beyond, and even despite of, any mystical consideration, the Church must react to what has become its moral crisis. Using powerful arguments, the narration reveals how human greed, power-hunger, self-importance, self-righteousness, and fear of modernity have amalgamated with ancient convictions, perceptions, and rituals of the divine, and how this mixture of religious practice and doctrine has been preserved, acted upon, and reinforced by those in power over the years.
The sweeping force of Cornwell's arguments also draws from the author's use of aesthetic shaping. Just like HITLER'S POPE, BRAKING FAITH reveals a literary structure that is rare in the world of contemporary historical investigations. Its underlying compositional element is a complex polyphonic interweaving of such distinctly diverging strains as the personal-vulnerable, the large spiritual issues of the tradition, and some of the gnawing moral concerns of our time. Such polyphonic treatment underlies also the chapter structures of the volume. Arriving at the incinerator of the monastery almost at the end of the book and thus evoking the fires of the Inquisition, the narration counteracts our expectation of the forward moving motion of history. Since the image of fire and ashes also recalls the Holocaust, the text evokes both the recent and distant past, the shadows of which seem to still fall on the Catholic Church. Also, with the penultimate chapter carrying the title of "Returning," the narration reiterates, and thereby culminates in, the issue of "strict hierarchy," which, as Cornwell argues, is the cause for the crisis that must be dealt with if the Church is to survive. Echoing this theme throughout, the narration enacts symbol and intellectual argument with equal urgency.
BREAKING FAITH is a major study, shedding light on the Church's conflict between past and future.
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John Cornwell has written important (and sometimes controversial) books such as Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII,A Thief in the Night: Life and Death in the Vatican, and The Pontiff in Winter: Triumph and Conflict in the Reign of John Paul II, as well as the memoir Seminary Boy. He begins the book by stating, "My readers... have a right to know where I am coming from... I was born and raised a Catholic, and I spent seven years in seminaries before abandoning a vocation to the priesthood in my early twenties, and, eventually, as a matter of conscience, Christianity itself... I was a happier, better person without a belief in God. I did not look back... I had reason to regret an ovedisciplined youth, but I had also benefited from a privileged Catholic education." (Pg. 6)

He wrote in the first chapter of this 2001 book, "John Paul's pontificate has been assailed by a grim accumulation of woes: defections, plummeting Mass attendance, a collapsing priesthood, conflicts over a host of moral and jurisdictional issues, the decline of Catholic marriage, and expanding Catholic divorce rates... bishops are at odds with the Vatican over centralized authority; the faithful are battling... over issues such as pastoral and liturgical participation, sexual morality, the status and involvement of women, the strictures that prevent divorced Catholics from full communion... This book, which reports on the critical condition of the institutional Church, argues that despite the persistence of faith, a thirst for spirituality, and enthusiasm for good works among the billion strong Catholic faithful, John Paul is leaving the Catholic Church is a worse state than he found it... The Pope and the Vatican are not inclined to consider their own shortcomings and weaknesses, their own part in the plight in which the Church finds itself..." (Pg. 2-3)

He also admits, "My Catholic identity---which I intend to keep, come what may---is... for me, a daily creative action and interaction with the world, like a language. First and foremost I am a Christian, but my Catholic expression of Christianity, which I consider a special privilege of grace as well as accident of birth, parenthood, and education, is a way of using my imagination in prayer, in the liturgy, and in the work and encounters of everyday life, in reaching out to God, and being reached by God." (Pg. 87) He adds, "When I began to go to church again after breaking faith twenty years earlier, I felt personally and belatedly the full force of a despondency shared by many at the deterioration and adulteration of traditional Catholic worship." (Pg. 90)

He notes, "Three-quarters of Catholic Americans... think that EXTRAMARITAL sex is always wrong. And while three in every four Catholics thought PREMARITAL sex was always wrong in 1963... by 1994 only one in six American Catholics believed that premarital sex was always wrong. What is more, when unmarried Catholics engage in sex they do so more frequently than their average non-Catholic fellow Americans." (Pg. 123) He adds, "between 1989 and 1996, the annulments in the United States indicated that 6 percent of the world's Catholics received 75 percent of the world's annulments." (Pg. 134)

He observes, "In their attempts to work freely and constructively many Catholic women have decided to work outside Catholic institutions. [Elizabeth] Schüssler Fiorenza eventually left Notre Dame for Harvard; Rosemary Radford Ruether went to the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary ... Uta Ranke-Heinemann, after losing her Catholic teaching license, was awarded the chair in Church history at Essen University..." (Pg. 190)

For those interested in thoughtful criticism from "within" the Catholic fold, Cornwell's book will be appreciated.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 24, 2006
Mr. Cornwell is at it again with yet another piece that accurately reflects his own beliefs without answering some very obvious kneejerkers that arise concerning his own hypocricy in such an endeavour. He is indeed a modernist who really wishes to seek solace in something, i.e. the Catholic Church, that makes him comfortable even if at the moment it is inconveniently littered with things that poke at him, e.g. the male priesthood, papal authority in faith and morals, &c.

The better picture would be that of a runaway child who thinks better of it and comes home only to realize that the strictures of living in a family under the authority of parents still exist. He's shocked that in their luck of having him back, they haven't learned their lesson and changed to suit his wayward appetites. He then expresses, to anyone who will listen, his dissatisfaction that those same parents who feed and clothe him also give him a curfew, don't allow him to throw drunken parties while they're away, and are right piss poor excuses for human beings at that. Analogous to reality, there is no lack of those who are just as dissatisfied as he is (for whatever reason) to confirm his hypocritical stance and tell him, "yeah, your parents are sooo stupid." This of course encourages the lad to yell louder. Such is this follow up to Hitler's Pope.

Why would one wish to be a Catholic if the teachings of such a faith are grossly at odds with one's deepest convictions? Such a person wants to change that faith from the inside and make it into something of one's own liking and after one's own image. As soon as that happens, it ceases to be what it was at the start. He says, "I am a part of an apple. It is only a matter of time before this apple becomes an orange lest it die." Absurd, laughable. The apple will die, or it will live, but it will never become an orange.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2004
An honest and thouroughly researched study of the political struggle
and polemics between the Vatican, and Catholic theologians, academics and laity.
Among many other Catholic issues, the book focuses on the disturbing discrepancy between what the Pope says in his public addresses and letters, and what he actually does. As the book progresses, the grim picture of Vatican's repressive policies towards what they term as "relativism" begins to emerge. The persecution of pluralism and the enforcement of absolutism is reminiscent of repression in Fascist or Communist regimes. Cornwell refers to those individuals who disagree with the Vatican's officialdom as dissidents, which brings to mind the repression of free speech and thought by the Soviet regime, with much the same techniques, such as public humiliation, intimidation, removal from employment and exile (excommunication).
It should be noted that John Cornwell's criticism is targeted at the Vatican and not at Catholicism, which he makes very clear in the book, being a devout Catholic himself. In fact, after reading the book, I have walked away with a new respect for the Catholic faith. He also stresses that Papal dogmatism and Catholic catechism are not one and the same, and on many serious issues facing the Church today, such as contraception, ordination of women, gay priests, the participation of laity in Church affairs, denial of communion to remarried or divorced individuals etc., they are in partial and often in total disagreement. Cornwell argues that inclusiveness is inherent in the Catholic faith, and that Vatican's policy remains obstinately exclusivist.
The book is sprinkled with numerous excerpts from speeches, letters and media publications; dozens of names are mentioned; the bibliography takes up about 10 pages. The writing style is clear and more journalistic than scholarly, making it easy to follow the astonishing amount of facts.
Galileo's words serve well to summarize: "the scriptures do not err, those who interpret them do."
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