From Publishers Weekly
Briggs, a former New York Times
religion editor, spent eight years researching and writing this report on the disappearance of Catholic nuns from the American church scene. During that time, some 25,000 sisters died and the number of American nuns fell to under 70,000, compared with 185,000 in 1965. In setting out to learn what happened to cause this marked decline, Briggs interviewed legions of nuns who lived through the cataclysmic Second Vatican Council of 1962–1965, which brought major reforms to the church and religious life. Although nuns were largely excluded from the council, Briggs suggests that it gave sisters a mandate to renew their communities and the freedom to determine how. But when bishops, priests and eventually the Vatican stood in their way, the sisters were "double-crossed." Briggs believes that had the sisters been allowed to interpret Vatican II as they understood it, their decline might not have been so sharp. However, he also points to cultural shifts and church politics as factors that affected the sisterhood's vitality. Moreover, he observes that the sisters may have contributed to their own demise by remaining loyal to church authority. Readers sympathetic to the cause of sisters who sought greater reform than was achieved will most appreciate Briggs's work on this important topic. (June 20)
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Briggs revisits the pivotal Vatican II years in this compelling expose of the plight of American nuns. Since the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church in America has lost approximately 100,000 religious sisters. Although much of the decrease is because many older sisters retired from active duty and subsequently died, multiple cultural and political transformations also contributed to the shrinking of the ranks. Still, according to Briggs, the most significant factor was the promise of reform promulgated by Vatican II, a promise that never materialized on a practical level. Excluded from most of the doctrinal discussions, female religious leaders nevertheless understood they would be granted the freedom to review and reorganize their individual orders. That freedom was short-lived when the nuns were in fact double-crossed by the male church hierarchy. Disillusioned and betrayed, nuns left their convents and communities in record numbers, effectively devastating the most productive educational, medical, and social arm of the Catholic Church in America. Margaret FlanaganCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved