American Catholicism "is on the verge of either an irreversible decline or a thoroughgoing transformation," according to author Peter Steinfels, veteran religion reporter and writer of the "Beliefs" column for the New York Times
. In the face of the Churchs daunting sex scandal, few could argue with Steinfels dramatic assessment. But what makes this book especially unique and controversial is that Steinfels believes that the American Catholic Church would still be grappling with impending decline or a serious overhaul even if the heinous acts of sexual misconduct had never occurred.
Steinfelsa practicing Catholicnostalgically speaks to the positive ways the church once influenced and guided American Catholics. "Sacrament, edifice, art, doctrine, parental example, youthful devotion, adolescent romance, a teacher here, a mentor thereall part of passing on the faith from person to persongeneration to generation," he writes. Indeed, a generation ago, the Church weighed in heavily when American Catholics made decisions about work, sex, marriage, and raising children. Nowadays, the younger generation of Catholics may go to church, but are far less likely to integrate the Church into their daily lives. Steinfels cites polls showing how Catholics are deeply divided on seemingly non-negotiable issues, including the use of birth control and the legality of abortion. He also examines crumbling institutions, such as Catholic hospitals and religious orders, showing how the innate divisiveness in the Church has created the current decline. Other topics of intense scrutiny include the shape-shifting Catholic schools and the resistance to ordaining female priests. Rather than pontificating on solutions, Steinfels offers an intelligent expose that is bound to create waves among the "people adrift." --Gail Hudson
From Publishers Weekly
What a challenging time for the Catholic Church in America, and what a challenge to write a comprehensive assessment of its past 40 years to draft a list of possible futures. But veteran New York Times religion correspondent Steinfels, also former editor of Commonweal magazine and teacher at Georgetown and Notre Dame, is ideal for the task. Steinfels is deeply knowledgeable through research and experience of his formidably vast subject, and he brings personal loyalty to his faith, moderated by the detachment of his profession. Blessedly, the sex scandal that shook the church in 2002 gets context from a man who wrote about the occurrence of abuse a decade earlier. Large institutional questions-primary and higher education, health care, worship, leadership, the priesthood, roles for laity and women-all are examined through Steinfels's own years of reporting as well as through the lenses of major studies by sociologists. If anything, the book is not big enough for so complex a subject. Steinfels sounds a call for a reasoned common ground that respects the richness of tradition and also reflects the reality of the practices and needs of more than 60 million American Catholics, rather than the agendas of any number of the small but vocal groups within Catholicism. This book will be hailed by many, and with good reason; it should not be ignored by Catholic officials.
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