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A People Adrift : The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America Hardcover – August 5, 2003

3.7 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 Church’s 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.

Steinfels—a practicing Catholic—nostalgically 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 there—all part of passing on the faith from person to person—generation 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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (August 5, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684836637
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684836638
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #735,861 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is a surprisingly broad survey of the state of the Catholic Church in the United States which avoids focus on hot button moral or divisive doctrinal issues to instead examine nearly every major facet of Catholic corporate life. At first, I found this a little disappointing because I expected a dominant focus on matters of leadership and institutional structure. But upon getting deeper into the author's project, I was gratified by the breadth of perspective because it showed how widespread is the Catholic presence in American society, and in turn, how thoroughly Catholicism is affected and challenged by that society.
Steinfels begins with an account of the last years of Cardinal Bernardin in Chicago and his efforts to establish a dialogue between different wings of church opinion on fundamental issues defining the future of the church. The effort was called the "Common Ground Initiative." It was publicly criticized by several of Bernardin's cardinal colleagues on the basis that there could be no real dialogue, implying compromise, on church teaching in key areas identified by Bernardin.
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Format: Hardcover
A judicious, deeply thoughtful, thoroughly informed, and lucidly written analysis of the crisis that threatens to send American Catholicism, the largest faith community in the United States, for all its present energy, diversity, and service to society, into a period of "irreversible decline." According to Steinfels, American Catholics have around ten or fifteen years to rescue what is most valuable and truth-disclosing in their tradition or watch it begin to diminish in its transformative power, its spiritual authenticity, and its cultural productiveness. Can the Catholic community recover itself, be honest with itself, and sustain a respectful conversation within itself--in time?
Steinfels, the former senior religion correspondent for "The New York Times," and a former editor of "Commonweal" magazine, relies on his broad experience as a journalist and interpreter of the contemporary experience of various religious communities, their traditions, practices, conflicts, and aspirations, to provide close attention to--and critical reflection on--specific practical and institutional matters crucial to the full survival of the Catholic faith. It is the type of attention and reflection that ought to ground serious "theological" work & keep it rooted in the lives, questions, & feelings of human beings struggling to make sense of their lives in today's world. The author pulls no punches as regards the scandals, embittered arguments, and failures of leadership that are tearing the American Catholic community apart. Nor does he offer cheap solace through soothing compromise or ecclesiastical happy-talk.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
" A People Adrift", Peter Steinfels's new book about the crisis in the Catholic Church in America is as comprehensive a study as you will find about the church today. For those of us non-Catholics who wonder why Catholics go through all the fuss and bother that they do, Steinfels helps us out. Most importantly, he gets us away from the screaming headlines of the newspapers and the segments on television and gives us a close-up look at the many layers of Catholicism, how they interact, what's wrong (and what's right) in the church today.
What struck me most about "A People Adrift" is how much lay leadership has become a part of the church. With declining numbers of priests Steinfels points to the increasing role of laity....a sure sign that at least in some respects the church is willing to accept change. But the author reserves his harshest criticism for the hunkering down of Rome with regard to women and celibacy. He suggests that without a liberalization on the part of the Vatican that the Catholic church in the U.S. will continue its decline. As an outsider in a progressive Protestant denomination, I very much agree with him.
Although the author is willing to make his own feelings known, he is careful to balance counter arguments. He offers possible solutions to questions about the Catholic perceptions of sex, celibacy, religious education, the roles of priests and bishops, the state of affairs of worship, etc....in short, Steinfels covers just about every tier and angle. And I smiled when he signaled his great respect for the late Cardinal Bernardin and his contempt for Cardinal Law.
While "A People Adrift" is a must-read for Catholics who are concerned about the future of their church, I think this book extends far beyond Catholicism. It is an important book to read for people of any faith, not just as a comparison to their own but as a revelation to those who want to understand the joy and the agony of what it is to be Catholic in America in 2003.
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