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on 3 April 2006
Like several writers, Robert Blair Kaiser spent several years in Rome waiting for John Paul II to die so that he could publish the material he was amassing. After playing an important networking role on the sidelines of Vatican II, he returned to take up residence in Rome again, John Cornwell could not wait for the Polish pope to die and Paul Collins was among the first to publish after his death. Kaiser profiles six cardinals on the way to the conclave of 2005, five of them giving a window on what he calls "the real Church outside Rome." His sixth profile - of Cardinal Josef Ratzinger - should make many readers shudder. Kaiser's narrative is punctuated by three essays (which he calls 'excursions') on the priesthood, liberation theology that point to needed changes in the Church.
Kaiser is not optimistic. He believes that Ratzinger's understanding of the Church is essentially clerical, despite being expressed through a sharp theological mind. Kaiser argues for a people's Church but sees little hope of it if we depend on the Vatican to take action. But this is the point of Kaiser's work. He says Catholics can take action in their local churches, and Kaiser spells out how they can do so in radical ways in a new website called www.takebackourchurch.org. His suggestion that the People of God can demand new 'autochthonous' churches breaks new ground.
Inevitably much of the attraction of a book like this lies in our being made made privy to information which is not generally available and which has come to a privileged writer with both the right contacts and an ability to delve into normally secret areas. This secrecy bedevils progress in the Catholic Church - bishops who are too timid to speak openly about their need to ordain married men, cardinals who question the Vatican line on human sexuality, priests in sexual liaisons who dare not bear public witness to their commitment to a partner. "The emperor has no clothes," they whisper behind closed doors or at a discreet dinner with a journalist, when it needs to be shouted from the rooftops. Martyrs to the Gospel like Jacques Gaillot, ousted bishop of Evreux, are few and far between.
Kaiser's interviewees sometimes give us cause for hope, but how one wishes that they would cast aside all fear and make common ground with bishops keen to see progress where it is so badly needed in our clerical Church.
"It was no surprise that the lords who stood to lose their long-standing power in a clerical Church resisted the revolution and succeeded in suppressing it by electing two popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who raised higher the walls of patriarchy, so they could keep control . . . Believe in Christ, in Christ's Body, in the people, in the reign of justice and peace in this world. In yourselves (p xii)."
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