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Muggeridge, Anne Roche.

Toronto. McClelland and Stewart, c1986. 217pp. cloth. S22.95, ISBN 0-7710-7686-X. CIP

Grades 11 and up
Reviewed by Robert Bérard

Volume 15 Number 2
1987 March

One occasionally comes across a book that espouses unfashionable views with such passion and insight that one is compelled to take notice. Such a book is The Desolate City, an indictment of the major developments in western Catholic thought and practice in the years since the end of the Second Vatican Council. Unlike most publications of recent years on the state of contemporary Catholicism, this clearly argued and entertainingly written volume by Anne Roche Muggeridge eloquently expresses the views of many Roman Catholic traditionalists.

Catholicism, Muggeridge claims, resembles a city "ravaged by war. The spires have fallen, the wells are poisoned, the government is in exile." She believes that the Church is in the midst of a revolution, conducted along the lines of contemporary secular revolutionary movements, which threatens the fundamental beliefs of traditional Catholic Christianity. Intellectual descendants of the liberal Protestant school of Biblical criticism, which flourished in the late nineteenth century, and the Catholic "modernist" movement, which shared its disbelief in the miraculous aspects of the Gospels, radical theologians like the German Hans Küng, the Americans, Charles Curran and Raymond Brown, and the Canadian, Gregory Baum, are identified as the leading voices in the movement to redefine and re-orient Catholic thought.

Muggeridge notes, as against the popular, media-induced impression, the conservative character of the Second Vatican Council, the Pope. John XXIII. who convened it, and the documents that it approved. Unlike earlier ecumenical councils, however, Vatican II spoke in a "double voice," achieving consensus through Delphic pronouncements, which, while perfectly orthodox, seemed to admit of widely varying, even contradictory interpretations. A well-organized body of liberal churchmen and theologians took advantage of the ambiguity of the Council's language and the indecisive pontificate of Paul VI to challenge papal authority and promote their own controversial understandings of the spirit of the Vatican Council.

Thus, although Pope Paul re-affirmed the Church's continuing opposition to artificial contraception, his words were openly criticized by liberal activists and obscured or ignored by bishops who disagreed, while Rome did little to discourage dissent and disobedience. Such weakness in the Church's hierarchical structure led to the promulgation of a "parallel magisterium" or alternate interpretation of the faith by a number of so-called progressive theologians and bishops. Every major Catholic doctrine, from the divinity of Christ to the virginity of Mary to the Resurrection itself, has been called into question, while organized dissent on such fundamental issues as abortion, homosexuality, and the ordination of women has flourished openly.

Of greatest concern to Muggeridge, however, is the extent to which these theological dissenters have become entrenched in the episcopacy and their lay and clerical bureaucracies. Through their control of the levers of power and communication within the Church, she argues, the faith "is being subverted wild the approval of its shepherds." Yet, despite the ascendancy of liberalism in the Church and the demoralization of Catholic traditionalists, Muggeridge remains cautiously hopeful of a counterrevolution, believing that Pope John Paul II has begun a process of restoration, not only by his official pronouncements, but also by his episcopal and other appointments.

There are a number of weaknesses in the book, most attributable to the author's polemical style. She tends to romanticize the past, especially the 1950s, as a Catholic golden age, to overlook the deficiencies of conservative prelates, and to assume the worst of those whom she suspects of revolutionary sympathies. She has given insufficient attention to Eastern Rite Catholicism and to the Latin Rite churches outside the industrialized West. Her combative language may lead some readers to dismiss her as an embittered partisan.

Such a response would be a serious underestimation of a remarkably perceptive book by a talented and courageous writer. Even if her view of the Roman Catholic Church today is flawed or limited, she raises serious questions about liturgy, doctrine, and pastoral practice that deserve serious consideration by all members and observers of the Church. She has drawn her characterization of radical theologians as modern pagans from an extensive survey of their own writings, and her observations on the role of the mass media in influencing religious trends that they claim merely to report, is instructive indeed. This is a book that should generate controversy for all the right reasons.

Robert Bérard, Dept. of Education, Dalhousie University Halifax, N.S.
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