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Engrossing faith memoir mirrors the changing face of American Catholicism.

Novelist and former priest Carroll (House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power, 2006, etc.) sets out to understand and explain the state of Catholicism from the 1940s to the present, using his personal story as a nexus. In his view, the latter half of the 20th century was marked by this revelation: “Catholics came to understand that they themselves—not their priests, bishops, and pope—are the Church.” Many would question that assessment, or at least state that it is not a global truth, but the author makes a good case that the “unchanging” Roman Catholic Church can and does change through the sheer will of its adherents. He begins by sharing childhood memories of growing up an Irish-American Catholic in the ’40s and ’50s, a time when Mass was celebrated in Latin, Catholics and Protestants rarely mixed and the people in the pews had no power or say. Carroll interrupted his undergraduate career at Georgetown to join an overtly American order of priests, the Paulist Fathers. His years at seminary and as a priest coincided with the Second Vatican Council and with one of America’s most turbulent periods, a parallel history that the author traces with powerful effect. Becoming personally disenchanted with church teachings on celibacy, contraception, etc., Carroll left the priesthood in 1974. His account of the following decades focuses on the controversial social and religious stances of Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), as well as the reaction to their policies by Carroll and other lay people. The author’s prose is occasionally too weighty—“Kennedy’s peroration was my conscription,” “implicit contract of coresponsibility”—but overall the book is a page-turner and offers controversial insights on modern American Catholicism.

A captivating look at the Church and a call for change from within its numbers.

Pub Date: April 2nd, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-618-67018-5
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2009


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