BREAKING FAITH by John Cornwell


The Pope, the People, and the Fate of Catholicism
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A thoughtful account arguing that the Catholic Church has condemned itself to irrelevance and even extinction.

Cornwell is no stranger to controversy: his books Hitler’s Pope (1999) and The Hiding Places of God (1991) have been roundly condemned by bishops, cardinals, and conservative Catholic pundits for “journalistic malfeasance” at best and apostasy at worst, and he might count himself fortunate that the Inquisition is, for the moment, inactive. Still, as a former seminarian and doubtful (though not, he hastens to add in a long discussion of his bona fides, agnostic) Catholic, he is well positioned to offer this reasoned, liberal critique of the modern church, whose troubles are many and, he suggests, mostly self-inflicted. One of those troubles is the near-reactionary cult surrounding the present pope, whose “message, invariably, is to accuse the faithful of sinfulness in the conduct of their sexual and marital relationships.” Another is the church’s position on such matters as abortion, priestly celibacy, and the ordination of women, which have served to distance Rome from its non-fanatical constituencies. Still another is the church’s confused attempt to become hip and modern on some fronts; a recent English catechism, Cornwell observes, does not get around to mentioning Jesus until page 21 (and then to state what would seem to be obvious: “for Christians, Jesus is the person who is to be followed”), while liturgy has “become adulterated with admixtures from non-Christian religion and New Age beliefs and practices,” and once-important practices such as confession are all but forgotten. Cornwell’s solutions are as numerous as his criticisms, though sometimes a little less specific; chief among them is his insistence that true “pluralism” is the best remedy for “an exclusive and ever more hierarchical, male-oriented, centralized Church based on fear and mistrust.”

Ecclesiastical reformers and liberal Catholics will find much of value in these pages, which are certain to earn Cornwell still more demerits from the Holy See.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-670-03002-3
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2001


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