CHURCH AND STATE by Russell Shaw

CHURCH AND STATE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

There's the skeleton of a fictional structure here, but the body of this novel is all talk--debates and dialogues on euthanasia, on the state of the Catholic Church in the U.S. since Vatican II, on the proper role of the Church in politics, on the kind of leadership the Church needs, etc. That fictional skeleton: it's some time in the future, and the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of euthanasia, giving rise to a proliferation of death-on-demand clinics; so now there's a move for an anti-euthanasia Constitutional amendment, which, ironically, is supported by the Jewish candidate for President and opposed by his Catholic opponent. How should the Bishops' Council proceed? There's heated dissension among the hard-line and moderate bishops--especially when the wily Catholic candidate (advised by a boozy, freethinking theologian) makes it appear that the Church is getting too involved in politics. (""As a Catholic, nothing is going to do me more good, even with other Catholics, than to tell the bishops to go to hell."") And caught in the midst of all this is Father John Lauer, General Secretary to the Bishops' Council, who must try to draft a compromise statement for the bishops. So the debate ensues: Do Catholics vote as their Bishops tell them? What's the distinction between Church teaching and Church coercion? Plus much, much more--in longwinded, repetitive discussions--with Father Lauer hearing yet further talk from the Vatican and from a discontented parish priest (""The job is busywork. . . and a priest is an ordained basket weaver""). And after all the ethical chat, the Catholic candidate is ultimately defeated by blackmail: Father Lauer is given evidence that the candidate has been trying to influence the selection of a new Archbishop. . . . Slow of pace, short on character, and devoid of action, this is a fictional zero; but the nonstop debates are reasonably balanced and thoughtful, and readers with special interest and enormous patience may enjoy the internal clerical wrangles, which are just dull enough to seem thoroughly authentic.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1979
Publisher: Our Sunday Visitor