Book Reviews – October 2020


Can Francis Change the Church? How American Catholics Are Responding to His Leadership. By Thomas P. Sweetser. Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak. (skip to review)

Into His Likeness: Be Transformed as a Disciple of Christ. By Edward Sri. Reviewed by Aaron Martin. (skip to review)

Immortal Combat: Confronting the Heart of Darkness. By Dwight Longenecker. Reviewed by Fr. Jeffrey Kirby. (skip to review)

The Virtue of Hope: How Confidence in God Can Lead You to Heaven. By Fr. Philip Bochanski. Reviewed by Christine Sharmila Rego. (skip to review)

The Spark of Faith: Understanding the Power of Reaching Out to God. By Wojciech Giertych. Reviewed by Thomas V. Gourlay. (skip to review)

Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power. By Adam A.J. DeVille. Reviewed by John A. Monaco. (skip to review)


Can Francis Change the Church? – Thomas P. Sweetser

Sweetser, Thomas P. Can Francis Change the Church? How American Catholics Are Responding to His Leadership. Chestnut Ridge, NY: Crossroad, 2019. 176 pages.

Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak.

The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey conducted in 2007 by the Pew Research Center reported that 32 percent of people raised as Catholics no longer call themselves Catholic (79). Using this quantitative study as a springboard, Jesuit Father Thomas P. Sweetser undertook a qualitative study in order to determine some of the reasons why such a significant number of people feel disillusioned about the Church and are disconnecting from active engagement in parish life.

The book consists of two main parts: “The Before: How People Felt About the Church Prior to Francis Becoming Pope” and “The After: Reactions to Pope Francis.” The author interviewed a cross-section of fifty-five women and men ranging in age from twenty to over eighty with a geographic spread of fifteen states across the country. These “exit interviews” were conducted in 2011-2012 with follow-ups conducted in 2017 and 2018 in order to determine the impact of Francis’ pontificate and the new wave of scandalous revelations (e.g., L’affaire McCarrick and the release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on Child Sexual Abuse) upon attitudes toward the Church. Surprisingly, the book makes no mention of Pope Francis’ historic visit to the United States in 2015, in which he met with President Obama at the White House, addressed a joint session of Congress with both parties applauding enthusiastically, canonized Saint Junipero Serra, addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York, and participated in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia — among other memorable encounters. Gathering reactions to the papal visit or at least mentioning it for context would have been illuminating, given that the visit likely served as a high-water mark of Americans’ enthusiasm for the papacy and Catholicism in general.

The pool of respondents, by and large, saw the Church as mired in outmoded thinking on such matters as structures of authority and styles of leadership, sexual morality, gender parity (the ordination of women, in particular), and meeting the concrete needs of people. Many of the responses pit the “popular church” over-and-against the institutional church. The respondents perceived infighting and contradictions between Catholic officialdom and the grassroots. Many of the purportedly enlightened criticisms of the Church presented in this book are well-worn tropes hailing from the left bank of the Tiber. Nevertheless, the viewpoints expressed and the frustrations vented merit thoughtful consideration because they are voiced sincerely.

Inevitably, the grueling issue of clerical sexual abuse and the concomitant lack of accountability surfaced among the interviews. It is noteworthy that it was not a central and all-consuming issue. The author conveys pertinent Pew Research Center data in the book: “The clergy sexual abuse scandal was not a prominent reason for leaving the Catholic Church for either those joining other faiths (21%) or those who remained unaffiliated (27%). Although not a significant determinant, it did help to confirm their decision” (5). Relatedly, the term “clericalism” appears in the book no less than a dozen times and seems to be a significant factor fueling dissatisfaction, but it remains an amorphous concept. It would have been beneficial to define the specific features people have in mind when they criticize clericalism.

Although many of the respondents opined about the lack of women’s ordination, those who had “moved on” from the Catholic fold revealed that even “if that happened, most of them would not return to the Catholic Church again” (130).

Insofar as the book endeavors to be descriptive, it succeeds at carefully collecting, collating, and conveying the views of a sizable segment of the population that embraces a progressive current of thought. In this respect, this book will be helpful to clergy, lay ecclesial ministers, and religious educators in preparing themselves to evangelize in a way that responds intelligently and compassionately to certain neuralgic issues. The book offers many useful insights about the religious landscape on which the New Evangelization is playing out and about how parishes can fine-tune their community life in order to make it more attractive. The book will aid in devising successful strategies for reconnecting with disenchanted Catholics.

If the aims of the book are prescriptive, then the book is to be approached with a discerning mindset because the undergirding ecclesiological assumptions are not always solid. There seems to be a lopsided tendency in this book to see the Church horizontally. The Church, however, is not a self-generating social movement or a political party whose platform can be devised democratically to placate a plurality of people. The Church is a divine convocation. She exists because of an act of foundation by Jesus Christ, who is the true head (see Lumen gentium, 9). Given that the Church is an integral part of God’s plan for the salvation of humankind, the primary criterion for assessing the Church’s performance is fidelity to divine revelation contained in the deposit of faith. Fidelity to the will of Christ — not the consensus, compromise, and communal contentment common in contemporary nation-states — is of utmost importance. The Church, therefore, is perpetually in need of renewal — not reinvention.

The 2015 Pew Research Center Survey of U.S. Catholics and Family Life found that as many as 45 percent of Americans had some personal connection to Catholicism (79), so it is unsurprising that the Church’s relation to mainstream culture is discussed widely and regularly. This sociological work offers a glimpse into the thinking of the “nones,” the “dones,” those teetering between remaining Catholic and renouncing their Catholicism, and those believers who continue to cling tenaciously to their faith and their Church.

Christopher Siuzdak is a canonist in the Tribunal of the Diocese of Portland.


Into His Likeness – Edward Sri

Sri, Edward. Into His Likeness: Be Transformed as a Disciple of Christ. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2018. 150 pages.

Reviewed by Aaron Martin.

A block off of Piazza Navona in Rome is the small church of San Luigi dei Francesi. There, in a darkened side chapel is Caravaggio’s masterpiece, “The Calling of St. Matthew.” The image depicts Christ pointing at St. Matthew as a beam of light traces a line from Christ’s head over his hand and directly to St. Matthew’s face. Matthew points to himself as if to ask Jesus, “Are you calling me?” Caravaggio’s painting captures what Edward Sri calls “that pivotal moment between Matthew the tax collector and Matthew the disciple.” (9) That moment — or series of moments throughout life — happens to us all. We are all invited to become a disciple and need to give a response. This process of discipleship “is the lifelong process of encountering Jesus anew each day, like Matthew does that moment in the tax collector’s office, and being changed by Jesus so that we become more like him.” (24)

The transformation of a follower into a disciple progresses in stages just like an apprentice learns more year after year from his master. For the key to discipleship, says Sri, is not “discipline,” as some people propose, but imitation. (23) But unlike learning a trade by imitating a master craftsman, Christian discipleship actually changes the disciple into a new creation. Progress in the spiritual life results in a new way of being rather than the internalizing of skills or insights from the master. In the Jewish understanding of discipleship, Sri explains that “[d]isciples were expected to follow their rabbi so closely that they would be covered with their master’s whole way of thinking, living, and acting.” (30) Disciples cannot merely go through the motions or simply espouse their master’s teachings. Discipleship demands more.

In the thirteenth chapter of Luke’s gospel, a man asks Jesus whether everyone will be saved. Rather than answer the question, Jesus tells the man to “strive” to enter the narrow gate (the Greek word translated as “strive” is also the root for “agonize”). Jesus recounts how many people will try to enter the kingdom by saying “We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” (Luke 13:26) But such knowledge — knowledge about Jesus or knowledge about His teachings because of proximity to Him—is not enough. We need to know Him personally and deeply.

That is the role of the disciple — to know the master and, over time (and often with agony), to become more like him (see Luke 6:40). And it is a radical call: “Following Jesus as a disciple represents a decisive turning point in a person’s life — a major break with the past and a complete reordering of priorities, which now will be centered on the Person of Jesus Christ.” (14) Once we experience this transformational conversion, we turn in a new direction. But that is just the beginning. We, just like for many characters in the Gospels, will continue to miss the mark. But we can take comfort in the fact that the apostles — those who were closest to Jesus and became His greatest witnesses — often missed the mark the most in the Gospels.

And the pattern has repeated itself throughout history. The saints “are people like us, who also have complicated problems.” (49, quoting Benedict XVI) These saints are “models of a lifelong process of gradual, ongoing conversion. They loved God, made heroic sacrifices, and gave themselves to the Lord in radical service. But they also had moments when they doubted. They lacked trust. They stumbled. They begged for mercy whenever they fell. And then they got back up again hoping in God’s grace to help them.” (49) This is the path toward holiness, but it also reflects the trial-and-error process of an apprentice, of a disciple.

Sri proposes that transformation into a disciple takes place in three stages: (1) The Upward Struggle — our initial fervor upon encountering Christ and the work of the purgative way; (2) Falling Back — the ever-present fall into sin, despite our best efforts; and (3) Lifted by God’s Grace—recognizing our weakness, meeting God in humility where we are, and allowing Him to act in our lives in a powerful way. These stages represent the process that each disciple experiences of encountering the Lord, trying to follow Him, but never being adequate to the task. It is, quite simply, the Christian life.

In his discussion of these three stages, Sri provides helpful insights about the power of Christian friendship and the grace present in the sacraments as means to help us progress as a disciple. The advice is both theologically deep and eminently practical — such as his thoughts on preparing for Mass or his primer on developing an interior life. These thoughts are useful to disciples at any stage of the journey.

Into His Likeness is a fruitful collaboration between Ignatius Press and the Augustine Institute and brings the best of both to bear. Sri writes with an approachable style without being light on substance. The book would be a worthy addition to RCIA programs, men’s or women’s reading groups, or for individuals seeking to grow closer to Christ.

Mr. Aaron Martin is holds degrees from the Pontifical College Josephinum as well as the Catholic University of America. He is currently an attorney living in Phoenix, Arizona and publishes book reviews on a blog called Catholic Book Report.


Immortal Combat – Dwight Longenecker

Longenecker, Dwight. Immortal Combat: Confronting the Heart of Darkness. Manchester: Sophia Press, 2020. 145 pages.

Reviewed by Fr. Jeffrey Kirby.

In this volume, Father Dwight Longenecker explores the sources of human fallenness and the means of overcoming it. In a creative approach, he uses the myths of paganism to display how evil was discerned and expressed in the ancient world, and how this wisdom can assist us in identifying that same darkness today. Longenecker then proposes some helpful resources in fighting evil and allowing truth and light to win the day.

The book, therefore, consists of two parts: the first on the heart of darkness, and the second on the sword of light.

The first part consists of eight chapters and covers such popular myths as the minotaur and labyrinth, the dragon, the hound of heaven, Medusa and her sisters, Geryon, and the scapegoat, among some others. Each myth is used as a narrative to dive into the “heart of darkness” and name some of the spiritual enemies of the human soul. For example, Cerberus — the three-headed hound who guards the gates of hell — is used as a model of human fallenness. Each head is identified with a different spirit that hurts the human family, such as power, pride, and prejudice. By using myth, Longenecker ensures a captive audience, since the details of such stories are not well-known by many readers, or a spiritual exegesis of the myths is new to them.

While the use of myth is understandable and effective, the first part of the book could have been assisted by a heavier reliance on the Sacred Scriptures. There were occasions when the book unmasked a hidden sin but then left the myth and its interpretation without a strong biblical elaboration or application.

In part two of the book, Longenecker shifts his attention and now provides the reader with some resources to combat the fallenness of our human nature. In this way, Immortal Combat is a helpful tool in the battle for salvation, virtue, and holiness.

In the eight chapters of part two, the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Confession, the other sacraments, the Sacred Scriptures, and self-sacrifice, among others, are developed and made accessible for the reader to understand and use in our efforts to allow light to overcome evil, virtue to conquer vice, and grace to bring about our salvation.

As Longenecker writes near the conclusion of his work: “This entire book has been an attempt to hammer home the fact that the Lord Jesus came into this world to do battle with the ancient foe and that He won the victory . . .” (135).

Immortal Combat is a refreshingly honest expose of human fallenness and our capacity for evil. The book unmasks our denial, calls out our justifications, and dismantles our rationalizations over sin. It surgically draws out the hidden darkness of our hearts and names the dark spirits that hurt or harm us and our world.

While Immortal Combat provides a thought-provoking examination of conscience in narrative form, there are times in which the original goodness of humanity seems eclipsed by the effort to show the human family its weakened state. The original innocence of humanity and its authentic “fallen” state are sometimes lost in the exegesis of myth and the naming of sins. This oversight sometimes weakens the argument of the author, as it presents humanity in a wretched state (rather than a weakened one). While this point is made, the book’s overall conviction of the conscience still stands and is much needed in our contemporary world.

The book is innovative and creative. It will inspire the imagination and provoke the heart. It will assist people of diverse temperaments and personalities to see things with new eyes, ask themselves difficult questions, and daringly confront the heart of darkness.

Fr. Jeffrey Kirby, STD, is an Adjunct Professor of Theology at Belmont Abbey College.


 The Virtue of Hope – Fr. Philip Bochanski

Bochanski, Fr Philip. The Virtue of Hope: How Confidence in God Can Lead You to Heaven. Charlotte, NC: Tan Books, 2019. 226 pages.

Reviewed by Christine Sharmila Rego.

In this bleak time of the COVID-19 pandemic, here is a book of hope and it is called just that. Written by Fr. Philip Bochanski, award-winning author, publisher, and Executive Director of Courage International, The Virtue of Hope begins the first chapter outlining the grave challenges of the twenty-first century that “leave us feeling overwhelmed, outmatched, even desperate.” And he is not incorrect, especially when we see the ravages of the global epidemic of COVID-19 taking over the peace and stability of many families and nations.

As Christians we must have our faith, our hope, to carry us through these tough times, believing in the presence and assistance of the Lord in all our suffering. However, our faith could be faltering and many of us feel that we need to re-learn how to trust, how to hope when there seems like there is none. Here in the pages of this book we can once again remind ourselves of that very gift of the Lord that is not only for “times such as these” but for every moment of our lives, leading us to heaven when all is done.

Fr. Bochanski first helps us understand what hope means both scripturally and theologically with the aid of Thomas Aquinas, Pope Benedict XVI and the Catechism. He then quickly launches on a series of illuminations of the lives of humble believers through the centuries, men and women whose stories have the ability to stir up our burdened souls and inspire us to hope once more in the loving mercy of the Lord. The blind man of Bethsaida in the Bible, Saint Augustine, Blessed Pier Giorgo Frassati, St. Josephine Bakhita, Saint Gianna Molla, and Saint Teresa of Calcutta are some of the great saints he writes about. Some equally beautiful though relatively unknown stars of faith are also included, such as Caryll Houselander, Father Walter Cisek SJ, and Blessed Chiara Luce Badano.

Each story is gripping, insightful, intense, and teaches through the expert pen of Fr. Bochanski, bittersweet lessons of hope as only can be taught by those saints, but which we too find in our own lives or be inspired to imitate. Bochanski shows us how one can be very young, inexperienced and yet full of hope to persevere; live in paralyzing addiction and yet change; we can be full of fear and yet, clinging to Jesus, face the enemy; live in debilitating isolation, or in remote areas of the world, and yet find God’s grace and strength to endure mental and physical suffering; that progress though a difficult life situation may be slow and painfully tedious but we can still find courage, perseverance and patience to stay on the road; that a heart of stone can soften to a heart of flesh.

Bochanski also tackles theodicy — how can God permit evil, and through the stories of the saints of Molokai, Fr Damian and Mother Marianne, he gives us deeper insights into the problem of suffering and the Christian response to suffering. Bochanski shows us how hope is the very grace that is given by the Holy Spirit to sanctify us daily and lead us finally to our ultimate beatitude in heaven. “Hope . . . is our necessary virtue while we are ‘on the way’ through this world, allows us to persevere in the midst of sufferings and to trust in God’s love and God’s justice without losing heart.” (Pg 126) With stories of disease, riots, war, strife, and death all around us in the media feeding our fear or just bringing us down, what we need to read are stories of hope and especially how to have hope; and here in this short, unputdownable book we can find it all.

Christine Sharmila Rego is a mother of five living in the suburbs of Vancouver BC Canada, a Catholic writer and teacher (English, RCIA), leader of a family prayer ministry “Families in Prayer and Community,” one time journalist in Mumbai, MA in English Literature (University of Bombay, now Mumbai), MA in Theological Studies (St Mark’s College at UBC, Vancouver).


The Spark of Faith – Wojciech Giertych

Wojciech Giertych O.P. The Spark of Faith: Understanding the Power of Reaching Out To God. Irondale, AL: EWTN Publishing, 2018. 204 pages.

Review by Thomas V. Gourlay.

When reading Fr Giertych’s book, one is constantly reminded of the tremendous gift that one has been given in the faith — a gift which is of inestimable value, and one for which we should remain profoundly grateful for.

Written to assist the faithful in his native Poland in living the Year of Faith announced by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012, Giertych offers an insightful treatment of the indispensable role of the virtue of faith in the life of the believer. The obvious pastoral concern which undergirds this book does not at all impinge on the academic erudition which obviously informs these pages.

From the outset, Giertych blesses his readers with clarity of purpose. “This book,” we are told,

does not have an apologetic purpose. It is not trying to prove that belief in God is useful, or to disprove the notion that belief in God is absurd. It does not attempt to persuade unbelievers so that, despite everything, they will allow themselves to be convinced about faith . . . This book is addressed to those who already believe and who want to look into their faith, because they sense that faith is important. They want to sort out their thinking about faith in a way that is in accord with the Church’s teaching, so as to grasp what faith is, what its function is, how it may expand in the soul, and how, unfortunately, it may also wither (4).

As one would expect, Giertych leans heavily on the teaching of his great master, St Thomas Aquinas, and also on that other great Doctor of the Church, the Little Flower, St. Therese of Lisieux. The book does not come laden with footnotes, but instead offers a clear articulation of Thomistic wisdom on the supernatural virtue of faith in six chapters.

He offers chapters providing arguments for the importance of faith, and the role of faith in prayer before providing important reasons for the exactitude of professed faith. This, however, is not some kind of inquisitional bug bear inherited from membership of the great Order of Preachers, but a genuine concern that the spark of faith not be extinguished by erroneous doctrine.

Fr. Giertych’s treatment of the relationship between reason and faith is clear and helpful, and while the nature of this relationship has been articulated in a variety of manners over the last sixty years or so, his is a strong articulation of what many would consider to be the more thoroughly traditional Thomistic standpoint. This is perhaps the one moment where the general tone of the book can be seen to be taking sides in ongoing academic debate, but this does not detract in any meaningful way from the book itself.

The final two chapters treat the ways in which one can come to grow in faith, before turning attention to those who are unbelievers, offering some sage advice to preachers and catechists, and indeed all who seek to promote faith in those around them. There is some very useful instruction here for those who are burdened with very modern concerns that would worry about the absolute truth claims that accompany faith. Giertych is sensitive to this and offers a clarity of teaching that many will no doubt benefit from.

Running throughout this book is the useful refrain that the faith is a gift, and a gift that enables or sparks off that encounter with God. This serves to remind the reader that faith is always a gift, and not the result of mere human effort — and a gift that when exercised, sparks an encounter with the Divine that gives life new meaning. Giertych goes to great lengths to emphasize the importance of this reality, encouraging his readers to open themselves to receive such a gift, without falling into the temptation of thinking that they can somehow earn it, or that it could be the result of mere human effort. Importantly, Giertych is careful to teach that while the gift of faith is purely gratuitous gift of God that “opens one to divine grace,” it is intrinsically “rooted in the human faculties” (52). Importantly, grace fits created human nature, which has the capacity to receive and exercise the gift of faith.

As Theologian of the Papal Household, member of various pontifical academies and committees and as Consultor for various Vatican congregations, Fr. Giertych is obviously a theologian of incredible virtuosity, but his writing is not showy or ostentatious. Instead, Giertych offers clearly written and eminently practical and pastoral guide for engaged lay readers, teachers, catechists, seminarians and pastors looking to strengthen and deepen their faith and to assist others in also doing so.

Thomas V. Gourlay is the president and co-founder of the Christopher Dawson Society for Philosophy and Culture Inc. (, and the manager of Campus Ministry and Lecturer in Theology at the University of Notre Dame Australia, where he is enrolled as a PhD student in the School of Philosophy & Theology.


Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed – Adam A.J. DeVille

DeVille, Adam A.J. Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power. Brooklyn, NY: Angelico Press, 2019. 138 pages.

Reviewed by John A. Monaco (1500 words)

“To love is to will the good of another,” St. Thomas Aquinas writes, and based on this classical Christian definition of love, it is obvious that Adam A.J. DeVille is a man who truly loves the Catholic Church. In this book, DeVille desires to “will the good” of the Church by offering concrete proposals aimed at purging the Church of abuses in sex and power. This is no easy task, and one must always be wary of settling for easy and quick solutions. All too often, armchair analysts try to thread the blame of the crisis through the needle of singular causes — homosexuals in the priesthood, clericalism, liberal or conservative ideologies, celibacy, et cetera. But the abuse crisis knows no boundaries, hiding itself well, finding a home within the very structures of the Church. DeVille, an Eastern Catholic cleric holding degrees in psychology and theology, is well-equipped to identify the multilayered nature of the abuse crisis on a pastoral, psychological, and theological level.

The book is divided into five main chapters, with an introduction and postscript. In the first few pages, DeVille lays out the basis of his proposal: the abuse crisis has effectively been a crisis of sex and power. In order to move beyond this, the very structures which have enabled such abuse to occur must be “abolished” and built anew (1). Of course, DeVille is no iconoclast, nor is he calling for changes in Church doctrine. He aims to show how his proposed changes to Church governance and discipline are rooted in authentic Catholic tradition (both Eastern and Western), something he emphasizes and defends strongly throughout the text. He believes that, by reforming the structures which have allowed and protected abusive practices, “the doctrine of God [will] shine more brightly through the structures of a repristinated Church that will more luminously be an icon of the Trinity.” (11) Such reforms would take place anywhere from the local parish to the Roman Curia. Chapter 1 examines the crisis through the lens of psychoanalysis, paying close attention to common Roman Catholic attitudes towards “spiritual paternity and obedience.” (18) The following four chapters are more practical in nature, and are arranged “in ascending order of difficulty but descending order of importance.” (16)

Utilizing Charles Taylor’s concept of the “social imaginary,” DeVille suggests that Catholics have their own imaginary, “the ways in which Catholics have conceived of themselves and of the Church,” both on the local and universal level (22). This imaginary, he states, has changed over time. As one example, he locates a particular change in the way Catholic laity, priests, and bishops think of the pope. With the advent of mass media, the nineteenth century saw popes “write an ever-increasing number of documents on a vast array of topics,” to the point that Pope Leo XIII (1878–1903) wrote more encyclicals than his past two predecessors combined (23). This media boom led to an overexposure to all things papal, as the popes began to insert themselves into the daily mind of Catholics worldwide as universal “father-figures,” which then become concretized in practice (such as the appointing of bishops without prior consultation). As technologies developed, so too did papal privileges, whether that of delivering a radio address to the entire world in live-time (Pius XII) or traveling to several countries, oftentimes footing the bill to the local churches (33). Whatever the merits of the popular pope trope, DeVille suggests that such devotion results in theological and psychological trouble. Theologically, this distorts the view of the papacy in ways that even Vatican I never intended. Psychologically, overemphasis on the pope and his powers reveals a “longing for father-figures,” which can lead one to subconsciously hold that the pope is “omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.” (36) DeVille argues that true spiritual fatherhood is earned, and not simply a given — a man must act like a spiritual father before being treated like one. Similarly, he points out that Catholic notions of “obedience” have arguably led to systemic covering-up of clergy sexual abuse. This leads the author to one of his main themes — laics, clerics, and bishops must operate within models of Church governance which embrace, and not abandon, true obedience and submission to Christ (47).

DeVille’s proposals include a reformation of parish councils (Chapter 2), diocesan synods (Chapter 3), and episcopal conferences (Chapter 4). Each of the chapters is structured with an introduction, an examination of contemporary practices and issues pertaining to them, and then a description of the changes he proposes, using the Church’s history and theology as justification. Using the term “laics” instead of “lay people,” DeVille highlights the fact that, for a number of Churches of apostolic origin, laics have a unique and indispensable role within the Church and a particular ministry (53). He, following Nicholas Afanasiev (1893–1966), notes the similarity between Byzantine baptism-chrismation and priestly ordination, especially in the laying on of hands, anointing, clothing, tonsuring, and circling around the altar (54). This is significant because it reminds us of the link between the sacraments of initiation and holy orders. While respecting their proper sacramental function and roles, DeVille nonetheless sees laics as having a particular hand in Church governance, pointing to examples in the Armenian Apostolic Church in which laics and clerics share authority in parish affairs, from preparing the annual budget to hiring of the pastor with the approval of the bishop. By discerning together, the bishop and the parish will share responsibility in a pastor’s appointment, which DeVille believes can prevent against bishops moving abusive priests around in “sovereign secrecy” (66). Citing the International Theological Commission’s document on synodality, he argues that collaboration and sharing in mission reflects a “clearer icon of the Trinity in the structures of parish life.” (68)

Chapters 3 and 4 involve diocesan synods and episcopal conferences, respectively. The current (non) practice of regular diocesan synods is an anomaly in the Church’s history. The Council of Trent (1545–1563) actually decreed that diocesan synods be celebrated every year with full participation of the clergy and lay faithful (73), something not even the 1983 Code of Canon Law fully embraces without heavy and strict qualification. In frank terms, DeVille points out that “[t]he failure to hold regular synods has allowed bishops to avoid having to face their people on a regular basis.” (77) By having an annual diocesan synod (something with roots as old as the fourth century), the local diocese can do anything from handle parish structuring to electing new bishops, sent to Rome for confirmation (83). Similarly, episcopal conferences are overdue for reform. Noting how the 1998 document Apostolos Suos largely centralized the authority of local and collective bishops by once-more reemphasizing Rome’s supreme power, DeVille shows how episcopal conferences have effectively become pointless, as every action they take is subject to Rome’s interference (96). Historically, the apostolic Churches have made use of synods in disciplining errant bishops, something that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was unable to do in November 2018 with the former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. In the East, bishops’ synods carry out legislative, juridical, and electoral tasks, something which could — but does not — happen in the Western Latin Church (99). DeVille believes that there is no “traditional” reasoning for this (“Papal centralization… [and] Roman curial micromanagement is not traditional,” 103); if the Church is to embrace her true traditions, she must embrace synodality.

DeVille’s final chapter is probably his most provocative one, and one which he will undoubtedly develop in his planned future work on clerical celibacy. In it, he argues that, while marriage is not a vaccine against child sexual abuse, opening the priesthood to married men (in particular, viri probati) will ensure a much more disciplined, mature, and psychologically-balanced crop of potential priests. With a married priesthood, DeVille argues, gone are the cushy and secretive lives of some priests, who would have to answer to their wives and look their children in the eye. In the numerous cases of sexual abuse, those guilty priests and bishops dehumanized their victims and revealed their lack of true spiritual paternity (109). DeVille also argues for an openness to a married episcopacy, noting that both Scripture and Tradition have not ruled this out. With married bishops, dioceses would have to reduce their size to something equivalent to “one bishop, one city” (which he sees as a positive thing), so that the bishop could truly get to know his flock.

Overall, Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed succeeds in its aim. It offers several concrete proposals, rooted in the concept of synodality, to help rid the Church of those structures which perpetuate and hide abuse. DeVille knows the history of the Church, East and West, and is aware of how his proposals match up against ecclesial systems of governance both past and present. Of course, the reader does not need to agree with every (or any) of his suggested changes, but to not engage them, at least, is a sure way to have the revealing light hidden under a bushel.

John A. Monaco is a doctoral student at Duquesne University.

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  1. […] I recently review Edward Sri’s book, Into His Likeness, and the review is at the Homiletic and Pastoral Review website. […]