Book Reviews – October 2021

The Burden of Betrayal: Non-Offending Priests and the Clergy Child Sexual Abuse Scandals. By Barry O’Sullivan. Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak. (skip to review)

Our Lady of Hope: The Soul of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. By Patrick Chauvet. Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak. (skip to review)

The Family on Pilgrimage: God Leads Through Dead Ends. By Francis Etheredge. Reviewed by Aaron Martin. (skip to review)

Truth Is a Synthesis: Catholic Dogmatic Theology. By Fr. Mauro Gagliardi. Reviewed by Matthew K. Minerd, Ph.D. (skip to review)

Priest and Beggar. By Kevin Wells. Reviewed by Lawrence Montz. (skip to review)

Faith and Politics. By Benedict XVI. Reviewed by Joseph Tuttle. (skip to review)

The Burden of Betrayal – Barry O’Sullivan

O’Sullivan, Barry. The Burden of Betrayal: Non-Offending Priests and the Clergy Child Sexual Abuse Scandals. Leominster, UK: Gracewing, 2018. 179 pages.

Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak.

“Priests are like planes: they only make news when they crash, even though so many of them are in the air,” observed Pope Francis in his Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia in December of 2014. The abysmal wrongs of some priests have cast a pall of suspicion over all priests. There has been no shortage of scandals involving ecclesiastics emerging into the public arena in recent decades. Successive waves of allegations, internal investigations, government-led inquiries, and harrowing disclosures have resulted in a negatively changed perception of priests by the public at large and self-questioning, even to the point of crushing angst, on the part of many priests who now find themselves in a beleaguered brotherhood. This well-researched monograph, authored by a leading proponent of child safeguarding in the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, explores in detail the ways in which ordinary priests have been affected by the sexual abuse crisis (xiii).

Without diminishing the central importance of victim-survivors who endured abuse firsthand, the concept of “secondary victims” names the negative experience of people who have had “emotional or practical ties to the perpetrator by blood, marriage, friendship, or colleagueship, or church membership” (5). This category of “secondary casualties” can include “parishioners, especially those, for example, who have memories of special moments in their lives, like weddings, First Communions, funerals, or bereavements, which now may appear tainted in some way after revelations of abuse” (xii). The author focuses the scope of his study on the hitherto unexplored subjective experience of confreres in the presbyterate. Utilizing a qualitative method known as interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA), which allows a researcher to examine “people’s detailed personal lived experiences to see how they make sense of their lives in the context in which they live,” the author “captured ‘in-depth’ portraits of the individual experiences of” a half-dozen randomly selected priests in England and Wales (14).

The following overarching themes emerged from the interviews: “existential crisis,” “grief and loss,” “fear,” “betrayal,” “shame and isolation,” “impasse,” “lack of confidence in the institutional church as regards this issue,” and “resilience and commitment” (56-57). The author provides a finely textured description, including direct quotations from the interviewees, for each of these eight salient themes that surfaced in the semi-structured interviews. Under both the headings of “grief and loss” and “fear,” the researcher notably observes a “fear of false allegations” (67). “Most of the interviewees felt that if a malicious allegation should be made against one of their brother priests, the bishop would ‘hang them out to dry’” (65).

The fear of being abandoned or discarded seems to pertain to both inside and outside of the Church: “We seem to have gone from one unhealthy view — ‘a priest would never do that’ — to another equally unhealthy view — ‘he is a priest, so he probably did do that’” (148). The author notes that the seeming lack of attention from and candid conversation with ecclesiastical authorities has exacerbated the concerns and psychological distress of priests (87). This has resulted in a sense of “disillusionment” (148). Many priests feel the burden of double betrayal: “Betrayal by their offending brother priests and betrayal by their Church in how it dealt with sexual abuse by clergy” (138).

This ground-breaking monograph, which is the fruit of extensive research undertaken for a doctoral dissertation, offers an honest appraisal of the detrimental effects induced by what is arguably the greatest challenge to the Catholic Church since the Reformation—namely, the clerical sexual abuse crisis—upon ordained ministers themselves. Father Barry O’Sullivan convincingly demonstrates that the level of psychological distress experienced by non-offending priests remains to be fully recognized and remedied (90). One of the cumulative effects of seemingly unending scandals at the local, national, and international levels has been a demoralization of the presbyterate, that is, an undermining of the esprit de corps among the clergy. Recognizing the reality is the first step toward redressing it.

The book includes a sizeable discussion of methodological considerations that are of more interest to scholars and researchers than the average reader, but the work is nevertheless highly readable and likely will inspire similar studies in other geographic and cultural contexts. Most importantly, the substantive insights contained within this book and the bibliographic sources it cites will serve as a solid resource for devising a blueprint to begin addressing the problem of low morale among clergy and improving the dynamic between secular priests and diocesan bishops.

This book will aid priests in articulating and processing their feelings, assist vicars for clergy in caring for the psychological welfare of their fellow clergymen, prepare formators to adequately inoculate seminarians against the anxiety-traps that can arise in contemporary ministry, enlighten hierarchs about the unfiltered views of their subordinates, and help all people redouble their efforts to rid the Church and society in general of reprehensible violations of human dignity, which have been shown to have far-reaching ripple effects. The realities discussed are far from cheerful and bright, but what does shine forth is the fidelity of many devoted priests who continue to labor in the vineyard of the Lord and tenaciously bear witness to the Good News despite many hardships and tribulations.

In his 2019 letter to priests on the 160th anniversary of the death of Saint John Vianney, Pope Francis acknowledged the sense of bewilderment and exasperation experienced by many priests: “Many have shared with me their outrage at what happened and their frustration that ‘for all their hard work, they have to face the damage that was done, the suspicion and uncertainty to which it has given rise, and the doubts, fears and disheartenment felt by more than a few.’” In expressing his gratitude and encouragement, the Holy Father reminded priests that, in this crucible, “you are writing the finest pages of the priestly life.”

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

Our Lady of Hope – Patrick Chauvet

Chauvet, Patrick. Our Lady of Hope: The Soul of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2021. 183 pages.

Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak.

Penned before the blaze that ravaged the roof of this storied structure and melted hearts around the globe, this “day in the life” book offers a glimpse into the multifaceted role of the rector of the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre Dame in Paris. The eight-hundred-and-fifty-year-old Gothic cathedral outranks even the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower as the most visited monument in France, which keeps the head priest of this bustling sacred site very active (ix). Monsignor Patrick Chauvet explains that his foremost priority as rector is awakening and nurturing the desire for God in the depths of each person’s heart (15). It is an exciting challenge “to help tourists become pilgrims” and “ensure that the faithful find what they are looking for” (14). The rector endeavors to transmit the joy of the Gospel through liturgy, teaching, preaching, confession, cultural events, musical concerts, and personal encounters. Sprinkled with humorous anecdotes, historical tidbits, and spiritual wisdom, the author’s engaging style welcomes readers into the pastoral, cultural, educational, political, and diplomatic dimensions of his ministry.

Reflecting on the role of art, Monsignor Chauvet poignantly explains that “art is essential because it allows us to touch the eternal” (24). “The mission of the artist,” he adds, “is to reveal beauty because only then can truth be known and goodness reign.” (25). The author underscores the profound spiritual impact that architecture, painting, music, literature, and popular piety can have. He mentions numerous presidents, prime ministers, first ladies, ambassadors, emissaries, scholars attending academic conferences, and countless other individuals of diverse backgrounds who have been transformed inwardly by their visit to this repository and wellspring of Western civilization.

This work is not intended as a guidebook to the historic structure; rather, it tells the story of the living stones that constitute the present-day Notre Dame. It reveals a network of devoted people who share their talents in order to make each visitor’s experience memorable and spiritually uplifting. As the rector observes: “It is so sad to see some tourists run through the place at the speed of racehorses. With their cameras in their hands, they photograph things they don’t even look at, so that when they get home they can say, ‘We did Notre Dame!’ But they didn’t see anything!” (23)

“In a world where everything is accelerating,” he reflects, “we live far too much on the surface of ourselves” (57). This lively book can help people prepare for a visit because it provides a behind-the-scenes look into the intricate functioning of the cathedral and the godly motivations that undergird this impressive operation. These reminiscences and reflections add depth and texture to one’s experience of the Cathedral. It is also recommended for young men discerning a vocation to the priesthood because it showcases the responsibilities and rewards of priestly ministry. It is a pity that the book is missing photographs, which surely would have enhanced the reader’s experience. This accessible work will inspire many to visit Our Lady of Paris, where they can discover for themselves that “grace is more original than sin” (26).

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

The Family on Pilgrimage – Francis Etheredge

Etheredge, Francis. The Family on Pilgrimage: God Leads Through Dead Ends. St. Louis: En Route Books and Media, 2018. 255 pages.

Reviewed by Aaron Martin.

Toward the beginning of one of my favorite books, Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck writes: “A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself — no two are alike — and all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip, a trip takes us.” Steinbeck’s trip was an attempt to understand America as an American writer. But even more profound than a countryman in search of his country is the preeminent pilgrimage of Christians in search of their homeland. Man was, after the Fall, “an exile upon the face of the earth; but in time, while still an exile, he was to become a pilgrim” (Warren Carroll, A History of Christendom, Vol. 1, Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 1985, 18).

Being a religious pilgrim is something more than traveling the highways and byways of a country to find new material as a writer. It is a daily excursion into the adventure of the Christian life. This adventure can be physical, like a pilgrimage to a shrine or World Youth Day, or it could be the hard work of moving from one spiritual way station to another as one deepens one’s prayer and spiritual life. And because each believer is unique, the pilgrimage each believer takes is similarly unique.

Francis Etheredge’s work, The Family on Pilgrimage: God Leads Through Dead Ends, recounts many moments from Etheredge’s own pilgrimages throughout his life. Not all of these involved physical travel. Etheredge discusses the pilgrimage of parenthood and raising children, the pilgrimage of discerning his vocation, and even thoughts on what the pilgrimage of “accompaniment” might mean in our current ecclesial environment. There are the physical pilgrimages as well — not only Etheredge’s own travels, but also stories from his family and those he meets along the way.

Throughout the book, it is clear that these pilgrimages have had a profound effect on him and helped shape the trajectory of his life and those he has met. We likely all know someone who went to World Youth Day and felt moved to become a priest, or someone who went on a retreat and had a profound experience of God or insight into their own lives. These are the kinds of experiences Etheredge highlights in his various stories. And they are uniquely his stories — sometimes presented in a stream-of-consciousness style that makes it difficult to relate to some of the experiences or to follow the disjointed narrative. For example, Etheredge moves from memories of physical pilgrimages — like his play-by-play account of his pilgrimage to Walsingham or to World Youth Day in Poland — to more theoretical reflections on the nature of pilgrimage through the lens of his own vocational journey to marriage. The moves seem abrupt at times, particularly when they include seemingly random recollections by a family member or fellow member of the Neocatechumenal Way.

But perhaps the abrupt shifts are an unconscious reflection for the reader of the very nature of pilgrimage. Etheredge includes a story by Alan Soares recounting a pilgrimage experience of his own. The story appears out of nowhere, with no introduction or context. But the account itself reminds us how pilgrimage — a religious pilgrimage or the pilgrimage of life itself — is imperfect and how we can be sometimes blindsided for better or worse. No matter how prepared we are for a trip, pilgrimages naturally zig and zag with unknown obstacles or opportunities that are worth a detour.

But isn’t that like the spiritual life itself? As the late English Dominican Herbert McCabe described in his book God, Christ and Us, faith “is about setting out on the journey to explore what we have not yet seen. . . . Faith, for the author of Hebrews, is seen in terms of a journey, a movement. And not just a commuter’s journey, a movement from one familiar spot to another. It is seen as a real journey, the kind of journey you make on a holiday, to see new places and to meet new people. It is a journey of exploration, an adventuring out.” Without “adventuring out” to see what might be new or unfamiliar, we limit our potential for growth and experience.

Etheredge helps the reader experience a bit of his own “adventuring out” into the world as a Christian pilgrim seeking a closer relationship with God. For him and for us, many of these experiences seemed like dead ends or unnecessary delays at the time. We often feel lost, without a map or GPS, and have no certainty about the way forward. But in the perspective of hindsight, all these stages seem to form a rational path punctuated by moments of grace that moved us in the right direction. Etheredge’s reflection is an interesting glimpse into one person’s journey, from which we could all learn something. It is also a reminder that we are all pilgrims, that “here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Heb 13:14).

Aaron Martin, JD, PhL, and his wife, Jenny, live in Phoenix, AZ with their four children. Aaron owns his own law practice and teaches in both the Kino Catechetical Institute and the Diaconate formation program for the Diocese of Phoenix.

Truth Is a Synthesis – Fr. Mauro Gagliardi

Gagliardi, Fr. Mauro. Truth is a Synthesis: Catholic Dogmatic Theology. Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Academic, 2020. 1064 pages.

Reviewed by Matthew K. Minerd, Ph.D.

 We live in a time of much information. Indeed, we are swamped with it! But our souls hunger for something else: the synthetic insight of wisdom. While there are many expositions of various topics in theology, each considered in particular, what all of us need is an overview, a full vision of the domain of sacred science.

Fr. Mauro Gagliardi’s Truth is a Synthesis: Catholic Dogmatic Theology offers such a sapiential gaze to his readers, at least as regards topics falling to dogmatic theology. This massive volume, translated into flowing English, presents a faithful and unified vision of the many domains of “dogmatics,” placing at its center the person of Christ, through whose Incarnation we are incorporated in the life of the Godhead. In short, Fr. Gagliardi presents a Christocentric Trinitarianism of the mysteries of faith, drawing together many domains of revealed truths: the openness of reason to revelation, the Redemptive Incarnation, the Trinity, the Mother of God, and the continued application of the Incarnation to this very day in the life of the Church and the sacramental action of Christ. The volume closes with a brief treatment of the eschata, “the last things,” and related dogmas.

I have written several versions of this review and think it best to be brief concerning its content. The volume covers the major aspects of the dogmas concerned with the topics cited above. Given that the author draws heavily (though not solely) upon the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, we might say that the text is primarily dedicated to the topics of the Prima Pars and the Tertia Pars of the Summa theologiae, though in a different order and taking up new topics of importance to Christians in a divided Christendom, having experienced the many doctrinal travails of the centuries following on the death of the Common Doctor.

Fr. Gagliardi’s text aims to present a theology that avoids getting caught up in the scholarly debates of recent years, choosing instead to remain faithful to long tradition of the Church (though, on occasion, he is not afraid to weigh in on certain open points of theological dispute). As a text of theology, this volume is relatively unique in the post-conciliar Church, providing its reader with a generally accessible, faithful and unified theological reflection on the central dogmas of the faith. For this reason alone, it is a text that deserves warm welcome.

There are, of course, certain concerns that I have as a reviewer, but no book can do all things. Though significantly inspired by the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, he does at times choose a different expositional path than did many Thomist dogmaticians of yore. This colors the presentation, making it somewhat idiosyncratic in its layout and approach. Nonetheless, Fr. Gagliardi is concerned to present dogmatic theology in a spirit that combines traditional, scholastic Trinity-centric theology with a Christocentric meditation based on the economy of salvation. The reader should merely be aware that this is a bit different from the traditional Thomistic ordering / explanation of the truths of faith.

Also, on occasion, Fr. Gagliardi is a little bit looser with terminology than this reviewer (a hardheaded Thomist) would like, but such occasions are rare and not problematic in an introductory text such as this. Alas, too, it is unfortunate that “dogmatic theology” is separated from moral and spiritual theology, but the author is far from the first person to do this. Such “dogmatic isolation” almost certainly reflects the pedagogical / scheduling needs he himself faced while teaching this content. (This does not mean, however, that Fr. Gagliardi fails to make many important connections to moral theology and spiritual theology!) In any event, although the present reviewer has preferences for a Thomism more in line with the older schola Thomae, Fr. Gagliardi’s pedagogical synthesis nonetheless presents an important voice in an ecclesiastical world that stands in need of faithful theological syntheses such as his.

If there is one issue of particular vexation, it likely arises due to my status as a Ruthenian Catholic. Fr. Gagliardi does not seem, to my eyes, sufficiently sensitive to the concerns of the Christian East (whether Eastern Catholic or among the various Orthodox churches). At times, his text presents resonances of Roman Catholic verbiage that will be read by some Eastern Catholics as Latin Church triumphalism, though the occasions are relatively few. Indeed, even here, we must be fair. Truth is a Synthesis is written by a Roman Catholic priest-professor, at a Roman Catholic institution, for a generally Roman Catholic audience. The Latinate inflection of his theological tone is to be expected. Nonetheless, all readers should bear this in mind. A review such as this is not the place to register such points in detail, though in conscience, as an Eastern Catholic, I must note these occasional lacunae, whether of tone or of content.

Now, it is quite displeasing for me to pen such (minor) concerns regarding a work that deserves much praise for its faithful articulation of so many of the mysteries of faith. By his own admission, Fr. Gagliardi is looking to provide his own synthesis, based on his experience as a professor, setting forth in light of the Magisterium and the primarily-Western tradition — as is his right and duty, of course! — the dogmas which are the very life of the faithful. His thorough and clear presentation will be a breath of fresh air for all those who are looking to have a first (albeit already somewhat technical) initiation into the work of theology and the habitus which must inspire one’s inquiry into the mysteries of the faith.

This text will be most profitably used as a textbook for third- or fourth-year BA-level studies, early in graduate programs in theology, as well as in Roman Catholic seminary formation, so long as the use is guided by a professor who can breathe into the text the same life which doubtlessly animated Fr. Gagliardi’s own teaching. (Such is the case for every text book!) It also is of use for pastors who are looking to brush up on their dogmatics (or to cover topics that, alas, perhaps were not covered in their formation in seminary), as well as for educated laymen and women as a resource concerning the various topics covered in the volume.

After decades of much dogmatic and moral confusion throughout the Catholic world, recent history has benefitted from many texts of faithful theology, seeking some understanding of the faith. Here too in Fr. Gagliardi’s text, the reader will find a sure testimony to the fact that the Catholic faith does not force us to choose (haireomai) between either this or that but, rather, to embrace both this and that, to embrace the full breadth of what is divine and what is human in the economy of salvation and in the life of grace and glory to which we are all called.

Matthew K. Minerd is a professor of philosophy and moral theology at Ss. Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Catholic Seminary.

Priest and Beggar – Kevin Wells

Wells, Kevin. Priest and Beggar. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2021. 199 pages.

Reviewed by Lawrence Montz.

Kevin Wells is a freelance writer who has authored numerous articles and books. He is president of the Monsignor Thomas Wells Society for Vocations, which is dedicated to the fostering of faithful priests and seminarians. Kevin’s ministry with youth earned him the James Cardinal Hickey National Figure Award from the Archdiocese of Washington. The lay evangelist frequently speaks to audiences about the ideals and importance of having the Church served by strong priests. Priest and Beggar – The Heroic Life of Venerable Aloysius Schwartz, exemplifies his encouragement of the ideals of Christian life through telling the story of a faithful altruistic priest who gave everything to God from an early age in his attempt to follow Christ’s example in a selfless fully committed manner.

Venerable Aloysius Schwartz, or Fr. Al as he like to be called, was a diocesan missionary priest who dedicated his life to helping the destitute, particularly in Korea, especially poor children shortly after the ceasefire. Fr. Al did not simply help those in need; he became needy like them by living in an infested hovel in the local slum for years and eating similar food. His sacrifice, although it did not seem such to him, was often looked at by his bishop and peers with mockery and criticism; but in later years, when his fundraising efforts began to bear fruit, his lifestyle prevented many accusations of malfeasance.

He founded the Sisters of Mary of Banneux in 1964 to serve the poorest of the poor. The congregation owes their name to the pilgrimage site in Belgium, where the Mother of God is honored as the benefactress of the poor. Father later founded the Brothers of Christ. Both groups not only serve the poor but live lives just like their charges. They eschew living arrangements which we in the West would consider sparse but which the poor in Korea, the Philippines, Latin America, and Africa would have deemed so luxurious that the lifestyle could have called the commitment to serving them into question, at least in Fr. Al’s view. Al’s most telling epithet was given by Filipino Bishop Socrates Villegas when he said, “because perfect love casts out all fear . . . He was only afraid of one thing. My children, he was only afraid of sins.”

The reason the world knows little about the story of a man who exerted a strong influence on postwar Korea is simply because Fr. Al did not want to be known. His life was entirely dedicated to serving the poor as he understood Christ’s example. That is, not simply to minister to the poor but to be one with them, whatever their miserable circumstances. He lived where they dwelt and ate what they ate. He became one with the anawim, even adopting a Korean name.

Early during his seminary formation, Fr. Al was struck by the poignancy of Edith Sitwell’s poem written at the height of the blitz, depicting Christ as a Starved Man; the blood of Christ on the cross is made analogous to the bombs falling on London. “Still falls the Blood from the Starved Man’s wounded Side.” Fr. Al saw in this poem an insight that the salvation of mankind would only be attained through God’s mercy and “through those willing to starve — even die — as an expiation for a sinful world.” The saintly man’s goal in life, to sacrifice himself completely, was exemplified to him in her poetry.

Fr. Al feared no man, and that often got him into conflict with bishops in America and Korea, gang leaders, politicians, anyone who he believed was impinging on the rights of his flock and Christ’s dictates as he understood them. He even got into hot water with his seminary rectors because of his bluntness. Fr. Al would not be considered to be “politically correct” and had he been giving a speech attended by an American president, he would have been just as bluntly innocent as the acclaimed servant of the poor, St. Teresa of Kolkata.

The story of Fr. Al as portrayed in Priest and Beggar is inspiring. It is the story of a saint who loved God more than self, who tried to follow the example of Christ as he saw it, who did not ignore the world but lived according to a higher master, who did not shy from sacrifice or confrontation to help the poor. Even in his dying from ALS he was at peace because he saw his final sufferings as his cross to bear for God just as Christ did on the Calvary. Fr. Aloysius Schwartz was declared Venerable by Pope Francis in 2015. His vision lives on in the congregations he founded and in the many boys’ and girls’ homes they run.

Lawrence Montz is a Benedictine Oblate of St. Gregory Abbey, past Serran District Governor of Dallas, and serves as his Knights of Columbus council’s Vocations Program Director. He resides in the Dallas Diocese.

Faith and Politics – Benedict XVI

Ratzinger, Joseph (Benedict XVI). Faith and Politics. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2018. 269 pages.

Reviewed by Joseph Tuttle.

Faith and Politics is a collection of various writings, homilies, talks, debates and presentations given by Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI regarding certain political and ethical issues, and how they impact or can be better understood by the Catholic faith.

One of the major components of this collection is Ratzinger’s anti-Marxism. Ratzinger explains that the ideology of Karl Marx sees heaven as an empty promise and seeks to remove suffering from the world: “Not redemption through suffering, but redemption from suffering is their watchword.” (27) Ratzinger says that humanity has questions and demands that go far beyond the political sphere. These demands and questions “can be answered only by the crucified Christ, the man in whom our suffering touches the heart of God and his everlasting love.” (30) The state is not the entirety of human hope. Ratzinger points out that we must obey the state as long as it enables man to flourish. But when the state declares itself a god and determines truth, it no longer warrants our obedience.

When discussing how politics can help to usher in peace, Ratzinger says that the main way of attaining peace is to protect life from natural conception through natural death. Thus, according to Ratzinger, abortion and euthanasia attack the prospect of peace. Another principle which he defends is that of marriage being between one man and one woman. To help support these principles of truth, he appeals not to Catholic Social Teaching, but to natural law, which is violated when these principles are violated. Human laws must be instituted according to natural law.

Another recurring theme of Ratzinger’s is that of not trying to remove God from the equation of politics and human rights. Ratzinger points out, “The concept of God includes a basic concept of man as the subject of rights and, thus at the same time, justifies and limits the idea of human rights.” (20) Our rights as human persons are based on our being created in the image of God (see Gen 1:27) and are not based on individuals differentiating ideologies.

Of particular interest is when Ratzinger discusses truth in politics. His base for this discussion is Jesus’ trial before Pilate. Truth is as Ratzinger says, God Himself. Pulling from St. Thomas Aquinas, he describes truth as first in God’s intellect and then derived by the human intellect. Jesus came to “bear witness to the truth.” As Ratzinger explains, “ ‘Bearing witness to the truth’ means giving priority to God and his will over against the interests of the world and its powers.” (53) This is where Pilate failed; he put his own political interests before the truth of the matter at hand, mainly that Jesus was innocent. While discussing truth, Ratzinger warns against the dangers of relativism in politics, which seeks to rid us of the concept of the good, which, as relativists believe, poses a risk to freedom. Ratzinger, however, tells us that it is only in the truth that we can really be free.

In an interesting section of the book, Ratzinger discusses St. Augustine’s political confrontation with Rome. Rome believed that the state was above any religion and that religion was merely an institution of the state. Rome wished to continue in its pagan customs rather than conform to the truth. Ratzinger points out that, “In the Christian understanding, on the other hand, religion had to do, not with custom, but with truth, which was absolute.” (65)

The last chapter of the book consists of a debate between Ratzinger and an atheist, Paolo Flores d’Arcais. In the debate, Ratzinger is of the opinion that the majority of a society cannot decide on everything. “I decisively defend the fact that there are values not subject to the opinion and free will of majorities.” (232) The values of which he speaks are mainly those of the sacredness of human life at all times. He continues to say that any law which violates man’s dignity is unjust, “even if they are decided and issued in a formally correct manner.” (233) Another important part of this debate is Ratzinger’s condemnation of abortion. He says that the right to exist precedes all other rights. In this way, being pro-life is not a merely Christian imposition, but should be universal to humanity.

Overall, this collection of Ratzinger’s works is a valuable asset for the Church and the world. Through his various writings compiled here, Ratzinger brings clarity to many of the issues between political states and our Catholic faith and shows how they are not contradictory but can be complementary.

Joseph Tuttle is a freelance writer and author, who has work forthcoming and previously published with Clarifying CatholicismVoyage Comics and PublishingOnePeterFive. He is the author of the booklet An Hour With Fulton Sheen to be published later this year with Liguori Publications.

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  1. It is great to see a review of a book that seemed to die off the review list, like a few others, and then resurface having been read closely; and, what is more, to find that the reader has a way of putting what was found which is food for thought. So, Aaron Martin says about “The Family on Pilgrimage: God Leads Through Dead Ends” that ‘they are uniquely his stories — sometimes presented in a stream-of-consciousness style that makes it difficult to relate to some of the experiences or to follow the disjointed narrative’; and, in some ways, that sums up the coherent difference between endless searching and the order that God Himself brings out of a life. Perhaps, in its way, a ‘stream-of-consciousness’ style of writing says more, in the form of writing, that simply a writer can convey of the endless, tiresome search for the purpose of life. At the same time, when it comes to what God can do with a life, the contrast is amazing: that from a wandering, course to job, job to course, place to place, person to person succession of courses, places and serial relationships, God has made possible a marriage of now 25 years and eight living children with three, I hope, in heaven, ten books on Amazon and three to four to follow – the first of which we hope will be out soon: “Within Reach of You: A Book of Prose and Prayers”.
    God bless and thank you for responding to the “Family on Pilgrimage: God Leads Through Dead Ends” – as indeed He does! Francis Etheredge.