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Book reviews >

Opening Up: Speaking out in the Church


DLT £14.95 (0-232-52624-9)
Church Times Bookshop £13.45

Seeking justice for those on the margin: Christians will find this a stimulating and disturbing read, says Robert Nowell

THE theme of this thought-provoking collection of essays can be summed up as justice, and especially justice for those whom the rest of us are usually only too happy to push out to the fringes of our community and forget.

The occasion is to honour Martin Pendergast on his 60th birthday; so the volume naturally reflects the concerns that have shaped his ministry, originally as a Carmelite, and now as what might best be described as a lay Carmelite. He co-founded Catholic AIDS Link, a charity that supports those infected with HIV and those in contact with them, and was a founder member of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.

The 21 essays cover a far wider range than merely the shameful way in which Church and society too often treat those who happen to be homosexual — though the contributions on that scandal are well worth reading, especially James Alison’s neat deconstruction of Vatican teaching, Mark D. Jordan’s account of what this has meant in practice, and Jeannine Gramick’s testimony to how one can (sometimes) successfully challenge the Church’s structures of oppression from within.

The tone is set by the first four essays. Special mention must be made of those by the Jesuit Jon Sobrino and the Irish moral theologian Enda McDonagh, who between them bring out the way in which the gospel (if taken seriously) is subversive. But, useful though Julie Clague’s analysis of Pope John Paul II’s teaching on women is, I found myself wishing she would tell us directly what she thinks on the subject — especially on why, as far as Rome is concerned, women cannot be ordained.

Julian Filochowski underlines the need to inject into globalisation the sense of morality so glaringly lacking; Aidan O’Neill contributes a brilliant study of the way in which the hierarchy has to trust those members of the Church who play an active part in politics, and cannot prescribe what they should do.

Conor Gearty usefully explores the role of the laity in a clerical Church, even if, to my mind, he misses the point brought home by Vatican II, that the Church should not be clerical at all: it is primarily the undifferentiated people of God, and questions of ministry and hierarchy arise only secondarily.

All in all, the book is a stimulat-ing and, at times, disturbing read. But then, trying to be a Christian was never meant to be particularly comfortable.

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