The Desolate City:
The Catholic Church In Ralas

by Anne Roche Muggeridge
220 pages,
ISBN: 077107686X

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By introducing this book with a quotation from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, Anne Roche Muggeridge likens modern-day Catholicism to the ancient city of Jerusalem laid waste by Babylonian attacks. The Second Vatican Council and the furor over Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical forbidding Catholics to use artificial birth control, she says, triggered the "revolution" that has taken place within the Catholic Church. The clarity and surety of Catholic doctrine have been replaced by confusion, and Catholics no longer think in uniform ways. With biting scorn, she places most of the blame on the intellectual elite, particularly theology professors, among them Hans Kung and Gregory Baum. The rest of the Church followed the intellectual "radicals" like sheep.
Fortunately for this author, Pope John Paul II was elected just in time to save Catholicism. She recounts the litany of changes that have taken place during his papacy so far, including the crackdown on the works of certain theologians (including Kung and Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff). In warrior language she describes the renewed onslaught of beleaguered Catholics, the vanguard of the "counter-revolution," who have "remained faithful, brave and combative" and who are now gearing up for "a long and dirty war."
Muggeridge's writing is intelligent and articulate and in some passages she displays a keen sense of humour. It also reveals a myopic world view and a shallowness of outlook and research. The "desolate city" she writes about is the middle-class Catholicism of North America and western Europe. Nowhere does she indicate even a passing appreciation for the new forms of Catholicism that are emerging painfully in Third World countries.
Muggeridge quotes a lot from newspapers, but rarely from the actual works of the intellectual giants (such as the brilliant theologian Karl Rahner) she dismisses. She diminishes her own credibility by making sweeping generalizations about people she disagrees with, and takes personal pot-shots in a manner unworthy of a serious writer. She even fails to acknowledge the incredible complexity of her hero, John Paul II, by selectively pointing out the rein-tightening that has taken place during his papacy and, for the most part, ignoring the amazing proclamations he has made on behalf of world peace and the rights of the underprivileged.
People who are confused about the Catholic Church many take up this book in the mistaken belief that it will offer them a serious analytical study of the state of modern-day Catholicism. We could use such a book. This one is merely a bitter diatribe written by someone who is capable of doing better.

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