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book reviewFaith That Dares to Speak

by: Donald Cozzens • Liturgical Press, 2004 Collegeville, MN
review by: Fr. Louis J. Trivison

With the Catholic Church still reeling from after shocks of the
clergy abuse scandal, Fr. Donald Cozzens has published his third book dealing with the priesthood. His viewpoints are shaped by forty years as a priest, time spent as a professor and rector of a major seminary, and ministry as Secretary for Clergy and Religious for the Diocese of Cleveland. His book attempts to answer the questions faithful Catholics ask about how such a tragedy could have happened and how Church leadership reacted in efforts to heal the wounds. In keeping with the title, Cozzens speaks from a deep faith that flows from a life dedicated to the work of Christ’s church and he dares to speak the truth.

He sets the groundwork for the present state of the church historically, taking us back into earlier centuries when the structure of the church mirrored the structure of society. In feudal systems loyalty and accountability were always upward: vassals never report to the serfs, the serfs remain uneducated, lords of the manor are never accountable to their vassals and dialogue involving serfs was unthinkable. Such complete control was obvious in the church at least until the second Vatican Council. Forty years after Vatican II, many signs of such governance remain.

Hope for an end to feudal governance reached a high point at the first meeting of U.S. bishops after the abuse scandal exploded in early 2001. Margaret O’Brien Steinfels and Scott Appleby were invited to address the bishops’ June meeting. Steinfels said simply that the bishops had destroyed the trust of their people by concealing the extent of the sex abuse for decades. She challenged the bishops to rebuild that trust by being open and transparent in all future operations. Appleby said the scandal demanded that the bishops build structures that enable priests and laity to have a voice at all levels of diocesan decision making. Predictably, essentially nothing has been done since then to empower the laity. While the National Review Board could have been considered a start, some bishops blatantly ignored the mandate they themselves had given to it.
It is clear from what Cozzens writes that no cardinal or bishop stepped forward to provide leadership in calling for accountaiblity from his fellow bishops. No successor of the stature of Cardinal Bernardin has emerged in the ten years since his death. Even if a bishop took steps to involve the laity more fully in church decisions, he would likely be attacked as Bernardin was after he called for a Common Ground initiative in a badly divided Church.

In a telling remark, Cozzens points to the disillusionment that ensued after Vatican II reforms did not materialize: “There was a palpable sense of joy and vitality among Catholics in the years immediately following Vatican II. But it didn’t last as powerful church authorities began to undermine the countil’s dramatic and liberating reforms.Control over almost every aspect of church life was reclaimed by the Vatican leaving diocesan bishops in the position of branch managers and the lower ranks of the clergy along with their parishioners frustrated and resentful.”

Cozzens recounts the origins of Boston’s Voice of the Faithful and earlier efforts by FutureChurch and Call To Action to provide vehicles for laity to express their concerns and propose reforms consistent with Vatican II theology. Instead of encouraging these groups, most bishops saw them as a threat to their authority, control and power. Instead of welcoming offers from commited Catholics to dialogue about healing the wounds caused by sex abuse and the abuse of power, many sought to discredit priests and laity by publicly banning them from meeting on church property. By such actions, they showed themselves to be intent on returning to “business as usual” and they treated some of their best Catholic parishioners as medieval serfs. Unfortunately for the bishops, their people and the Spirit will not let that happen.

Fr. Cozzens ends on an optimistic note, He writes: “It is time for the baptized to claim their liberation in the freedom of the Spirit- for the good of the church. What lies ahead is not clear. What is clear is that we must be as true as we can be to this moment in the church’s history.” Fr. Donald Cozzens has given us a hopeful positive book that all faithful Catholics would do well to read. And it is equally clear that Fr. Cozzens is himself, a man of “faith that dares to speak.”


Winter 2005



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