Changing Mother Church

Two new books examine the challenges--not just the scandals--facing contemporary Catholicism

A traditionalist looking back at the 1950s sees a golden age of American Catholicism--fish on Friday, confession on Saturday, seminaries full and John Kennedy on the road toward the White House. The liberal (or lapsed) Roman Catholic may have a different take: sexual repression, nuns and priests perched like crows above the cowering innocent, Sister Nutcase brandishing a ruler. Now, in the waning days of the papacy of John Paul II, and particularly after the 2002 priest scandals, the contradictions have, if anything, hardened. Conservatives work to institutionalize their resistance, and liberals wait wistfully, hoping that they have time on their...

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