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POPE BENEDICT XVI: A Personal Portrait
THE RULE OF BENEDICT: Pope Benedict XVI and His Battle With the Modern World
Prayer Made New This Lent

FREEING CELIBACY, by Donald Cozzens. Liturgical Press. 115 pp. $15.95.

Reviewed by ARLINE B. TEHAN, the author of Prince of Democracy: The Life of James Cardinal Gibbons (Doubleday) and a longtime book reviewer for the Hartford Courant in Connecticut.

IN HIS LATEST book, Freeing Celibacy, Father Donald Cozzens offers a cogent examination of the Catholic Church’s perennially perplexing question—the required celibacy of its priests. And the solution he provides is brilliant in its simplicity: Since celibacy is a gift freely given by God, it should be optional, not mandated.

Father Cozzens, who is presently director of religious studies and writer in residence at John Carroll University in Cleveland, is well suited for this task. A priest for 40 years, he was formerly rector of St. Mary’s Seminary in Wickcliffe, Ohio, a vicar of diocesan priests, a professor, psychologist and theologian. He is also the author of three excellent books: The Changing Face of the Priesthood, Sacred Silence: Denial and the Crisis in the Church and Faith That Dares to Speak.

Writing with courage and compassion, Father Cozzens never sounds shrill or confrontational. Instead, in a quiet, thoughtful voice, he offers a reasonable solution to a many-faceted problem for today’s Church.

With disarming candor, he declares, “There is something sexy about celibacy.” Then he proceeds to discuss the contemporary fascination with celibacy among the public, who see the priest as being “off limits, yet with a spiritual aura making him safe to approach, safe to reveal.”

More significantly, Father Cozzens suggests that mature, healthy celibates—both those in the priesthood and those in the laity—possess the compelling attraction “that comes from the contemplative center of the soul—the only place where people come to be at home with themselves....”

“For those gifted with the charism, it is a blessing, it is their truth, and the key to their spiritual freedom. But for those normal healthy men who lack the charism, it is a burden, which can become a silent martyrdom.” As one priest sadly remarked, mandated celibacy costs “not less than everything.”

In his thoroughgoing but highly readable account, Father Cozzens discusses priestly celibacy in all its aspects: its history, obligations, exceptions, shadow, power, oppression and the issue of homosexuality.

Early in the Church’s history, priests, bishops and even popes were allowed to marry and have children. In fact, not until the 12th century did the rule change, but only for priests of the Latin rite or Western Church. To this day, Byzantine, Coptic and Maronite clergy can be married, as can priests of the Anglican/Episcopalian Church who have converted with their families to the Roman Catholic Church.

Christianity, Father Cozzens declares, has long been suspicious of sexuality (see the writings of St. Augustine), recognizing that, although its expression in marriage is sacramental, sexuality can also be demonic. Hence, Church authority concluded that celibacy was appropriate for those who spoke for God and for the Church, and who held the power to forgive sins and excommunicate rebels.

Celibacy provides the institution with power. “Control another person’s sexuality, and you control his center of vitality, the core of his identity and integrity. And many priests take on the resentment and immaturity of adolescents, obsessed with what is forbidden, waiting for opportunities to break out and experiment. Ecclesial power exercised as command, and control no longer works for thoughtful, reflective, adult believers. It may have worked in earlier eras during the feudal structure of the Church, but it doesn’t work today.”

In suggesting the benefits to the Church of having a married clergy, Father Cozzens touches on the power of women. “What it desperately needs is the voice and influence of the feminine, embodied in the lives of today’s women of the Church. A married clergy would bring us closer to that reality.”

He concludes with an audacious suggestion: “It is reasonable to wonder if Church authorities reacting to the clergy abuse scandals would have responded more pastorally and less corporately had they been parents and grandparents themselves....”

Noting that the “shadow side of celibacy is loneliness,” the author concludes, “If we concede that celibacy is a charism, a free gift from God, then mandated celibacy is an oxymoron.”

Father Cozzens has produced another book in which his fresh viewpoints, his clear affection for his Church and his compassion for those he serves demand serious consideration by bishops, priests and lay readers.

You can order FREEING CELIBACY from St. Francis Bookshop.


BLACK AND CATHOLIC IN THE JIM CROW SOUTH: The Stuff That Makes Community, by Danny Duncan Collum. Paulist Press. 178 pp. $14.95.

Reviewed by ANN TASSONE, an intern at St. Anthony Messenger last summer. Ann is a senior at Xavier University in Cincinnati with a double major in English and communication arts.

THIS IS AN eye-opening collection of firsthand accounts of struggle and perseverance in the African-American freedom movement. Author Danny Duncan Collum provides powerful interviews with 44 members and associates of Holy Family Parish in Natchez, Mississippi, who lived through the 1950s-60s period of terror and hope.

A white man, Collum was raised in a white Southern Baptist church and attended Mississippi College, which is Baptist-affiliated. He was the associate editor of Sojourners magazine from 1980 to 1988. As a student at Mississippi public schools in the 1960s, he witnessed the court-ordered integration. He was confirmed in the Catholic Church at Easter 1989, and is now an assistant professor of English and journalism at Kentucky State University.

Holy Family Parish was the first African-American Catholic parish in Mississippi, and one of the oldest ones in the United States. Since the early 1900s, Holy Family has been staffed by the Josephites, an order of predominantly white priests devoted exclusively to African-American missions.

The African-American families who founded Holy Family Parish and all of those who kept it alive over the decades are an integral part of the city of Natchez and its history. Many of them took prominent roles in the effort to transform the city, and “they helped to write the first chapters of its post-Jim Crow history.”

After providing background on the African-American freedom movement, Collum describes the Catholic Church’s involvement in the movement, as well as Mississippi’s stance on civil rights.

Collum introduces readers to Sidney Gibson, Mamie Mazique and many other members of Holy Family Parish who reflect on their experiences of working against injustice in the South.

“During those times of need,” he writes, “the Catholic priests and the nuns and the people of the Church went out of their way to help all people and not just Catholics. They made things happen, and that built up the respect and prestige that people had for the Catholic Church.”

These interviews reveal the strength of everyone involved in the freedom movement and the toll that it took on their lives. Many people speak of their anger then because it seemed that the ordinary acts of human kindness, such as public acknowledgment of one another, were forbidden.

Each of the book’s 14 chapters has up to 17 contributors. The chapters are arranged according to different phases in the civil-rights movement.

The book wraps up with what it is like to be African-American and Catholic today. Many contributors mention the enormous progress that has been made due to the hard work of past generations. The integration of African Americans and whites in the South is addressed, noting that churches have come a long way since the civil-rights movement. Collum mentions that Holy Family School is still open, and that many people in Natchez consider it an essential part of their lives. Holy Family Parish is still staffed by the Josephites and pictured on the cover.

It is evident that the people who contributed to this book found God in the midst of their struggles and used their faith to lead them to equality.

You can order BLACK AND CATHOLIC IN THE JIM CROW SOUTH: The Stuff That Makes Community from St. Francis Bookshop.


POPE BENEDICT XVI: A Personal Portrait, by Heinz-Joachim Fischer. The Crossroad Publishing Co. 213 pp. $19.95.

FROM POPE JOHN PAUL II TO BENEDICT XVI, by Sister Mary Ann Walsh, R.S.M. Sheed & Ward/Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 212 pp. $21.95.

THE RULE OF BENEDICT: Pope Benedict XVI and His Battle With the Modern World, by David Gibson. HarperSanFrancisco. 364 pp. $24.95.

Reviewed by VINAYAK JADAV, S.J., a Jesuit priest from India, graduate student of journalism at Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and an intern last summer at St. Anthony Messenger.

VATICAN JOURNALIST H.J. Fischer’s “30-year personal and professional relationship with Joseph Ratzinger” and U.S. bishops’ media liaison Sister Mary Ann Walsh’s experience of being in Rome during the papal transition in 2005 inspire their respective books. The first is a portrait, the other a witness.

The third book is an analysis. David Gibson’s in-depth exploration of the mixed response that Cardinal Ratzinger received upon his “surprise election” as the pope may not be easy reading; it is key, however, to understanding what makes Ratzinger Pope Benedict XVI.

A “friend of Ratzinger,” Fischer casts out shadows of prejudices against the former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Fischer’s book loyally attempts to iron out the “reactionary reputation” of the German hard-liner. It places Ratzinger in perspective by revealing several unknown aspects of him.

Fischer supplies some historical background on the Second Vatican Council so readers can understand the risk of a doctrinal lapse in the Catholic Church. This in turn helps us understand Ratzinger’s clarion call against “a dictatorship of relativism.”

The journalist is in his element while narrating the conclave that elected Benedict XVI. Fischer is a storyteller. The story gains momentum in its description of the cardinal who “entered the conclave as a pope and emerged as a pope”—contrary to the popular Roman proverb, “whoever enters the conclave as pope comes out as a cardinal.” The procedural details, despite the cardinals’ confidentiality, attest to thorough investigation and make a thrilling account.

In Fischer’s final analysis, Cardinal Ratzinger’s so-called conservatism was his seeking a “new way of being a Catholic.” Ratzinger’s journey as writer, which began with Introduction to Christianity and reached Salt of the Earth, bears testimony to that.

Barring digressions into details of liberation theology and repetitions of the fact that the pope was elected despite being the dean of cardinals and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the story keeps moving. It avoids centering on the personality of Cardinal Ratzinger, but rather shows the cardinal’s brilliant and prophetic dynamism. Fischer reveals the process called Ratzinger more than the person of Ratzinger.

Rare pictures like ones of the pope’s baptismal registration, Marktl papal beer, Joseph Ratzinger at the piano and the Benedict XVI teddy bear draw amusing attention. The appendices on the pope’s homilies and chronology are of reference value only.

Sister Walsh’s compilation makes an appetizing reading because of the minute details on the two popes and the Vatican events, reported in a running commentary style. Interspersing the reportage of the Catholic News Service journalists’ and editors’ reflections along with the U.S. cardinals’ firsthand experience makes for an authentic account of a papal life.

The book is an example of editorial craftsmanship. “Great” John Paul II graciously fades out and Benedict XVI gently enters in, in the dovetailing chapter, “A Worthy Successor.”

While the cardinals’ comments betray a pattern of answers to a given set of questions, Walsh’s own investigations lead the reader through each day’s course of events between the death of John Paul II (April 2, 2005) and the election of Benedict XVI (April 19, 2005).

In “Conclave Rules,” Walsh grabs readers’ “great curiosity about the inside story of conclave voting” and immerses them in the rarely described step-by-step proceedings. Walsh tries to describe Ratzinger’s most vulnerable feelings upon becoming the pope, and I found that section spiritually moving.

Tighter editing of the interviews could have helped the Walsh book. That aside, it provides more than stereotypical stories on the popes.

Gibson, on the other hand, researches the milieu of Cardinal Ratzinger in order to address the “bad cop” image of Benedict XVI. Gibson sees the actual “shades of gray” from the Sistine chimney as a metaphor for the future of the Church, which is not to be imagined just “black or white.”

Ratzinger, “the man with the worst press,” is judged silhouetted against the person of John Paul II, conclave dynamics, the Nazi regime, Augustinian metaphysics, Vatican II and, finally, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Explaining in a scholarly manner (referencing Ratzinger’s own writings) the “Counter-reformation” intent behind Ratzinger’s alleged conservatism, Gibson disarms the harsh critics of Benedict XVI.

Portraying Ratzinger’s contradictions as “self-effacement” and falling in the “path of influence” for power does not help make the case for his integrity. By ridiculing cardinals at the conclave and sensationalizing the vote tally, Gibson falls into the trap of cheap journalism.

To his credit, though, Gibson has undertaken the difficult task of laying out Ratzinger’s intellectual roots and the rationale behind his election.

Yes, these books are a lot on the pope, but each has a flavor of its own. Bon appetit!

You can order POPE BENEDICT XVI: A Personal Portrait, FROM POPE JOHN PAUL II TO BENEDICT XVI and THE RULE OF BENEDICT: Pope Benedict XVI and His Battle With the Modern World from St. Francis Bookshop.


Prayer Made New This Lent

Every Lent, we feel a new call to pray more—and better. These authors—all from other religious traditions—offer suggestions for improving our communication with God.

THE ELEMENTS OF PRAYER: Learning to Pray in Real Life, by Joe B. Jewell (New World Library, 112 pp., $16). Using as its model The Elements of Style, Strunk & White’s classic book of advice for writers, this Methodist pastor proposes simple rules of usage and principles for composing prayers. Those who open meetings with prayers or say grace for meals or even join their children in bedtime prayers might find this volume especially helpful.

PRAYING AT EVERY TURN: Meditations for Walking the Labyrinth, by Carole Ann Camp (The Crossroad Publishing Company, 175 pp., $16.95). This United Church of Christ minister sketches out four weeks of reflections anyone can use while walking a labyrinth to find his or her center in God. For those who cannot physically walk a labyrinth, the book opens with a classic design that can be traced with a finger. The book can be used as a private retreat.

MYSTICISM FOR BEGINNERS: John of the Cross Made Easy, by Sister Eileen Lyddon, foreword by Jordon Aumann, O.P. (New City Press, 165 pp., $13.95), cuts through this most difficult of saints to find love at the core of his teachings. Lyddon was an Anglican contemplative in the Carmelite tradition, who died in 1999.

Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop on the Web or at 8621 Winton Road, Cincinnati, OH 45231, phone 1-800-241-6392. All orders must be prepaid. Add $4 for postage and handling, $2 more for each additional book. Ohio residents should also add 6.5 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.

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