Identity Theft by Christopher A. Castaldo

Identity Theft

Being Catholic Now: ProminentAmericans Talk About Change In the Church and the Quest for Meaning
by Kerry Kennedy
Canon Press, 2008
(288 pages, $24.95, hardcover)

reviewed by Christopher A. Castaldo

The Second Vatican Council declared, “Christ summons the Church to continual reformation as she sojourns here on earth.” This updating, or what the council called aggiornamento, occurs naturally with each successive generation, as the church considers what it means to be Catholic now.

Such is the allegation of Kerry Kennedy’s book, Being Catholic Now. She and 37 contributors, most of them celebrities, speak about change in the church, their background in Catholicism, and their personal quest for meaning. Together, their essays purport to redefine the ancient institution of Catholicism “in the most contemporary of terms.” Even without cracking the book open, one can get a sense of what those “contemporary terms” are by reading through the names highlighted on the cover: Anna Quindlen, Susan Sarandon, Andrew Sullivan, Martin Sheen, and E. J. Dionne, Jr., among others.

But Being Catholic Now also contains a few devout voices. There is, for instance, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, who asserts, “What the Church needs today is faith,” which he defines as heartfelt repentance and belief centered on the Lord. There’s also Peggy Noonan’s contribution, which describes her spiritual renaissance at age 40, when she started studying the Bible. Reflecting on how her empty heart was filled with meaning, she says, “It was a great experience for me to be brought back to Christ by Protestants. It gave me an admiration for them and their lovely personal relationship with Christ.”

Also included are several contributors who speak candidly of having been sexually abused by the clergy during childhood. These stories elicit compassion for the victims and provoke anger toward their perpetrators.

Equally disturbing are the accounts of those who have lost faith entirely, which, despite the words being and now in the title, Kennedy also included in her book. Author Frank McCourt confesses, “Now I believe that when you die there’s nothing—oblivion and memories. . . . I admire people who have faith in God. It must be a great comfort to them, but I had to get out from under the fear and the guilt.” Anyone who has read McCourt’s autobiography, Angela’s Ashes, or seen the movie by the same title, will turn these pages with a measure of sorrow.

Bill Maher’s vituperative screed, on the other hand, is downright blasphemous:

I hate religion. It’s the worst thing in the world. . . . [Christianity’s] primary focus is your own salvation through Jesus Christ. . . . You have to believe that this person was the son of God, came down here on a suicide mission, and then flew bodily back up to heaven where he rejoined his father who’s also him. OK. I respect people as human beings. I don’t wish them harm, but people who believe that can’t have my intellectual respect.

Yet, ironically, Maher’s contribution conveys more theological content in this statement than do most of the others, even if it’s an anti-Christian rant.

A Leftist Concoction

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