Published December 15, 2010
The Catholic Difference
A number of fascinating books that haven’t received all that much attention, but richly deserve it, have crossed my desk in recent months. Each would make a fine Christmas gift to someone on your list who likes to think outside the box.
I am a suspect witness in the case of Erika Bachiochi, who as Erika Schubert was my student in Cracow in the late 1990s. Armed with a law degree, a theology degree, a husband, and five small children, Erika has become one of the intellectual leaders of the new Catholic feminism in the United States. Her edited volume, Women, Sex, and the Church: A Case for Catholic Teaching (Pauline Books and Media), includes ten stimulating essays on just about every hot-button issue at the intersection of women’s lives and the Catholic moral imagination. But as Boston College’s Father Paul McNellis puts it, Erika’s book is not-for-women-only: “It should be required reading for every son, brother, fiancé, husband, father, seminarian, and priest,” because the women who think out loud here “know something about life, and in listening to them you come away wanting to be a better man.”
Affirming Love, Avoiding AIDS: What Africa Can Teach the West, by Matthew Hanley and Jokin de Irala (National Catholic Bioethics Center) is a literary antidote to the condomania that warps so much discussion of HIV/AIDS, ignoring the empirical evidence that abstinence outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage drive down the incidence of this terrible plague as latex manifestly does not. Hanley and de Irala know the empirical research cold; their critique of what they term the “AIDS Establishment” and its deprecation of the human capacity for changed behavior is a particularly welcome complement to their scientific studies.
Fr. George William Rutler is a true clerical “man of letters” in the line of Ronald Knox. His talent for the penetrating insight and the scintillating phrase is never better displayed than in his new collection, Cloud of Witnesses: Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive (Scepter). As the people Fr. Rutler knew, and here eulogizes, run the gamut from Mother Teresa to Wellington Mara, longtime owner of the New York Giants, it’s a rich feast of reminiscence that the pastor of Our Saviour’s Church on Park Avenue in midtown Manhattan provides in this Baedeker of human diversity.
Giulio Meotti is an Italian journalist with a rare talent, among that breed, for getting the story right. And in A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel’s Victims of Terrorism (Encounter Books), he tells a heart-wrenching story that almost never makes the front pages — or even the back pages — of the world’s newspapers: the story of what jihadist terrorism has done to the lives, souls, and memories of the people of the State of Israel. The European edition of the Wall Street Journal called the book “a monumental study of pain and grief, of mourning and remembrance, of hatred and love,” which is not an exaggeration. Nor is the title of Meotti’s study misplaced, for he powerfully asserts the continuity between Nazi-era Jew-hatred and the annihilationist project of Hamas and similar jihadist organizations today. It’s essential reading for anyone who wants to measure the full human drama underway in the Holy Land.
Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner were close colleagues in the George W. Bush White House. Their collaboration in City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (Moody Publishers) is a welcome contribution to a discussion that is becoming increasingly urgent, as aggressive secularists seek to drive religiously-informed moral argument out of the American public square.
John Allen’s The Future Church: How Ten Trends Are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church (Doubleday) is the odd-man-out here, for the book deservedly got a lot of attention at its publication. But I’m happy to add my overdue dollop of praise to the accolades The Future Church has already received for its striking tour d’horizon of world Catholicism. Here is a primer on the current, complex state of global Catholicism that every informed Catholic should ponder.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.