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Power and Peril: The Catholic Church at the Crossroads

by Michael W. Higgins and Douglas R. Letson

Vast in its coverage and thorough in its analysis, Power and Peril is an encyclopedic journey through a church unwilling to change in the face of great social upheaval. Michael W. Higgins, president of St. Jerome’s University at the University of Waterloo, and Douglas R. Letson, past president of the same institution, bring us this brutally honest look at the Catholic Church and its failings and challenges. The authors explain in their introduction that the book is not a formal theological study, but rather the result of many years of research and experience.

Higgins and Letson begin with a concise history of the papacy, which gives the layperson a clear understanding of the Pope’s role and his influence on the Catholic institution. The views of the current Pope, John Paul II, are explored in some detail, including the responses of various theologians and experts to his ideas and writings. Higgins and Letson then provide their own prescription for change: “new directions, a revitalized papacy and a new wave of internal reforms to help it [the Church] face an increasingly needy but uncomprehending world.”

Power and Peril also explores the abuse of clerical power. Clerical sexual abuse has been confirmed in 23 countries, with the situation in Africa, where priests have repeatedly raped nuns, the most persistent. Other controversial issues are given plenty of attention as well: health care and education; gay vocation to the priesthood; and the Church’s refusal to ordain women. One of the most controversial and well-argued sections of the book concerns the Church’s views on procreation, birth control, masturbation, and men and women’s traditional sexual roles.

Higgins and Letson conclude that Catholics need personal common sense to guide them through today’s labyrinths of morality, suggesting that if the Church doesn’t move forward in its thinking, Catholics will. It is hard to disagree with their persuasive arguments.