From his perspective as a Roman Catholic priest, psychologist, and former seminary head, Donald Cozzens expresses his convictions about the current sex abuse crisis in the church and outlines relationships between the crisis, and its symptoms and causes. Cozzens' writing is more expressive than analytical. This book covers a breadth of topics. Because of this, it is not able to cover any of these issues in depth. Through his many citations, Cozzens offers a fine review of more extensive literature on women in the church, clerical sexual abuse, gays and the priesthood and postmodernism.
Cozzens asserts the crisis of 2002 is different from previous crises because it unmasks the feudal system of power that organizes the church. His thesis is that the first challenge is to break through the wall of denial that guards this order, and to embrace a "redemptive honesty." He employs Walter Brueggemann's metaphor of exile as an opportunity to move out of denial to the "soul work" the church must do if it is to move beyond the negative meaning of "sacer" as accursed to a holy telling of the truth.
In the first part of the book, Cozzens considers how the dynamics of denial are manifest both institutionally and personally. He criticizes understandings of loyalty, responsibility, and tranquility that respectively prevent the discussion of difficult topics, maintain the church as a closed system, and pay any price to avoid rocking the boat.
In the second part of the book, Cozzens looks at how denial is perpetuated in the church. He discusses how since the anti-modernist period, loyalty oaths have been used to bind church officials to a static view of theology and polity. He also discusses the church's problematic relationship with women and their exclusion from leadership. Included is a discussion of the history of the failed pastoral on women in the 1990s. Cozzens names courageous women who would not succumb to pressures to silence them, such as the nuns who exposed the abuse of nuns by clergy in Africa.
In Chapter Five, Cozzens considers the social factors that have contributed to declining numbers of priests and nuns, and to the expansion of vocations to lay ministry. He laments the lack of honest discussion of a range of issues facing the priesthood. He decries clericalism and outlines qualities for potential priests. According to Cozzens, so far the church has failed to deal with modernity, much less post modernity.
Chapter Six is titled "The Abuse of Our Children. Here Cozzens raises a question that needs much more exploration: "Could there be structural or systematic factors at play here?" He cites the rationalizations, identified by A. Richard Sipe, which minimize the extent and seriousness of this problem. The church's denial has damaged the pastoral mission of the church by damaging its credibility. It has also had major negative financial implications. Cozzens suggests the present organization of the priesthood may foster psychological immaturity, because it hinders many priests from coming to terms with their sexual identity. Cozzens builds on these points in subsequent chapters. In Chapter Seven he critiques a clerical culture that thrives around privilege and self-interest. In Chapter Eight he discusses gays and the priesthood. Again he is critical of a structure, which closets gays and uses them as a scapegoat for its problems.
Cozzens sees current problems in the church a part of a crisis in leadership. Bishops function more like branch managers for Rome than the leaders of local churches Vatican II calls them to be. But there is also a crisis in the leadership of priests. Cozzens suggests that the current crisis has the potential to lead priests to assume greater leadership because the bishops have caused a leadership vacuum. He also is hopeful because of the growing leadership being assumed by the laity.
Part Three of the book is entitled "Beyond Denial." Cozzens stresses the importance of individual response to the crisis. He encourages laity, religious, priest and bishops to develop a contemplative dimension. "Only after prayerful, silent reflection can we hope to speak our truth in charity and with integrity." The critiques of the new contemplatives will lead the way to a transformation of the church. In contrast to this he criticizes the current state of the mind adopted by much of the hierarchy, which blocks their ability to dialogue. Cozzens concludes by proposing some future scenarios for the church. What needs greater development is a discussion of the means to get there. Cozzens raises many complex questions and concerns that cannot be fully addressed in the brief space of 172 pages of text. He is a contributor to a dialogue that must continue.