Howard P. BLEICHNER, View from the Altar. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2004. pp. 222. $19.95 pb. ISBN 0-8245-2141-2.
Reviewed by Mary GAUTIER, CARA, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057

Fr. Bleichner's position as a seminary professor and as a former rector at two U.S. seminaries gives him a unique perspective from which to suggest some possible causes of the current clergy sex abuse scandal, which he does in the first part of this book. His vantage point as a professor of theology also positions him well to offer theological reflections on priestly spirituality that make up the remainder of the book. Together, they form a book that perhaps offers some insight into the mistakes of the past as well as hope for the future.

The book begins with an overview of seminary formation in the context of American Catholicism over the past fifty years—spanning the changes that occurred as a result of Vatican II. Bleichner discusses some of the changes that Vatican II brought about in the understanding of two of the sacraments that are intrinsic to priestly life—Eucharist and Reconciliation—and how Catholic behavior changed in response to that new understanding. He notes how seminaries were affected by these changes and discusses some of the tumult that resulted as seminaries sought to reform in light of Vatican II. He then contrasts seminarians and seminaries as they are today, citing statistics that demonstrate the serious decline in priestly vocations as well as pointing out some challenges for seminaries that must try to form men to pastor in a post-Vatican II Church. The remaining two-thirds of the book forms an essay on priestly spirituality, describing first a number of challenges to an authentic priestly life and then an extended theology of priesthood with several examples of how these challenges are lived out in the variety of roles involved in priesthood.

This book is interesting to read, even though it raised more questions than it answered for me. Most readers have not lived through the experience of seminary formation, either before or after the transformations wrought by Vatican II. The author's unique vantage point makes more credible his assertions that the clergy sex abuse revelations of the past few years stemmed from a crisis in seminary formation in the 1960s and 1970s that has since been corrected. We can certainly hope that he is correct in his assessment. More research and more time will test those assertions.

The essay on priestly spirituality is also interesting to read, even for those who do not aspire to priesthood, mainly for the insights it provides into the complex challenges of this unique lifestyle. Although the essay is written principally for priests and those who would become priests, it is useful too for understanding Christian spirituality more broadly. I would recommend the book as an accessible introduction to the spirituality of priesthood for those who are looking for some perspective on the circumstances surrounding this present scandal and are wondering why anyone would consider priesthood today.

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