In Faith That Dares to Speak Cozzens builds on some of his past writing and dares to speak out and challenge the faithful to engage in the crisis that is facing the Catholic Church in the United States following the clergy sex abuse scandal. In the Introduction he asserts that he does not write to convince the reader of anything. Rather he claims that each reader has the responsibility to engage the crisis as best they can. On his part, this book is his way of sharing his vision of church rooted in the gospel and the Second Vatican Council and engaging the reader in a passionate conversation about this beloved church.
In the first part of the book Cozzens examines the forces that make passionate adult engagement in the church's life so difficult. Although present day Catholics are among the best-educated and theologically knowledgeable groups in the world, they find themselves in a church with a feudal structure. Bishops and other church officials reacted to the clergy abuse scandal in the way that this feudal culture required. They reacted with secrecy and denial making every effort to protect the authority, reputation, and resources of the institutional church. It is difficult, to say the least, for the mature, well-educated catholic laity to find an avenue for their voice in this feudal structure in which accountability is required only upward and not deemed necessary for Bishops to be accountable to the faithful. The feudal structures still ingrained in the church explain the roots of clericalism that support the attitudes of privileged status and exclusivity that make dialogue between clerical leaders and the faithful extremely difficult. Cozzens asserts that the current form of governance in the church is in need of structural reform. He claims that this can emerge for those committed and respectful for the authority of both the gospel and the teaching office of the church.
In presenting historical facts regarding the first centuries of the church, Cozzens notes several popes that were sons of priests and opens the question of required celibacy today and how we view the vocation crisis and the role of women in the Roman Catholic tradition. He explains that love for the church requires that the faithful find their voice and dare to question non-dogmatic, non-revealed teachings and issues that are not serving the pastoral needs of the church or its mission.
Chapter Five, The Liberation of the Laity, depicts the present crisis as pregnant with the grace of the Spirit. Today's laity are educated and emancipated; they understand their call in Baptism. The "pray, pay, and obey" mentality is past. Cozzens states that the clergy sexual abuse scandal, perhaps even more than Vatican II, has liberated the U.S. Catholic faithful. He goes on to say that speaking the truth in love is no simple matter. Many Catholic faithful now feel compelled to speak forming such groups as the Voice of the Faithful. Awakened to their dignity and called to be equal, adult, and fully responsible members of the church, the laity are finding their voice and daring to speak the truth in love to church authorities who may still be looking for deferential obedience and silent compliance. Cozzens is hopeful that a rising chorus of voices, nurtured in contemplative prayer and filled with the grace of the Spirit, will opens the doors of dialogue for the good of the church. Cozzens does not claim to know the future; but, church life, he believes, will never be quite the same.
This book is highly recommended for all those involved in renewal and reform in the Roman Catholic tradition. It would be useful in ministry education programs as well as parish discussion groups. Cozzens deep love for the church flows between the lines and moves the reader to dream of the Catholic Church of the 21st century as a community of equals, reclaiming moral integrity, and striving live in true Christian witness to the world.