David Gibson's The Coming Catholic Church uses the 2003 sexual abuse scandal as a spring board to reflect on the past and future of the Catholic Church in the United States. The book is broken down into three large sections, one on the laity, one on the priesthood, and one on the hierarchy. For each of these populations, Gibson presents problems the scandal reveals and suggests actions to improve the situation.
The section on the laity traces the anger and growing distrust of everyday, church going Catholics as a result of the sex scandal. Gibson argues that the laity felt betrayed because they had been brought up to view the clergy as being morally and spiritually superior to them. While the laity could be blamed for this idealizing, Gibson notes that it was an attitude fostered by the U. S. hierarchy in an effort to deflect the Vatican's suspicion that they were too liberal and democratic. Gibson suggests two ways of addressing the laity's anger and distrust. First, the Church's financial record should be transparent. Not only should every expenditure, settlement, and donation be made public, some mechanism for oversight of these funds should be implemented. Second, the laity need to become active participants in parishes. Gibson remarks that if the laity, who make up 99% of the Church, did get involved, the hierarchy would be forced to heed them.
The second section of the book deals with the problems of the priesthood. According to Gibson, the priesthood suffers from three difficulties: low morale, inadequate sexual maturation, and pervasive clericalism. The sexual abuse scandal and its aftermath further depressed the priests' low morale. They were already suffering a lack of confidence because of declining vocations, retiring and departing colleagues, and, consequently, increasing isolation. Furthermore, priests were often sexually immature. They were not taught how to deal effectively with their sexuality as celibates, and a growing gay subculture in the priesthood often seemed to compromise the vow of celibacy and isolate many heterosexuals. Finally, clericalism was fostered in seminary training and supported by bishops. This mentality frequently led priests to view the laity in opposition to them.
Gibson's idea for alleviating these problems is to allow clergy to marry. A married priesthood would increase morale by staving off loneliness, provide a better environment for sexual integration, and overcome clericalism by making the life of a priest similar to that of the laity. Gibson does not call for an immediate end to celibacy but rather phasing in married clergy while keeping the option of celibacy open.
Finally, in the shortest section of the book, Gibson takes on the problem with the hierarchy, specifically bishops and the pope. The problem in this sphere of the Church, according to Gibson, is the consolidation of power by the pope. The result is that the bishops become ineffective as all of their decisions and actions must be pre-approved by the Vatican. Moreover, the bishops that are selected to run dioceses are often not selected because of intellectual or pastoral abilities or commitment to the diocese but because of their obedience to the pope.
The solution Gibson offers is for priests and laity to have some input on the selection of bishops. Gibson does not want the pope to relinquish control over episcopal appointments but does want some consultation of laity and clergy during the process. Gibson notes that this change can only come from Rome and that there is no hope of Rome changing unless there is a new pope. While he recognizes that a new pope might not bring a change, it is, Gibson believes, the only possibility.
Gibson is a religion reporter and carries the strengths and weaknesses of his profession into his book. He is well read and informed. He has talked to a number of sources and combined them with his research to provide a thorough and clear summary of the problems facing the U.S. Catholic Church. His weakness, however, is that his analysis is a bit shallow. He adopts an oft repeated list of solutions — a married priesthood, lay involvement, and a new pope — but offers little by way of deeper analysis or new perspectives that further the discussion of these issues. Also, in offering solutions, Gibson belies his title. He is not tracing the "coming" Church or "how" the Church is being shaped but rather suggesting a particular direction for it. Still, Gibson's thorough and clear summary of the problems facing the Catholic Church is an important and valuable contribution to the growing scholarship on the sexual abuse scandal. I would recommend the book as a resource for anyone wishing to better understand the history behind and the context of the scandal.