Bishop Geoffrey ROBINSON, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus. Mulgrave, Victoria, Australia: John Garratt Publishing, 2007. pp. 307. $34.95 pb. ISBN: 978-1-920721-47-3.
Reviewed by Krista MILLAY, Boston University School of Theology, Boston, MA 02215

In this beautifully forceful proposal of change for the Catholic Church, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson engages the structures that have contributed to the disconnection between the hierarchy and its people. With the firm belief that the entire Church must be examined in order to respond to the recent crises of sexual abuse, Robinson begins with the largest of theological topics, such as God, Tradition, and the Bible, and carefully connects these to the pragmatic topics of structure, authority, and sexual ethics.

In the Introduction, Robinson reveals his theological a priori: if the Church is going to respond to the sexual abuse cases, then it must be willing to examine all of the structures that have contributed to its inability to respond with the love of Christ in the first place. He identifies misconceptions about power and sexuality as being the most direct causes, but cautions that much lays beneath these two fallacies.

In Chapter One, the author explores the need for love as the basis of our personhood, our relationships, and our conception of God, in order for all three to be healthy. This basis of love is in contrast to the basis of fear that dominates so much of personhood and relationships, particularly our relationship with God. In Chapter Two, the author makes a compelling case that the God of today, and today’s progress, is the same God of the Bible. Therefore, the two must be theologically reconciled, in order for faith and the Church to remain relevant. In Chapter Three, the author offers that if God is the God of today, then the task of spiritual discernment must be done through the Bible, Tradition(s), and knowledge of the world around us, by giving each a voice to help articulate our faith.

In Chapter Four, the author calls for the Church to be the shared communion of an eternal plan, as a means for experiencing the reign of God in the world, but never as the end in itself. In the following chapter, the author carefully demonstrates why it cannot be proven that Jesus had perfect knowledge, and therefore cautions against the assumption that Jesus ordained all aspects of the Church. The conclusion is that it is up to the people to determine the details of the future Church. Next, the author tells how the Church’s story is a journey as the Bible story is a journey. But just as the characters of the Bible often went astray, so the Church’s story is one where the use of power must be continually rebalanced. Currently, that use is off-balance.

In Chapter Seven, the author calls for a balance between the hierarchy of the Church and the sensus fidei of the Church, with the most painful betrayal of this being the response of the hierarchy to the sex scandals. Next, because the pope/Church must address moral issues via the conscience of the people, the author affirms that there are four roles of the Church: education, guidance, protection, encouragement. However, it is freedom and responsibility that must be the guideposts. In the following chapter, bishop Robinson convincingly argues that the teaching of the Church has disregarded the radicalism of Jesus, such that history and Tradition need new examination in light of the Greatest Commandment, particularly regarding sexuality.

In Chapter Ten, the author cautions that instead of concern over harm to God, a balanced sexual ethic must be concerned about harm to persons, as well as seeking the good of the other. He demonstrates next that forgiveness must be an individual journey for any victim and that within the Church every offender must be responded to with a seriousness that errs on the side of severity. In the following chapter Robinson carefully reminds us that the authority of the Church is a tool of discernment, not a source of truth. The author asks: Would change compromise that authority? And should infallibility not give regard to the Bible, Tradition, and the world around us?

In Chapter Thirteen, the author proposes that a new government with greater balances of power and inclusion of the people would lead to a greater ability to respond to crisis, growth, and change. In the last chapter he concludes by asking the Church to take an honest look at its accountability to its self and its role in the world, in order for there to be change.

The challenge on the back cover summarizes this book perfectly: “Readers will love or hate this book, but will not be able to be neutral.” It is a much-needed insider’s look at the structures of the Church and offers detailed change for growth and relevance. The bold willingness of a bishop to take on such a theologically careful exposé should be embraced as a long-overdue opportunity for faithful transformation.

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