Gerard. A  ARBUCKLE, Catholic Identity or Identities?  Refounding Ministries in Chaotic Times. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2013. pp. 245, paperback. ISBN 978 0 8146 3567 4. Reviewed by Richard RYMARZ, St Joseph’s College, University of Alberta, Edmonton Alberta, T6G 2J5

The title here captures very well the scope and intent of this book.  Arbuckle has extensive experience working with Catholic institutional agencies that seek to strengthen and develop their religious identity.  In various contexts today this is a difficult task. In the first part of the book the author draws attention to many of these challenges.  In one sense, Catholic institutions such as hospitals and health care providers are flourishing.  As they say, “ numbers are up.”  But in another sense they are struggling to define a role and identity for themselves that gives them a characteristic purpose.  The other strong illustration that Arbuckle gives is that of Catholic educational institutions which face similar challenges.  At issue here, amongst other things, is the multitude of what Arbuckle calls sociological types that now seek to coexist in the Catholic orbit.  He lists eleven of these and leaving aside some dubious, prejudicial descriptions (compare the tenor of his description of Traditional Catholics with, say, Lamentative Catholics pp 62-65); a substantial issue is how can all of these disparate types exist in a harmonious group?

He proposes that one way forward is to stop looking at identity as a unitary concept.  Rather it is more accurate to look at multiple Catholic identities.  Drawing on social theory and anthropological insights the author sets out a number of Catholic identities.  Since Dulles’ seminal work on models of Church this type of typological approach has been very common in Catholic circles.  For Arbuckle, Catholic identity can be seen as encompassing twelve models.  These models are not mutually exclusive but do offer a wide variety of ways to express Catholic identity.  But is this a satisfactory solution to the problem of Catholic institutional identity?  It could be said that by following this ”models” approach Arbuckle is simply restating the problem.  The reason that many Catholic institutions find their identity problematic is that there are so many ways that this can be expressed.  Moreover,  there can be  some friction between the models.  As Dulles pointed out with the revised edition of his Models of Church, it is a mistake to see all models in typological schemas as being of equal validity.  In the case of models of Catholic identity a critical question is, which models are the most important and indicative?  I suspect that the first model that Arbuckle describes, the Theological Identity following McBrien’s persuasive description, is pivotal and many of the others he describes are derivative of this.  Indeed it is hard to establish a plausible Catholic identity if one is not in accord with, “ its systematic theology; the body of doctrines; the liturgical life, especially the Eucharist; the variety of spiritualities…” [pp146-147].

The final part of the book sets out a methodology for what the author calls a refounding of Catholic institutional identity, taking into account the various models that are available.  The author acknowledges that refounding identity as evidenced by a range of religious congregations is a very difficult processes.  Whilst the pedagogical approach that is set out is very practical, it could be questioned as to whether or not following this would lead to a clearer sense of identify in the sponsoring institution.  There is ample room available for individuals to define their identity in the models that Arbuckle provides, so the end result of this process could be similar to the starting point.  Strong  institutions, that is, at least in the sense that their services are in demand but ones which lacks a clear, predicative sense of their mission and purpose.