Paul CROWLEY, S.J. (Editor). From Vatican II to Pope Francis, Charting a Catholic Future. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2014. pp. 180. $28.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-62698-089-1. Reviewed by Francis BERNA, La Salle University, 1900 W. Olney Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19141

          In advising one of my doctoral students to critically study Rahner’s “Anonymous Christian” he noted that he could find little in the way of current scholarship.  He proposed that the topic of inter-religious understanding has moved well beyond Rahner.  And, indeed, it has.  In a similar way, the Church and the world have moved well beyond the challenges the Church sought to address fifty years ago with the Second Vatican Council.  This collection of essays, the fruit of a ten week course at Stanford University, locates the Council in a contemporary context and invites the authors to look toward a future influenced by Pope Francis.

            Rightly then, the first essay takes the theme of “Dancing on the Edge of a Volcano.”  Stephen Schloesser, identifies the geopolitical issues giving context to the Council and correctly observes how the work of the Council entailed a looking-back to catch up to modernity.  What the Council did not see were the biopolitics and biopower simmering underneath.  Sally Vance-Tembath’s exploration of “Women and Vatican II” serves as a solid follow-up to the first chapter.  Jerome Baggett’s sociological analysis provides a good conclusion to the first part of the text.  As with most of the author’s throughout the text, he proposes no easy answers to the profound questions and challenges of contemporary culture.

            The one essay that contrasts with this perspective is Paul Lakeland’s “Set into the Future, the Role of the Laity.”  While his vision of “future church” engages the reader, the absence of more critical scholarship sets his vision up more as a dream than a hoped-for vision.  This essay introduces the third part of the text exploring the future of the Church.

            Part Two of the text “Recasting Conciliar Achievements” looks at the topics of Scripture, Social Justice, and Religious Liberty against a background of differing ecclesiologies.  Retired Archbishop John Quinn opened the section with and exploration of collegiality and communion, a model of church diminished in the wake of the Council.  Most every author identifies how often radically different perspectives can be found within the documents and subsequent teaching of the hierarchy.

            David DeCrosse points this out with great detail in the final chapter as he examines the primacy of conscience.  At first one might wonder why this should be the final chapter.  However, his solid theological analysis demonstrates most clearly the achievements of the Council, the challenges for its reception, and the work that remains. DeCrosse appreciates that Pope Francis proposes a “living in a style of tension” into the future.

            Since the lecture series began early in the ministry of Pope Francis, the reader will appreciate that most of the authors express a hope-filled optimism in looking toward the future.  Sharing with Francis an emphasis on the importance of the laity, the text encourages the reader to be the kind of church he envisions.  Paul Lakeland captures this well as he quotes from one of the Pope’s weekday homilies.  Lakeland writes, “… If we recognize our apostolic responsibilities to the world, ‘the Church becomes a mother Church that produces children,’ but if we descend into self-referentiality ‘the Church is not the mother but the baby-sitter, that takes care of the baby – to put the baby to sleep.’  It becomes a “Church dormant.  So he (Pope Francis) concludes, ‘let us reflect on our baptism, on the responsibility of our baptism’” (128).  Lakeland and the other authors refrain from idolizing Francis while still appreciating the new energy and shared responsibility his papacy is creating.

            Finally, for one who appreciates Rahner, three of the essays rely on his work, not only to look back, but also to look ahead.