Massimo FAGGIOLI. Sorting Out Catholicism: A Brief History of the New Ecclesial Movements. Translated by Demetrio S. Yocum.Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazier Books – Liturgical Press, 2014. pp 242. $19.95. ISBN: 9780814683057. Reviewed by Eric W. HENDRY, Plano, TX 75026

 Michael Glazer has issued an English translation and updated edition of the author’s previous Italian original Breve storia dei movimenti cattolici (2008), with an entirely new second half that he developed after lectures and reflections presented to American and English-speaking audiences on the results of his early research into the new ecclesial movements, initially begun from within a primarily European context, when the author was a graduate student in his native Italy.

Faggioli, a religious historian by training, is interested here in presenting a critical examination of the new Catholic movements that originated mostly out of Europe between the 1930s and 1970s, many of which found their theological and ecclesial roots in “Catholic Action” i.e. the global movement of lay women and men that had been guided and increasingly controlled by bishops and especially popes during the century immediately preceding their own particular development.  The author first explores the concept, development and history of Catholic Action – noting that it had initially attempted, with papal approbation, to fight against the sweeping nationalisms that rapidly spread across Italy and Europe, and then demonstrates how each of these new ecclesial movements either spun off from or arose in contradistinction to Catholic Action, in the decades between the continental devastation of two World Wars and the joys and hopes of the Second Vatican Council.

The author locates and penetrates the factors behind the growth of some of the more visible and popularly known new ecclesial movements, ranging from Opus Dei, Legionaries of Christ, Neocatechumenal Way, Cursillos de Cristianidad, Comunione e Liberazione, Focolare, Schönstatt, Catholic Scout Association, Renewal in the Spirit (Catholic Charismatic Renewal), Community of Sant’Egidio, Neo-Monastic Communities such as Taizé and Bose, L’Arche, Wir sind Kirche, etc. On a personal note, I had encountered students in graduate theology programs who were either active or former members of a number of these new ecclesial groups; my own knowledge of these groups was somewhat limited but I understood that some of them had drawn both encouragement and support under the papacies of Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI.

Faggioli’s research certainly opened my eyes to some of the more concerning theological and ecclesiological problems with several of these new ecclesial movements, particularly from the view of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, from the ecclesiology of the Council itself, and from the overt political ends (Reconquista) embraced by several of these groups.  He is adept at describing the papal patronage brazenly sought out by these movements and their founders, their frequent obfuscation of dialogue and ecclesial supervision, and convincingly describes how several of these movements have intentionally circumvented or successfully avoided the regular pastoral authority of local bishops and parish pastors due to the creation of new canonical states e.g.: personal prelatures, private associations of the lay faithful, etc.

What I found particularly troubling in all the research Faggioli uncovers is how many of these new ecclesial movements have pursued official recognition from Rome, and a fierce competition for media attention under the guise of submission to the pope – while simultaneously acting to dismantle – at the level of ecclesial praxis – what the Second Vatican Council accomplished in limiting the remote and excessive papalism of Vatican I by balancing it juxtaposed with the full role, dignity, and legitimate authority of the episcopal office, as articulated within Lumen Gentium and Christus Dominus.  Moreover, the theology of the laity that arose prior to the Council during the 1940s and 1950s, was then given voice within Lumen Gentium and Apostolicam Actuositatem, and that has continued to develop since the conclusion of the Council itself, is not a theology of Reconquista or exclusivism, but a theology of the baptized lay faithful as active and responsive agents in a new evangelization.  In both respects, the author describes how these new ecclesial movements have a tendency to disdain both the local episcopal authority and any laity who are unaffiliated with their movements – who too often become marginalized by these movements –which essentially divides the laity in a new duo genera christianorum.

With the pontificate of Francis, the author suggests that we are beginning to see a revalidation of the ecclesiological principles that were clearly articulated in the Second Vatican Council.  As such, when new ecclesial movements embrace an arguably anti-conciliar ecclesiology, it must concern the entire people of God, who share responsibility for the future of Catholicism.

I highly recommend this very helpful and sharp ecclesiological analysis of these new movements.