Jeanmarie GRIBAUDO. A Holy Yet Sinful Church: Three Twentieth Century Moments in a Developing Theology. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press. 2015. $22.95 pb. ISBN978-0-8146-4771-4. Reviewed by Richard SHIELDS, University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, ON.

 The thrust of this book is two-fold: to provide a theological and ecclesiological framework that allows intelligent discussion of the sinfulness of the Church in history (past, present, future) and to do this by retracing three theological “moments” that contributed to enabling such a framework to develop.

Gribaudo, who holds a theological doctorate from Boston College and is active both in teaching and pastoral ministry, develops her theme in four steps. In the first she offers a historical review showing how the Church’s holiness and sinfulness are treated in the works of what she terms “key” theologians in the half century leading up to Vatican II. Gribaudo argues that the movement away from a neo-scholastic model of theology towards a richer revisiting of the Fathers (ressourcement movement) enabled thinkers like Mersch, du Lubac, and Congar to change the discourse about sin in and the sinfulness of the Church. Writings on sin by Rahner, Journet, and von Balthasar are included in this survey. The second and more ambitious part of the book summarizes the discussion of the Church’s sinfulness in the dogmatic constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) and attempts to show how the various contributions of each of the pre-conciliar writings discussed in part one were integrated into the Council’s final document. A third section explores John Paul II’s theology of sin in the Church and how it enabled him to publicly and officially ask the world’s forgiveness of the Church for its wrong-doings.

The author concludes—and I think that this is the strongest, thought shortest part of her work—with recommendations for further work. She points out two trends that make fruitful discussion of the Church’s sinfulness difficult: the perception, on the one hand, that talk of a sinful church might undercut “the centrality of personal agency and moral responsibility for sin;” and, on the other hand, the tendency to speak of the Church’s holiness in absolute rather than eschatological terms. These attitudes falsely dichotomize the “holy Church” and the unfortunate sins of “her sons and daughters.”  A Holy Yet Sinful Church offers the reader a worthwhile overview of how in moving away from neo-scholastic categories, drawing on the teachings of Scripture and the Fathers, and taking the historical reality of the Church seriously, several theologians re-opened the discussion of the Church’s sinfulness, positioning it in a meaningful theological context. Her attempts to read that theology into the process of Vatican II is difficult to confirm or refute as the thinking behind the debates and the collaborative work of the Bishops with theologians remains in many ways irretrievable. The book shows clearly that the current “official” Church teaching remains unable to give an adequate response to the question: Is a Church of sinners, also a sinful Church? And this especially in light of the rich theological work that has already been done.