Massimo FAGGIOLI. Catholicism & Citizenship: Political Cultures of the Church in the Twenty-First Century. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2017. Pp. 165. $19.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-8423-8. Reviewed by Ann SWANER, Barry University, Miami Shores, FL 33161.


Massimo Faggioli is a European Catholic historian, theologian, and ecclesiologist who came to the U.S. in 2008; this gives him a unique perspective on the American Catholic experience and its intersection with politics in the context of the global world and global Catholicism. Catholicism and Citizenship calls for debate on the role of the church in pluralistic democracy. It is a “call to citizenship and a call for a culture of engagement and encounter, in light of what the pontificate of Pope Francis says about the legacy of Vatican II and the role of the Catholic Church today.” (151) A culture of engagement and encounter reflects Pope Francis’s rejection of both Christian accomodationism and Christian separatism.

Faggioli argues that the crisis of political Catholicism is “a crisis related to an interpretation of the trajectories of modernity, which in turn is closely connected to a historical and theological hermeneutic of the Second Vatican Council.” (p. xiii)  He argues that it is impossible to understand this crisis without a theological framework. The key to a reexamination of the relationship between the Church and the world of our time is to focus on the reception and interpretation of Gaudium et Spes, the Vatican II document on the Church in the Modern World. Gaudium et Spes developed a controversial new theological method based on reading the signs of the times. Pope Francis has embraced this method.

The first chapter focuses on the shifting balance of power since Vatican II between pope and bishops on the one hand and the religious orders, especially women’s religious orders, on the other. In the post-conciliar church the role of the religious orders was weakened because the council focused more on the place of the religious orders in the power structure of the institutional church and not on their specific role in the church, and also because many of the social services traditionally provided by the religious have been taken up by the secular, political community. Pope Francis has shifted this power dynamic with his emphasis on inculturation, which the worldwide religious communities are in a privileged position to do, his focus on the eschatological and prophetic, and his “post-institutional ecclesiology.”

The next chapter looks at the “new Catholic movements,” such as Communion and Liberation, Opus Dei, Sant ‘Egidio, and others, which have taken up some of the traditional ministries of the religious orders but with the benefit of the freedom of being lay Catholics. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI managed the relationship of these movements to the larger church by an emphasis on obedience to the pope, often at the expense of the local bishop and the parish. Pope Francis constantly calls on the movements to see themselves as part of the whole church. He sees them as a powerful counterbalance to the dominance of a clerical system but warns them about the dangers of exclusivity and self-referentiality.

The challenges of the church in facing pluralism is the focus of Chapter Three. Faggioli suggests three challenges facing Catholicism: 1) overcoming the tension between the paradigms of hegemony or persecution in “a church that is still learning to live in the regime of freedom and pluralism in a world that is secular” (p. 63); 2) understanding the relationship between the church as community and the church in society; and 3) dealing with pluralism and change in the church itself by redefining its catholicity and learning to address disagreements with “a process that is synodal and leads to spiritual discernment (p. 65).

In “Prophetic Church and Established Church” (Chapter Four) Faggioli looks at the legacy of Constantinianism (“a theological-political model of relationship between political and religious power in terms of alliance that is both religious and political” (p. 68)) and the advantages and disadvantages of an established church. Although Vatican II abandoned Constantinianism there is an ambivalence about giving up the established church altogether “in the world of the technocratic paradigm. We must ask ourselves if the established church is perhaps one of the last remaining bastions against the destruction of the welfare state, against ‘turbo-capitalism,’ against radical individualization of human life….” (p. 88)

Chapter Five looks at the reception of Gaudium et Spes in American Catholicism which Faggioli argues is different from its reception in the global church. In North America there was a dearth of theological and historical commentary on Vatican II. The council became a part of “the sixties” and its reception was tied in with the political, social, and cultural turmoil of that time. Therefore the divisiveness of the reception of Vatican II in the US was greater than anywhere else. The political polarization and identity politics in the US has spilled over into the culture of American Catholicism. (This chapter has many fascinating insights that this brief summary cannot do justice to!)

In his vision for the church in the twenty-first century (Chapter Six) Faggioli first analyzes the state of the Catholic Church today in terms of six ‘wounds: ‘tribal’ Catholicism; critical obedience (a ‘liberal’ problem) and faithful dissent (a ‘conservative’ problem); an obsession with ‘culture; a problem with freedom; relationship with the secular; and the false alternative between insiders and outsiders. He sees the cure for these wounds in Francis’s re-appropriation of the ecclesiology of Vatican II in his model of the polyhedron rather than the sphere and in his focus on mercy. Mercy, he points out, is a relational process and an ecclesiology of mercy means a church in process, a process that would begin to heal the wounds.

The author brings a wealth of knowledge, insight, and perspective to this engrossing work. The book has extensive footnotes, bibliography, and an index.