Reviewed by Phyllis H. Kaminski, Saint Mary's College, Department of Religious Studies, NOTRE DAME, IN 46556-5001
In an era when the climate for creative vision in theology is chilly, Liberating Conscience offers the warmth of optimism and hope in discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit. Anne Patrick carefully explores the contemporary landscape of Catholic moral theology. Feminist and liberation lenses help her shed light on the integral relationship of conscience and community. With her compass, steadied by commitments to freedom, justice, and the mutual flourishing of women and men, Patrick courageously approaches divisive moral problems with a vision of the Gospel call to radical conversion. She moves along the path of inquiry with the humility and confidence of a mature moral agent. The result is a book not only about major stumbling blocks facing Catholics at the end of the twentieth century but also and more importantly about the life-long process of conscience formation. In a spirit of responsible Catholicism, Patrick seeks ongoing renewal of moral theology so that its resources can foster "a full response to the divine invitation to love God, neighbor and self in ways that are recognizably good" (16).
The first two chapters sketch the tensions that have arisen in the past thirty years as a result of Vatican II and wider cultural, political, economic and technological changes. After delineating the communal nature and on going task of moral theology, Patrick limns two contrasting styles of response to these changes, Catholic Fundamentalism and Catholic Revisionism. The respective faith-worlds of these two types of Catholics provide a way of addressing many of the divisive tensions plaguing late twentieth century Catholic communities. Both fundamentalist and revisionist approaches care about fidelity to tradition and the question of development in faith and ethics. While Patrick appreciates the energy of Catholic fundamentalism and its appeal to many, her typology does not indicate the depth of social cohesion and diversity within the position she consistently opposes. By expressed preference, she draws with greater detail revisionist responses to Catholic conflicts over change and development.
Patrick does not come by this approach, however, without thoughtful probing of the terrain. In an effort to unearth some of the root causes of divisions between fundamentalists and revisionists, she traces major modern and post-modern developments in philosophy, history, and the social and natural sciences, paying particular attention to the "linguistic turn". Philosophical focus on language and its uses has profoundly challenged the thought structures and categories of pre-Vatican II moral theology. Twentieth century intellectual currents have also effected radical change in contemporary methods of theological and ethical reflection. Scholars might wish that Patrick had been more attentive to the diverse directions of the thinkers she names (Heidegger, Wittgenstein, de Saussure, and Derrida). Likewise she does not mention tensions inherent in conversations over the views of Rorty and Tracy. Yet professional and non-professional readers alike will appreciate the clarity and succinctness of her schema and her concrete examples.
The central chapters situate current debates over moral decisions (regarding sexuality, medicine, capital punishment, the limits of life, etc.). Whereas formerly, moral theology focused primarily on actions and their consequences, in recent years religious ethics have stressed the centrality of issues of character and virtue. Patrick explores changing paradigms of virtue by contrasting patriarchal and feminist values. For example, the patriarchal paradigm that has long dominated the scene favors virtues such as control, obedience, and purity; the emerging egalitarian feminist paradigm that inspires many favors justice, self-determination, and right relationship. Patrick's analysis of Rome's handling of the cases of Charles Curran and the Vatican 24 demonstrates not only the different paradigms of virtue with their contrasting views of authority and responsibility but also the spiritual conflicts experienced on all sides. Pope John Paul II's 1993 encyclical, Veritatis Splendor extends and deepens that analysis. Patrick offers a particularly balanced reading of the dilemmas and challenges of this papal effort to bring unity, focus, and leadership to the moral teaching of the church.
In the final chapters, Patrick reconsiders the meaning of moral responsibility by highlighting the relationship between spirituality and ethics. Drawing on James Gustafon's "map" of the moral life with its interrelated elements of God, the moral agent, the context or situation calling for a response, and the principles and values influencing that response, Patrick adds a fifth component, "that of the persons who mediate or interpret for the agent the other factors" (188-9). A strong personal and communal commitment to solidarity with victims grounds her final consideration of conscience as a life-long process discernment and liberation.
Theologians and scholars of religion will appreciate Patrick's keen awareness of the dangers of oversimplification in setting up typologies as points of reference. Sociologists and historians will welcome her careful documentation of areas of contention. Feminists and political activists will value her probing of race, gender, and power within each of the disputed questions. All readers will welcome her clear presentation of the heart of the matter. Patrick draws effectively on a wide range of examples from culture, politics, and literature. A clear conceptual framework and the power of metaphor suggest ways beyond impasse. Liberating Conscience invites all to create a future of justice for the earth and its inhabitants. Patrick's awareness of the limits of her vision goes a long way in turning stumbling blocks into stepping stones that move us along in the journey towards conscientious living that Christians would call Good News.