- Global Catholicism: Diversity and Change since Vatican II
This book is a kaleidoscopic yet cohesive overview of the recent history of world Catholicism. Author Ian Linden spent several decades working for a London-based Catholic NGO as an advocate for the world's poor. This narrative is therefore founded not only on practical knowledge, but also on a mass of secondary literature and on numerous influential theological treatises and official Church pronouncements. Though some of Linden's negative judgments on conservative Church leaders may ruffle feathers, he offers a generally even-handed description and assessment of the major currents shaping Catholicism since roughly 1960.
Linden begins with the argument that Catholics developed a "global consciousness" during the twentieth century. That is, as modes of rapid travel and information sharing advanced, it became increasingly evident that they belonged to a world church with authentic foundations and distinctive expressions in every region. He suggests that, with this recognition, the custom of imagining the church as Rome-centered and bound together by the Vatican bureaucracy increasingly gave way [End Page 790] to the notion that the Church was truly a multicentered organism. In the process, he asserts, a nineteenth-century form of Catholicism that depended upon policing boundaries between the Church and the "secular world" decayed and crumbled as believers embraced currents of "religious renewal" that would blur such boundaries and ultimately "save the Church" from the dangers of institutional solipsism (pp. 14–15).
An early chapter highlights European theological "pioneers" who undertook much of the intellectual heavy lifting between 1920 and 1960 that smoothed this transformation in self-understanding. Two subsequent chapters focus on the crucial place of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) in offering its support—and, at times, projecting its ambivalence—for a globalized vision of the Church. These chapters provide concise treatment of well-traveled territory.
Global Catholicism hits its stride midway through with specific case studies that demonstrate some of globalization's far-reaching implications. These case studies focus on the Southern Hemisphere, placing Europe and North America on the periphery. In covering Latin America, Linden demonstrates how endemic poverty and political repression, combined with many local Church leaders' insistence that faith should be a driving force for "social justice," led to both a popular flowering of faith-inspired activism and a rupture of relations between Catholics on the political "left" and "right" after 1965. This rupture would reverberate across the continent and spark significant discord within the Vatican itself. Linden then proceeds to tie Latin American "liberation theology" to the maturation of political opposition to South African apartheid and to the rise of Filipino resistance to the regime of Ferdinand Marcos. In the process, he is careful not to unduly simplify or uncritically endorse. He underscores local influences, such as anti-colonialist and antiracist impulses, alongside Catholics' exploitation of insights emanating from Latin America. Though he reveals his sympathy for the Catholic left, Linden also roundly critiques Maoist-inspired Filipino Catholics, for example, as naïve and unsophisticated in their economic analysis. Similarly, he is quick to point out how church leaders' enthusiasm for political democracy and the concept of universal human dignity after 1945 could do little in the face of stubborn ethnic hatred and competing nationalist visions that plagued Catholicism in Rwanda, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. Linden's narrative thus supplies neither uncritical celebration nor a vision of linear progress.
Toward the end of the book, Linden suggests that among the Church's greatest contemporary challenges is its ability to "dialogue" with non-Western cultures and religions, especially Islam. Only [End Page 791] through positive engagement, he argues, can the Church advance a brand of Christian humanism that can positively influence the world and make the Catholic faith more broadly compelling. He credits Asian Church leaders with setting a positive tone for such dialogue by emphasizing respect for cultures that Christianity has historically not permeated. Yet he charges Vatican authorities—especially Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI—with an outmoded, defensive, narrowly European understanding of "Catholic culture...