When I got the email from Lisa Kyle at American Life League, asking if I would be interested in receiving a copy of Judie Brown's new book, The Broken Path to review, I eagerly agreed. I have a lot of respect and admiration for Ms. Brown and the tireless work she has done for the unborn over the years at American Life League. I wondered what the book would be about; perhaps her own spiritual journey? Or maybe the flawed feminist movement, or the struggles pro-lifers face day in and day out?
It wasn't until I received the book in the mail that I noticed the subtitle: The Broken Path, it said; How Catholic Bishops Got Lost in the Weeds of American Politics. Oh crap, I thought; politics. My least favorite subject. Not something I would have chosen to read on my own, and I wasn't sure how I would feel about reviewing a book that might be critical of Catholic bishops. I was determined to hold up my end of the bargain, though, so read it I did. And I found it hard to put down. (As you can see from the photo, my copy is well-worn already.)
Ms. Brown explains how right around the beginning of the twentieth century, the Catholic Church in America started to drift from its roots as a solid institution built on faith and tradition, to an organization willing to adapt to the whims of society. People, including Church leaders, began to ignore or misrepresent teachings that were inconvenient for them or caused any amount of persecution or ridicule from others. Then came Vatican II, which was so badly misinterpreted by some that many of its core principles were lost in the nonsense and confusion. Contraception became widely available, and Pope Paul VI was alarmed enough to write his prophetic encyclical, Humanae Vitae.
Today in America, it is legal to kill an unborn baby for any reason. We expect mothers to abort children who are diagnosed with disabilities. Homosexuality is widely accepted and even encouraged. One by one, states are redefining marriage so that men can marry other men, and women can marry other women. Pornography is a major problem, and half of all marriages end in divorce. Politicians who profess to be Catholic openly support abortion and gay marriage, and even try to mandate contraception coverage in health insurance plans. And according to Judie Brown, too many Catholic bishops in America are looking the other way.
In The Broken Path, Judie Brown outlines the many different ways some bishops and Church leaders have given Catholic teachings a back seat in favor of public approval or personal power. While there are plenty of great bishops and priests who stand up for the truths of the Catholic Church and preach faithfully and unashamedly to their flocks amid ridicule by the secular world, there are more than a few who keep silent when they should be speaking out, and even seem to go against certain Church teachings altogether. Judie discusses the bureaucracy within the USCCB; and while there are many faithful bishops within that organization--first and foremost its new president, Cardinal Timothy Dolan--some of its programs do not necessarily support Church teachings (remember the hoo-ha a couple of years back surrounding the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and its support for ACORN?) She talks about Catholic colleges and universities, and the way some of them seem to have turned away from the Church and have become secular institutions with Catholic names. (Like the way the University of Notre Dame's president Father John Jenkins showed his public support for abortion by inviting President Obama to speak at commencement and gave him an honorary doctoral degree, and subsequently ignored and defied pleas from the public to withdraw his invitation. Ms. Brown praises Bishop John D'Arcy for his public statements denouncing this move, and his decision not to attend the ceremonies.) She discusses the widespread use of contraception, and how some bishops and priests seem to have resigned themselves to the idea that folks are going to use it anyway, so there's no reason to say anything about it. She wonders why they fail to teach their faithful why the Church condemns contraception, and how its pervasive use has led to so many social problems we see today--abortion, pornography, and high divorce rates, just to name a few. (She even proposes that our shortage of priests can be partly blamed on contraception because families are getting smaller--fewer potential candidates for the priesthood--and if parents are unwilling to be open to God's calling to have children, why should their sons be willing to answer God's call to the priesthood? Very interesting.) She discusses how some Catholic hospitals regularly commit abortion, distribute contraception, and perform sterilizations without so much as a peep of protest from Church leadership. She points out the silence from bishops on gay marriage, on personhood bills, on the blatant disregard (and even defiance) by Catholic politicians for the teachings of their own Church. And she talks about the way some bishops made the problem of sexual abuse by priests much worse by ignoring and covering it up for so long.
I would recommend this eye-opening book to every faithful Catholic. Even if you don't agree with Ms. Brown on every point she makes (like, should priests and bishops refuse the Eucharist to Catholics who publicly support abortion and homosexuality? Ms. Brown would say yes; I know many who would say not so fast, that's a matter between them and God), you will certainly be made more aware of the Church's role in society today. Since I started reading The Broken Path, I've found myself paying more attention to what bishops are saying--or not saying--about certain issues that are at the forefront of America. Recently homosexual marriage became legal in Maryland; and in Virginia, a personhood bill was defeated and one requiring women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion passed and was signed into law. What have the bishops in Maryland and Virginia had to say about these developments? If they've said anything, I sure haven't been able to find it. (If you know of any statements these bishops have made recently about these, please let me know!) Of course, it's been wonderful to see all of the United States bishops standing together against the Obama Administration's HHS contraception mandate, and I'm sure Judie would agree.
Read The Broken Path. Pray for all of our priests and bishops. Thank the ones who consistently and faithfully teach the truth, and encourage the rest to bravely stand with them.