Democracy in the Christian Church.

By Luca Badini Confalonieri.
London: T & T Clark/Continuum, 2012.

Hardback. Pp.286. £65. ISBN 9780567449528.

Review by Professor John Sullivan, Liverpool Hope University, August 2012.

This historical, theological and political case for greater democracy in the Catholic Church offers a spirited, highly contentious, but, in the main, cogent argument. It is very well documented, drawing upon studies in at least five languages. It is likely to irk senior figures in the Catholic Church, to encourage those resisting authoritarian leadership in that church and it advocates an approach to ecclesial authority that will seem much more congenial to the vast majority of the world’s Christians than that presented by the current establishment in Rome. The author exposes the internal incoherence in the arguments presented by defenders of a strong version of papal authority, shows that many of the historical claims made to buttress that position are not tenable and he exposes the various dysfunctions these flawed arguments and claims bring about in the life of the church.

The damage caused by a divine right construal of church authority (relying on a faulty understanding of the relationship between divine action and human cooperation), disregard for subsidiarity, excessive centralization, and the prevention of open discussion (treating any emphasis on the need for human consent as inevitably opposed to the discovery of divine truth) - all receive devastating exposure. Confalonieri argues for continuity between nature and grace, reason and faith and between political philosophy and ecclesiology. Bernard Lonergan’s analysis of the key operations underpinning human attempts to know the truth and make decisions in aid of the common good – attentive experiencing, intelligent understanding, reasonable verification, responsible deciding and loving action - is applied to the way the author links political philosophy and ecclesiology. A strong case is made for much greater respect for the principle of subsidiarity and for open discussion within the church; the author is rightly scathing about the constant attempt by church leaders to micro-manage matters that should be dealt with locally, ‘on the ground,’ by the faithful.

Unfortunately proof-reading of this fine thesis has been very careless; there are frequent typos, and many errors in syntax and grammar. While the book is strong in its treatment of the necessary conditions for healthy community life, in the church, as in other communities, providing perceptive comments on consent, cooperation in aid of the common good, authority, subsidiarity, delegation, legitimacy and majority rule, some readers will question whether the emphasis on continuity between nature and grace needs to be balanced by more attention to conversion, holiness, divine life and the work of the Holy Spirit.