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Paul Christopher Manuel, Lawrence C. Reardon, Clyde Wilcox, editors, The Catholic
Church and the Nation-State: Comparative Perspectives, Georgetown University
Press, Washington, DC, 2006. ISBN 1 58901 114 7 (hardback), pp. vii + 283.
Reviewed by: Margaret M. McGuinness, La Salle University, January 2010
This collection of fourteen essays explains and interprets 'how the Vatican and…national
Churches influence politics and public policy debates in a variety of countries across the globe'
(2). In order to accomplish this task, the Catholic Church’s role in political life is examined in
eleven countries on five continents—six if one considers East Timor part of Oceania—with a
twelfth essay devoted to the Latin European Church. Each essay is grouped according to a
specific challenge faced by the Church in the country under discussion: secularization (Catholic
Europe, the United States and Chile), opposition (Poland, Ireland and Northern Ireland and East
Timor), justice (Brazil, Rwanda and Angola) and accommodation (India, China and Congo),
allowing readers to make comparisons that transcend geography, political systems, and culture.
In addition to chapters focusing on specific nations, the volume includes two essays on the
'theological and political challenges faced by the Vatican' (15) by Kenneth Himes, O.F.M.
('Vatican II and Contemporary Politics') and Lisa L. Ferrari ('The Vatican as a Transnational
It is sometimes tempting, and perhaps even advisable, to read collections of essays selectively,
paying little attention to those outside one’s area of interest. Although readers could choose to
treat this collection in such a way—and would gain a good understanding of the place of the
Catholic Church in a particular nation by doing so—one would benefit from reading the entire
volume cover to cover for two reasons. First, the reader will gain deeper insight into the story
being recounted if it is understood within the context of the section in which it is placed. Part
Three, 'The Challenge of Opposition', for example, demonstrates ways in which the Catholic
Church has acted 'as an indigenous institutional and cultural expression against an outside
occupying force', (101) including foreign governments, hostile religious forces (Islam,
Protestantism) or cultural forces such as modernism or secularization. Timothy Byrnes’ essay on
Poland examines ways in which the Church in that country facilitated the revolution of the
1980s; participated in debates concerning the relationship between church and state after the
demise of communism; and voiced its opinions on the entrance of Poland into the European
Union. The institutional Church in East Timor faced a very different situation from that of its
Polish counterpart. For many years, the Catholic Church in this small Asian nation was an ally
of Portuguese colonial officials but when Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975, an attempt was
made to place the Catholic Church under the authority of the state. As a result of Indonesia’s
actions against both the Church and the people of East Timor, the two groups discovered a
common interest in rebuffing Indonesian control. The Church in Ireland and Northern Ireland
offers a third example of the 'Challenge of Opposition'. William Crotty ably demonstrates that
the Catholic Church in Northern Ireland is in a different position than its southern sister, playing
a role—along with Protestant churches—in supporting the peace process and condemning
violence (127).
Part Five, 'The Challenge of Accommodation', provides examples of relationships between
church and state with which many westerners are somewhat unfamiliar. In India, despite its
attempts to provide educational and social services to those in need, Catholicism is seen by
many as a religion actively involved in luring people away from Hinduism. The situation in
China is more complicated. There are really two Catholic Churches co-existing in that country:
one under the authority of the Vatican, and one answering to the government. Relationships
between Rome and Beijing have alternated between cool and warm during the past six decades
depending on government policies and the Vatican’s reaction to them. Lawrence C. Reardon
concludes that relations today can best be described as tense due to Rome’s 'divisive pastoral
strategy of engaging the open Church and aggressively promoting the underground Church'
(240). The final essay in the section—and the book—by Yvon C. Elenga, S.J., focuses on ways
in which the Catholic Church has contributed to the creation of a more just society in the
Republic of the Congo.
A second reason for reading the book in its entirety is that the authors frequently refer to other
essays within the volume. In his chapter on the Church in China, for instance, Reardon
mentions several essays, including Himes’ discussion on Vatican II and contemporary politics.
Although each essay could stand alone, it is helpful when authors refer the reader to other
chapters that support or contradict a particular part of his or her thesis.
In the Foreword, Thomas Massaro, S.J., and James Morone write, 'We are distinctly aware of
the many ways in which this volume invites controversy'(xi). Some readers, Massaro and
Morone explain, may find aspects of the discussions 'delicate,' or even 'uncomfortable' (xi).
Indeed, selected readers may disagree with the ways in which some authors present their views
of controversial events within the history of the institutional Catholic Church. This reviewer,
however, was not offended by any of the fourteen essays. Although the Church is not always
portrayed in the most positive way, the authors do not set out to denigrate either the Catholic
Church or its governing arm in the Vatican. In their essay, 'The Latin European Church: ‘Une
Messe Est Possible', for instance, Paul Christopher Manuel and Margaret MacLeish Mott explain
the three models of church-state relations found in Italy, France, Spain and Portugal. Each
model—authoritarian, secular anticlerical and strategic actor—has been used during different
historical periods in each of the four countries. Although the authors acknowledge the argument
that Latin Europe has been de-Christianized, they are optimistic about the future of the Catholic
Church in these countries, arguing it can be a strategic actor in political and moral debates.
There is no one conclusive appropriate model advocated by the authors and editors; as readers
will quickly discover, there are many ways—all of them valid—for the Church to enter into moral
debate and advocate for the poor and dispossessed. Overall, The Catholic Church and the
Nation-State is worthwhile reading for anyone interested in the myriad ways in which the
Vatican interacts with governments and political parties throughout the world.