Book Review — The Emerging Catholic Church: A Community’s Search for Itself By Tom Roberts

Tom Roberts is editor-at-large of The National Catholic Reporter, where he has worked for the past sixteen years. Previously he worked for ten years at the Religious News Service. He lives in Rockville, Maryland.

Dennis Coday, editor of NCR, said in NCR Today on Oct. 07, 2011: This is how I remember it. In late 2008 or early 2009, Tom Roberts broached the idea of setting out on a trek across the United States to find Catholic communities that are alive and life giving, that aren’t bogged down in the mire of church politics and scandal.

From that idea came first a series of stories for our newspaper and website. Next came a book for Orbis, The Emerging Catholic Church: A Community’s Search for Itself, which has just been released and is reviewed below.

Note: This book review was published in Mercy Words: An E-Journal, February 2012.

In his long career as a religion writer and editor, Tom Roberts, author of The Emerging Catholic Church: A Community’s Search for Itself, has been engaged on a search to understand the emerging Catholic community – a search bracketed on one end by Vatican II (1962–1965) and on the other by the yet unknown.

In this work, Roberts presents the fruit of his decades of observation. It is a complex picture of a Church that is still grappling with the meaning of the Second Vatican Council; responding to dramatic demographic shifts affecting both the Church and society; absorbing the implications of the new cosmology, with its impact on traditional belief systems; accounting for the emerging leadership of women in the Church and the wider culture, and its impact on an evolving concept of God; and reeling over the sex abuse scandal and what it has revealed about the growing inadequacy of the hierarchical culture.

Even with all the signs of stress and strain, stupidity, and insensitivity exhibited in the behavior of laity and clergy alike, including the hierarchy, Roberts gives equal attention to signs of renewal in the Church, showing how the faith, hope, and love that have guided the Church in the past will continue to shape the American Catholic community’s search for itself in the future.

Along the way, Roberts traces the gutsy history of National Catholic Reporter (NCR), the independent Catholic newspaper that frustrates some and encourages others. Begun in 1963, NCR has stayed true to its founders’ vision – to report the life of the Church in the world; to press for as much information as can be had about events and their meaning while remaining committed to the Church.

No surprise, of course, given Tom Roberts’ long association with NCR, that The Emerging Catholic Church: A Community’s Search for Itself is written in the same spirit as that newspaper for which he has worked for many years. Roberts’ book is frank, forthright, faith-filled, and full of hope. I encourage you to read it, discuss it with others, and pass it along to friends – both your copy of the book and your own insights. Let’s keep searching for that “emerging Catholic Church.” This could be a good book to read during Lent!

Tom Roberts. The Emerging Catholic Church: A Community’s Search for Itself. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011.



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