The Heretic said to the Pope. . .(a book review)

When Jorge Mario Bergoglio ascended to the papacy, and chose Francis as his papal name, people got excited.  One person who watched with interest was former Dominican Matthew Fox. Fox is the founder of the Institute of Culture and Creation Spirituality.  He is a long time advocate of environmentalism, the inclusion of women in the priesthood, queer theology and a host of other progressive causes. Because Fox is a lover of the environment and a critic of the institutional church, he is excited by the Pope’s choice of papal name, and some of the things the pope has said and done which signal a different tone than the Vatican ‘business as usual.’ Fox’s Letters to Pope Francis are (as the title suggests) letters to the pope. These epistles both name Fox’s hopes and areas where he thinks that he feels that change needs to come to Catholic church.

Fox has a bit of an axe to grind. The previous two popes (John Paul II and Benedict XVI) are partially responsible for his teaching being regarded as suspect in the Church and his ultimate dismissal from the Dominican order. So he has a bone to pick with the institutional church and hopes that Francis signals a movement towards reform  of the church.  Some of his criticisms stick, like where he faults the Church for its handling of clergy sexual abuse.  Despite his bald progressive agenda, his hope for Francis papacy is less grand: he hopes that the Vatican would decentralize power and foster greater theological openness and freedom.  So these letters are pleas for change, often referencing Francis’s own words and actions.

If you like books where ex-Catholics lecture the pope, you’ll probably like this book.  I am not Catholic and resonate with some of Fox’s critiques of where the institutional church has run amok, but I am probably closer to the pope in my theological commitments (i.e.  orthodoxy). Fox’s Creation spirituality gets a little weird (or at least a little vague).  I think some of Fox’s criticisms of the Catholic church’s practice are incisive, while others seem the rambling musings of someone embittered by their struggle against church authority.  I found myself moved by some of his arguments but not particularly swayed.

I would give this book three stars. I think that Fox’s history in the Roman Church, and his read of Christian history gives him an interesting perspective on how and where the Church is moving.  I love that Fox calls Francis to commit to Creation care, Justice for the poor, and ecclesiastical reform in the spirit of his namesake.  I also think that Fox named well a lot of people’s frustration with the institutional church; however I don’t buy all his answers about what Francis (and by extension the Catholic church) should do.

Notice of Material Connection: I received this book via Speak Easy in exchange for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review.

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