I first encountered Matthew Fox in the early 1990s when I read The Coming of the Cosmic Christ. He was then a priest within the Catholic Dominican Order, and already a prolific theologian whose special interest was named "Creation Spirituality" (an amalgam of mysticism, liberation theology and eco-theology) . Personally, I was greatly enriched by his writings.
Matthew Fox is well placed to critique 'the war' which has raged within Roman Catholicism under the past two popes. Fox's teachings drew the ire of the Vatican, in particular, Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) who was then head of the Congregation of Faith and Doctrine – formerly known as 'The Inquisition'. I followed closely the saga which led to Fox's silencing by Rome and eventual expulsion from his Order. He is now an Episcopalian priest, though essentially non-denominational.
Published attacks on organised religion are not uncommon. Rightly or wrongly, the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church, in particular, has been a target. The Pope's War by Matthew Fox adds significantly to the case that the Vatican bureaucracy, under the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, has reversed the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (first convened by John XXIII) and thereby entrenched an anachronistic medieval institution. Moreover, he demonstrates how, in the process of defending the Roman Curia's version of orthodoxy, the present Pope and his predecessor have failed to deal with the institutional disease of sexual abuse of children perpetrated in the ranks of the celibate clergy, while, at the same time corrupting the church by supporting what many allege are secretive (and 'fascist') organisations within the church (eg. Opus Dei). (The detail he has gathered on the paedophilia question provides a damning context for those who will shortly face a Commission of Inquiry in this country).
Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, says Fox, have waged war against prophetic and progressive voices by officially silencing scores of theologians and pastoral leaders. As always, the author's passion is inspiring, especially as it rightly honours those many 'saints', living and from the past, who have been formed in the crucible of a truly catholic (diverse and inclusive) Christianity whose priority is justice for the most disadvantaged.
The book is in four sections: The first three - Ratzinger's life story; Ratzinger's chosen enemies; Ratzinger's allies – include a psychanalysis of Ratzinger himself, as well as the dangerous groups within the church fostered in recent decades and, the Roman Curia itself. It is not a pretty picture. But, significantly, the final section is constructive, titled "The End of the Catholic Church as we know it and the Birth of a Truly Catholic Christianity". As the foreword by the Episcopalian biblical scholar, Bruce Chilton affirms: "Matthew Fox is not merely a pundit, content to analyse the gravity of our predicament. As a prophet he sees the way forward and articulates that way." (p. xi)
The Pope's War should not be read as a personal attack but as a readable analysis of the backward looking ideology (hardly theology) which has governed those exercising Vatican power in the past thirty years. This is a book for a wide readership including non-(roman) catholics who recognise the importance of the concerns raised for all humanity; it should certainly not be overlooked by those in other Christian churches charged with fostering ecumenical dialogue.
In an appendix to the paperback edition Fox lists 101 names, "A Wailing Wall of Silenced, Expelled, or Banished Theologians and Pastoral Leaders under Ratzinger". The later edition adds a further 10 names to the list compiled first in 2010, including Bishop William Morris. There are three other Australians on the list – Michael Morwood, Paul Collins and Bishop George Robinson. Well might it be asked "Why are Peter Kennedy and Terry Fitzpatrick not listed?" Is the assumption that Pope Benedict had nothing to do with their exclusion and silencing? Does anyone believe that the Archbishop of Brisbane was acting alone without the urging of some close to the former Inquisitor? It is a significant oversight because the case of St Mary's is the story of a local faith community not just that of the banishing of an individual. That said Fox acknowledges the list is "partial" just as he observes (p.238): "It is a strange organization indeed that fires its thinkers and leaders, those who respond to the 'signs of the times'."
Dr Noel Preston is Adjunct Professor in the Griffith University Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance. He is the author of Understanding Ethics (20O1, Federation Press, Sydney), and several texts on public sector ethics. His web page can be found here.
Noel Prestonís recent book is Beyond the Boundary: a memoir exploring ethics, politics and spirituality (Zeus Publications).