The Wrong Road to Utopia

Churches on the Wrong Road, edited by Stanley Atkins and Theodore McConnell (Regnery, 1986, 270 pp.; $7.95), and Shepherds Speak: American Bishops Confront the Social and Moral Issues that Challenge Christians Today, edited by Dennis Corrado and James Hinchey (Crossroad, 1986, 225 pp.; $12.95). Reviewed by Doug Bandow, senior fellow of the Cato Institute and syndicated columnist for the Copley News Service.

While America has drifted right politically, many church leaders have moved left, treating everything from disarmament to poverty as matters of theology. In Shepherds Speak, 18 Catholic leaders illustrate this growing trend as they grapple with a variety of controversial issues.

Several of the essays deal with controversies within the church itself, but the book’s most interesting writing involves the major policy issues of the day. The authors pronounce their views to be based on more than just currently fashionable political theory: “When the United States Catholic Conference addresses the question of El Salvador, or the impact of budget cuts on the poor,” writes Archbishop John Roach of St. Paul/Minneapolis, “it must be very clear that these actions are rooted in, directed by, and in fulfillment of a theologically grounded conception of the Church’s ministry.” Yet the volume’s many essays only demonstrate how difficult it is to transform general scriptural principles into specific policy prescriptions for a secular society.

For instance, in his discussion of capital punishment Rene Gracida, bishop of Corpus Christi, admits that “the Christian’s moral judgment on the rightness of using the death penalty cannot be based directly and simply on ...

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