December Book Review

Faith That Dares to Speak by Donald Cozzens, Liturgical Press

Last month, Jim Post said of Donald Cozzens after his presentation at a VOTF Chevy Chase, Maryland symposium, "Donald was, as expected, the warm face of the clergy we love to see - intelligent, thoughtful, and respectful of the audience." If you missed the symposium, Faith That Dared To Speak will give you all of the above plus some.

Cozzens is a priest's priest and clearly a shepherd by avocation. His earlier book The Changing Face of the Priesthood pleaded a case for awareness of and compassion toward the multiple and often conflicting demands of the priesthood as well as a bold look at the identity and promise of a ministry under siege. In the end, Cozzens concluded, "Behind the changing face of the priesthood lies the saving face of Jesus the Christ."

Faith That Dares To Speak mirrors the same affectionate respect and honest appraisal of where the laity are, where we've been, where we might go and how we might get there. The sweep of his perception, however, covers the whole discipleship of Jesus - the message is a mild corrective for bishops and priests as well as their lay siblings. Here is the pastoral voice of community that promotes humility ("a graceful freedom to live fully in the present"), listening ("When Canon Law emphasizes the sacred character and role of prelates and priests, listening and speaking, the fundamental elements of dialogue, become skewed"), and silence ("Contemplative conversation, conversation that emerges from silence and prayer … disarms defensive postures of rectitude").

Cozzens identifies speaking out for justice a virtue. He lauds National Catholic Reporter as well as Commonweal and America magazines, the National Review Board and others for speaking truth to power. Curiously, while Cozzens speaks a loving embrace for the survivors of sexual abuse by clergy, he does not mention SNAP and the other survivor support organizations whose courage first enabled public awareness.

He notes the roots of a feudal clericalism that will only continue to befuddle and diminish the institutional Church. Were it not so tragic, one might laugh at Cozzens' imagined assessment by Church leaders of the emerging Voice of the Faithful - "The serfs were organizing." Accountability is prominent in these pages and is levied not only on the heads of bishops but on the laity. Cozzens proposes the same adult discipleship for the laity that the latter expects (and demands) of its bishops.

For members and supporters of Voice of the Faithful, there is warm praise and a full section. Speaking of the many lay people who have discovered what it means to be an adult member of the Church, Cozzens says, "Sometimes all that is said [by these Catholics] can be distilled to Ad sum, 'I am here, I am present as a full, equal, adult member of the church - and I expect to be treated as such by church authorities.'" Among the voices of the faithful, Cozzens reviews Call To Action's compelling history and the beginning of Voice of the Faithful. He notes the challenge to church officials of VOTF's third goal - "the reform of church structures that no longer support the vitality and mission of the church." He goes on to say, "I propose the real issue church officials have with VOTF's third goal is control and power." Even with these words, Cozzens voice is one of contemplative compassion.

Cozzens best gift in this book lies in the language of self-perception and examination. For example, his understanding of the difference between willful and willing: Drawing on the work of Gerald May in his book Will and Spirit, Cozzens says, "Willfulness …is an exercise of will grounded in ego, mastery, and control …. Willingness emerges out of contemplative silence …. [It] recognizes that God's Spirit is the primary actor and source of all that is truly good and right."

Given the distance between so many in Church leadership and so many in the pews, Faith That Dares To Speak is an even-handed witness to communion. It is compassionate, hopeful, forgiving and invitational. It belongs in the conversation as all Catholics build a Church for the 21st Century.

Donald Cozzens is a priest and author of two previous books - The Changing Face of the Priesthood and Sacred Silence: Denial and Crisis in the Catholic Church. He is writer in residence at John Carroll University where he teaches religious studies.


Voice of the Faithful, VOTF, "Keep the Faith, Change the Church,"
Voice of Compassion, VOTF logo(s), Parish Voice, and
Prayerful Voice are trademarks of Voice of the Faithful, Inc.

Voice of the Faithful is a 501(c) 3 tax-exempt organization.


In the Vineyard
December 2004
Volume 4, Issue 11

Page One

Working Groups News

National News

Meet the Office!

VOTF Regional News

Message from VOTF president Jim Post

Printer Friendly Version

In the Vineyard Archives

Our postal address is VOTF,
Box 423,
Newton, MA

Donations can be sent to this address or through our Web site

For an overview of press coverage of VOTF, click here.