The Desolate City: The Catholic Church in Ruins, by Anne Roche Muggeridge

The Desolate City: The Catholic Church in Ruins, by Anne Roche Muggeridge

Michael Gilchrist

The Desolate City: the Catholic Church in Ruins, by Anne Roche Muggeridge

(Available from John XXIII Co-op Bookshop, RRP $25.00)

Those already familiar with an earlier work by Malcolm Muggeridge's courageous, Canadian-born daughter-in-law, titled The Gates of Hell, will know what to expect from this latest study of the post-Vatican II Catholic Church. (The American edition is, more accurately, subtitled Revolution in the Catholic Church.)

Despite a succession of devastating accounts of spiritual corruption and decline in sections of the Catholic Church in the Western world by the likes of James Hitchcock, Michael Davies, Msgr George Kelly and Christopher Derrick, the silent majority of Church-attending Catholics seems still blissfully unaware of any serious crisis of faith.

If Anne Roche Muggeridge's latest book fails to arouse more of the Catholic electorate - or of that minority which still reads religious literature - it seems nothing ever will.

The contents of The Desolate City are mostly familiar - liturgical decadence, rebellion over Humanae Vitae, scriptural and doctrinal adventurism, collapse of religious life and rabid feminism - but the author's finely chiselled thesis on "revolution" and her passionate style and devastating wit and satire make Anne Roche Muggeridge possibly the most effective of the Church's counter-revolutionary writers.


The author documents and analyses most convincingly her thesis that the Church in the West - although she is unspecific about whether her account applies equally outside North America and Western Europe - has experienced the classic phases of revolution: an aggrieved class (theologians and religious), a climate conducive to radical change (the cultural and moral upheaval of the 1960s), a weakened government (Paul Vl and certain national hierarchies), a triggering incident (Humanae Vitae and the organised opposition), moderate and radical phases and finally consolidation and institutionalisation of the revolution. The last phase is evident in the numerous, powerful newchurch bureaucracies.

The flavour of an arrogant, strutting revolution is brilliantly captured in numerous quotable vignettes. We read that "the age of the orange clerical turtleneck dawned" and that Fr Gregory Baum, formerly a peritus for the Canadian Bishops at Vatican II, who then left the priesthood and married without being laicised, was now helping to form future priests in Toronto. Hans Kung, one of the few revolutionaries even to have "his wrists slapped", continues to offer anti-Papal diatribes before admiring crowds at Catholic venues, to draw media applause and to receive high fees and embraces from Notre Dame's Richard McBrien."

Anne Roche Muggeridge demonstrates most forcibly what many of us have begun, belatedly, to realise, that a full-scale revolution has been completed within the Church, a new Reformation institutionalised, involving a sweeping takeover of Catholic structures with a "liberal consensus" created, and dissent made orthodoxy. At the same time, non-revolutionised Catholics have "begun to behave like exiles".

Dismissive labels

Interestingly, the author points out that whereas the expressions "liberal" and "conservative" Catholic had some meaning at the time of Vatican II, they are now weapons of the revolutionary new church. Yesterday's liberals, who wished for a more participative liturgy, less oppressive Curia and some reform of religious life, are now dismissed by today's so-called liberals as right-wingers or extreme conservatives. Terms such as "liberal", "radical", or "progressive" Catholic are today little more than euphemisms for agnosticism and secular humanism.

Official teaching on the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, the virginity of Mary, miracles, the founding of the Church by Jesus or the Resurrection may still be on the books and taught forcefully and unambiguously by the Pope, but the actual teaching is radically different. Nevertheless, local bishops continue to speak and act as if this situation did not exist. The author observes dryly: "Lonely counter-revolutionaries are the only safe targets left for bishops to shoot at."

Anne Roche Muggeridge sets the present post-Vatican II revolution in the context of the 16th century Protestant "revolution" and the turn of the century modernist crisis, themselves with roots in Genesis. She sees the new humanistic liturgy as the most potent vehicle for implanting the new revolution, for here the horizontal has crowded out the vertical. She argues further that the effect of such liturgical revolution has been to make it easier for Catholics to accept the secular community's "libertine values".

Nevertheless, Anne Roche Muggeridge sees hope for the future despite her devastating and convincing analysis of the Church in ruins. There is not only the wider perspective of history, but the advent of a remarkable new Pope.

The Desolate City has to be required reading for all would-be informed Catholics. The Church definitely needs more of its members to be inspired by the example of this brave and remarkable woman.

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