Findings & Footnotes

■  Francis X. Maier’s new book True Confessions (Ignatius Press, $24.95) is unusual. Although the author is a well-known conservative Catholic journalist, he doesn’t editorialize (aside from the Introduction) but rather turns the spotlight on Catholicism in the U.S., attempting to paint a portrait of the American church that might be missed in surveys. He interviews about 30 bishops, 16 priests and religious, and 57 lay people. The picture of the church one gets from reading the book is one of some disorientation about the rapid changes in the church—with church closings, mergers, and the new style of Pope Francis and his ambivalence about the American church—but also concern about declining numbers of Catholics and the stigma the church has acquired because of the sexual abuse crisis. In fact, Maier provides interesting interviews of church bureaucrats and lawyers regarding the traumatic effects for victims and the financial strains from lawsuits that have led to a breaking point for some dioceses.

The theme of cultural conflict and marginalization is common among the accounts of the laity; some members appear to agree with the late Pope Benedict’s forecast of a smaller yet more committed and countercultural church. Maier’s intent to exclude the “extremes” of left and right (even if he does interview more leaders and lay people leaning conservative, with his former boss, conservative Cardinal Charles Chaput, assuming a prominent part in the book) may not make the book representative; the reader won’t hear about the push for women deacons (let alone priests). But as surveys and a recent in-depth Associated Press article ( suggest, active Catholics increasingly swing right in doctrine and politics. Maier’s chapter on what Catholics are “doing right” offers a noteworthy overview of Catholic innovations (again, most coming from the conservative side of the spectrum), bringing some contrast to the forecasts of decline. The chapter profiles actors like the campus group Focus, Chris Stefanick, a leading lay evangelist, and his group Real Life Catholic, and the Napa Legal Institute, which works on religious freedom issues. Another chapter looks at the investors, such as Timothy Busch (founder of the Napa Institute), who have stepped in and funded these new groups, often in the absence of official church support.