Divine Dropouts

A Question of Conscience

by Charles Davis
Harper & Row, 288 pp., $6.95

The Church

by Hans Küng
Sheed & Ward, 515 pp., $6.95

The Church Against Itself

by Rosemary Ruether
Herder & Herder, 244 pp., $5.50

Communion Is Life Together
A First Book

by Rosemary Ruether
Herder & Herder, 48 pp., $1.25

When is a Roman Catholic not a Roman Catholic? Or, to put it more bluntly, when is apostasy not apostasy? Each of these books poses the question in a different way.

Early in December, 1966, subscribers to The Clergy Review were surprised to read a sentence written by its editor, Father Charles Davis, a leading Catholic theologian, then Professor of Dogmatic Theology at Heythrop College. Referring to the contraception controversy, he remarked that it seemed to him “the Church was in danger of losing its soul to save its face.” Shortly afterward an audience far larger than The Clergy Review had ever succeeded in attracting learned that Mr. Davis, as we must now call him, had left the Roman Catholic Church and was about to get married.

Mr. Davis summoned a press conference and explained his position on television. He contributed an article to a Sunday newspaper. That position he now states more temperately, and of course at greater length, in A Question of Conscience. In brief, his thesis is this: He left the Church not for the love of a woman but because he had ceased to believe in Catholicism. He had ceased to believe in it on two grounds. First, some of the dogmas it teaches are intellectually untenable and unsupported by biblical or historical evidence. Second, the institutions of the Church are corrupt, its yoke an unbearable oppression; as a socially structured body it is an obstacle to Christian faith, a zone of untruth, no longer credible as the embodiment of the faith. It cannot reform and remain itself. Therefore it must be rejected and opposed. Mr. Davis is now Visiting Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Alberta.

“In the reaction to the news of my defection,” he writes, “there was evident a strong element of surprise.” Not however in all quarters. For some time Mr. Davis had been radically contradicting himself in print. It was not intentional equivocation; rather, he had reached the point where he really did not know what he believed.

Self-blinded before and left in the lurch now, some of his admirers proceeded to make a fool of him. They seriously compared his departure to the defection of Newman from Anglicanism. Some even went so far as to call this total rejection of their faith a martyrdom. At one moment it began to look as if a contingent from the Newman Society was about to venture forth over the Alps in winter to beg the Holy Father to grant Mr. Davis that much coveted medal proecclesia et pontifice.

At the opposite extreme there were those who suggested that the Gospel light shone more brightly from the eyes of his fiancée than it did from the pages of Holy Writ. There can be no doubt that his marriage did much to destroy the credibility of his protest. This was inevitable, but unjust. I am quite sure that Mr. Davis is speaking the truth when he tells us he did not reject Catholicism…

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