This volume brings together thirteen short essays on liberation theology and the impact of the Medellín and Puebla conferences on the Catholic church in Latin America and in the world. The contributors include theologians, pastoral agents, academic scholars, and a journalist. The collection has strong points. Alfred Hennelly provides a solid summary of liberation theology; Penny Lernoux’s account of her own spiritual journey should inspire others to begin research on a biography of that remarkable journalist; Jean-Yves Calvez contributes a lucid discussion of papal concerns about the secularization of the faith that lie at the bottom of Cardinal Ratzinger’s 1984 document; and Scott Mainwaring’s piece is especially strong in its depiction of the conference at Puebla in 1979 as the swan song of the progressives.
Yet, overall, little in this volume is original or new. With the exceptions of Mainwaring’s and Daniel Levine’s articles, the pieces are too brief and chatty and have the feel more of advocacy and thinking out loud than of careful analysis, let alone of scholarship. Creuza Maciel’s and Frances O’Gorman’s articles display little awareness of the ongoing discussion of the internal differentiation, uneven politicization, and unequal distribution of authority in “base communities,” while Jaime Wright’s piece rests content in accounting for Protestant-Catholic ecumenicism as the work of the Holy Spirit. Only Mainwaring deals carefully with the current crisis in the new church; elsewhere it emerges only in brief glimpses. Marcos McGrath’s contribution, for example, raises the important question of the relative demographic weakness of the progressive church but then brushes the problem aside; Luis Ugalde’s piece points out “post-Conciliar limitations” but then allows them to remain at a high level of abstraction. It is as if the writers fear that developing a concrete, self-critical stance poses a threat to strong political commitment.
The volume also reflects weak editorial effort. The lack of a clear analytic introduction makes the book’s overall organization seem contrived and post hoc. At the very least the editors could have briefly introduced each piece, setting them and their authors in context, and the volume cries out for an analytic—or, at least, summarizing—conclusion.