cover image Playing God: American Catholic Bishops and the Far Right

Playing God: American Catholic Bishops and the Far Right

Mary Jo McConahay. Melville House, $27.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-68589-028-5

In this comprehensive and unsparing indictment, journalist McConahay (The Tango War) chronicles the rightward shift of America’s Roman Catholic leadership. Among other “ultraconservative” Catholics responsible for that transformation, McConahay spotlights Heritage Foundation cofounder Paul Weyrich, whose belief that “moral issues should be at the center of politics” led him “to unite the political trajectory of Catholic bishops with that of leaders of evangelical Christians.” She also profiles Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who wanted “nothing more” than to be a priest but dropped out of seminary over racist remarks, and Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan, who bankrolled a lawsuit that overturned California’s regulations regarding mandatory donor disclosures for tax-exempt charitable organizations. According to McConahay, “the belief that God desires Christians to rise to power in secular institutions so that their understanding of biblical law might govern the nation” has contributed to misogyny, Islamophobia, institutional racism, and ecological apathy among U.S. priests and bishops. Though McConahay is vague on how to right the ship, she builds a persuasive case enlivened by incisive character sketches and lucid analysis of political and religious trends. This is an intriguing and often distressing study of forces encroaching on the separation between church and state in America. (Mar.)