As the Catholic Church and its over 51 million American adherents continue to grapple with ongoing sexual abuse scandals, Catholic publishers are working to fulfill the new needs of readers who are looking for hope and support. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, many Catholics are reacting to the reports of sexual abuse and misconduct committed by clergy by scaling back on Mass attendance as well as on donations to parishes. This has prompted Catholic presses to publish books addressing the abuse scandal as well as other issues facing Catholics as a way to offer the faithful a new way forward.
Twenty-Third Publications is focusing on areas related to the clergy sexual abuse crisis and, in many cases, the Church’s attempt to cover up the actions. “There is much deeper and profound healing needed,” says Therese Ratliff, books and devotionals publisher for the press.
Following the Vatican’s global summit on sexual abuse in February, Twenty-Third released the full texts of the meeting in Awareness and Purification, the ACTS of the Meeting for the Protection of Minors in the Church. Coming on Sept. 1, is Still Unhealed: Challenges for Conversion and Reform from the Clergy Abuse Crisis which takes a medical approach to healing from the sexual abuse endemic within the church. It’s written by Nuala Kenny, Ph. D., who serves on the Canadian Bishops’ Commission entrusted with addressing the abuse crisis, and David Deane, an associate professor of theology the Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
“The final ‘diagnosis’ is that, while a ‘cure’ isn’t possible for a wound that has branded itself onto the Body of Christ, we can certainly move toward healing and health as we continue to find a way forward,” Ratliff says of the book.
Twenty-Third also sees a need for books that address today’s divisive political culture, according to Ratliff. “We’re focused on making a difference, providing a kind of a support to people who are angry, concerned, tired, and indifferent.” In August, the press will release Great Love in Little Ways: 30 Reflections on the Power of Kindness, in which poet Gunilla Norris encourages readers to make meaningful connections with others.
Orbis Books, which celebrates its 50th anniversary next year, is also responding to the Church's sexual abuse crisis as well as the political climate, while remaining committed to its mission to "accompany marginalized peoples in different cultures and profoundly difficult circumstances," according to Bernadette Price, associate publisher. For example, Orbis's The Liberating Path of the Hebrew Prophets (May) by Nahum Ward-Lev draws on Biblical wisdom for guidance on how to engage in conversations, prioritize reciprocal relationships, and more actions as a response to social turbulence. And in September, the press will release Abuse and Cover-Up: Refounding the Catholic Church in Trauma by Gerald A. Arbuckle, a Marist priest and scholar based in Sydney, Australia.
In spite of research that shows a growing discontent among Catholics regarding Pope Francis, Orbis’s The Election of Pope Francis by Gerard O’Connell (Apr.) exceeded all sales expectations, according to Price. “Pope Francis is our man in a lot of ways,” she tells PW. Orbis’s bestsellers on the Argentinian pontiff also include 2017’s Pope Francis and the Theology of the People by Rafael Luciani, and the press just released a collection of Francis’s speeches, homilies, and writings on missionary work in Go Forth.
In addition to the mission-driven titles from Orbis, Franciscan Media made the strategic decision to cut its annual output by over 60% over the past three years in order to “ensure that every book keeps our mission in focus… to spread the gospel in the spirit of St. Francis,” according to Kelly Sundberg, director of new product development for the non-profit press.
Among Franciscan’s frontlist titles is an attempt to reach younger readers in debut author John McCarthy’s The Purpose Promise, which aims to help readers find God’s purpose for their professional lives. “It’s a little bit of an experiment for us,” Sundberg says. “It’s a different audience than what we normally go after.”
Another fall title, This is the Life by Terry Hershey, taps into the popular topic of mindfulness. “It looks at living in the moment—which is such a huge trend now, of course—from a Christian perspective, and offering that kind of viewpoint has always been part of our mission,” Sundberg added.
Ave Maria Press is taking note of the mainstream “messy mom trend,” according to Karey Circosta, associate publisher and v-p of sales and marketing. The press will release two books on motherhood and spirituality in August: The Handbook for Catholic Moms by Lisa M. Hendey and Live Big, Love Bigger by Kathryn Whitaker. Also addressing issues within women’s spirituality, Loyola Press is publishing Enough As You Are by Peggy Weber (Dec.), a guide to overcoming self-doubt that draws examples from the author’s personal experiences as well as from the lives of saints.
Charlie McKinney, president of Sophia Institute Press, says sales are up 22% to date over 2018 for the press due in part to increased output and an expanded marketing team. Additionally, the press launched a new imprint in April, Crisis Publications, which is dedicated to books at the intersection of politics, culture, and the Church. One of its three inaugural titles, Infiltration: The Plot to Destroy the Church from Within by Taylor Marshall (May), is already in its second print run, according to McKinney.
Originally founded to publish traditional classics, Sophia is also now ramping up its profiles of Catholic personalities, such as The Missionary of Wall Street by New York investor Stephen Auth (Mar.) and Ask Peter Kreeft (Aug.) in which the Catholic philosopher reflects on 100 questions he’s received along his lectures and the answers he provided.
“We know the industry is changing and adaptability is the name of the game,” says McKinney. “Diversifying offerings is critical to survival.”
As Catholic readers continue to wrestle with issues surrounding the Church, publishers are keeping their ears to the ground for spirituality trends that can deepen the faith and make an impact. “We’re staying open to new things that come,” says Price at Orbis. "We want to speak to people who need more than just spiritual support, but corporeal support, who are looking for changes in their lives and society.”