“I write as a victim …….to modernity” says Dominic Kirkham. “As one who was brought up a Roman Catholic, received all my education in Catholic institutes, becoming a teacher and then – after seemingly interminable years at a seminary – being ordained as a priest, and spending nearly thirty years in a religious order, the challenge of new ways of thinking, and the changes that were introduced by the church as a result, have been a particular concern and constant undercurrent.
Pope Pius X in 1907 declared ‘modernism’ to be a threat to the RC church – it was ‘the synthesis of all heresies’, pernicious for being insidious. An almost McCarthyite atmosphere prevailed in the church for much of the 20th century, when efforts of modernisers could lead to virtual excommunication. Kirkham notes that the present Pope Francis’ criticism of the Vatican curia as suffering from ‘spiritual Alzheimer’s’ correctly characterises the traditional old-fashioned viewpoint.
The failure of the church to modernise under Pope John Paul, eg the literalist insistence on the reality of Adam and Eve and Original Sin, was not credible for Kirkham in comparison with evolutionary biology’s account of how humanity came to be, with all its faults. This thoughtful account of an intelligent man’s evolution towards humanism and the development of ideas in the modern world is most interesting.