New book examines conservative Catholics, and it isn’t pretty

By Michael Sean Winters, 12 June 2024
Image: Grant Whitty/Unsplash


Francis Maier, longtime aide and amanuensis to former Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Chaput, tells the reader of his new book, True Confessions: Voices of Faith from a Life in the Church, that it is “a snapshot of the Catholic Church in the United States in the third decade of the 21st century: Who she is; where she is culturally; how she got there; and her prospects for the future, with a special emphasis on the lay vocation.” What Maier does not tell you, but which becomes evident pretty quickly, is that the lens of his camera only takes in a small — I had almost written narrow — slice of the picture of that church in this moment.

The book consists of a series of interviews with bishops, clergy, laity who work in the church, parents, donors and new Americans. Maier starts with the bishops. Oddly, he doesn’t include the questions he posed to the bishops, only their replies, and they are not identified by name. This anonymity soon becomes deeply problematic.

The interviews with other Catholics are similarly revealing. The section on families who have adopted children shows that Maier’s interlocutors are capable of sketching a multidimensional picture when they discuss their family life, but when the conversation turns to the church, everything is kind of flat and rote.

Maier’s book is useful insofar as it provides an insider’s look at the conservative wing of the Catholic Church. There is more energy, more money and more organization than anything on the Catholic left, and not all that energy, money and organization is badly spent. The Lord Jesus can find a home in conservative hearts as well as liberal ones, and some of the initiatives and ideas you find in this book are fine. But they are also overshadowed by the animus towards Francis, the bizarre paranoid fears of the government, the hubris of Tim Busch and the idolatry of previous popes held by Julie McGurn.

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With thanks to the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) and Michael Sean Winters, where this article originally appeared.


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