The Journalist as Theologian

A Tribute to Gregory Baum

Their number is not legion, and it continues to dwindle. The few remaining Second Vatican Council Fathers alive today are in their nineties, and their able theological experts—the periti—not far behind. But at least one in this august company is not going quietly into the good night of retirement: Gregory Baum, mathematician, theologian, ex-Augustinian friar, celebrated dissenter, and pioneering sociologist of religion.

Baum is a genial man perpetually surprised to find himself at the center of controversy. It is a sign of either enduring naïveté or dauntless optimism that he has never fully realized how provocative candor from someone in his position can be. Take, for instance, the 1996 interview in which he diagnosed the Roman Catholic Church as suffering a governance crisis of staggering proportions. Well before the clerical sex-abuse scandal, the controversy of Benedict XVI’s Regensburg address, and the divisive rehabilitation of dissident Lefebvrists, Baum likened the church to “a company that becomes so big that it can’t be run anymore.” Any management consultant, he asserted provocatively, would take one look at the Catholic Church and “even without any highfalutin spiritual liberal ideas...[he] would say, ‘This is simply impossible. You have to decentralize, you have to delegate. You need a different system.’”

Such convictions would seem to befit a professionally trained sociologist looking at the Roman Catholic Church as an institutional...

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