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Playing God: American Catholic Bishops and The Far Right Spiral-Bound | March 28, 2023

Mary Jo McConahay

★★★★☆+ from Up to 30 ratings

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How the powerful U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and its ultra-conservative allies are waging a political war on democratic norms and institutions.

Playing God, by Mary Jo McConahay, a leading Catholic journalist in the United States, is the definitive account of how the Catholic bishops are attempting to remake America in their own image, campaigning to alter democratic institutions under the guise of religious liberty, allying with major right-wing contributors, such as the Kochs and the Mercers, as well as ultra-right evangelicals whom they increasingly resemble politically. It tells the story of how these bishops – two-hundred and twenty-nine men, almost all beyond middle age and white-- fueled by Catholic “dark money” —have become one of the most formidable and reactionary forces in American society.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is one of the most powerful religious organizations supporting nationalist-populist conservatism in America today. The media have focused more on the Evangelical movement as the heart and soul of religious conservatism, or on the secular role of the Koch family. But the Catholic bishops are playing, perhaps, a more important role. They do it in partnership with some of the wealthiest lay Catholics in America, who have their own reasons for promoting an ultra-conservative, nationalist state.

Many of the bishops and their billionaire partners are staunch opponents of Pope Francis, to the point that some U.S. Catholics fear schism with Rome. The U.S. bishops recently decided their priests could deny the Eucharist to pro-abortion politicians like President Biden, probably the most famous Catholic in the world besides the pope. With their lay partners, the bishops help shepherd cases into the Supreme Court that change the law of the land, as with Roe v. Wade. These are just two recent examples of their long-term political strategy of attacking secular, liberal democracy by waging war on democratic norms and institutions.
Publisher: Melville House
Original Binding: Hardcover
Pages: 336 pages
ISBN-10: 1685890288
Item Weight: 1.71 lbs
Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.01 x 9.3 inches
Customer Reviews: 4 out of 5 stars Up to 30 ratings
"Playing God is an important book...McConahay excels in lining out the players, the money flow, and their interaction with politics and beyond." — National Catholic Reporter

"The conservative nature of the Catholic Church has long posed a challenge for postwar American Catholic liberals...McConahay admires Francis, who stands for the possibility that the church might gradually become, if not liberal, at least less conservative." — The New York Times

"...comprehensive and unsparing indictment...persuasive...This is an intriguing and often distressing study of forces encroaching on the separation between church and state in America." — Publishers Weekly

"[a] searching investigation...Dark money meets medieval thought in this intriguing expose of American Catholicism and its right discontents." — Kirkus Reviews

"Playing God is a fascinating, investigative dive into a realm of politics that is too often overlooked: the increasingly reactionary figures who dominate American Catholicism. Mary Jo McConahay, a veteran reporter who is herself Catholic, reveals her co-religionists' deep-pocketed donors, detailing how they exert a rightward pull on both the church, and on American politics at large. The story she tells is both alarming and enlightening." — Jane Mayer, author of Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.

“American democracy helped inspire a Catholic reform at the Second Vatican Council. Now reactionary American Catholics who reject that reform quicken an assault on American democracy itself - and on authentic faith. No one has explained that paradox - that danger - better than Mary Jo McConahay. Her elegant deconstruction of this political and moral tragedy is convincing and deeply alarming. A book for every Catholic concerned for faith, and for every American concerned for democracy.” —James Carroll, author of The Truth at the Heart of the Lie

“In clear-eyed prose and marshaling an army of facts, McConahay shows how radical Catholic clerics, political operatives, and businessmen have insinuated their reactionary beliefs into the mainstream. A must-read for all those who seek to understand why religious extremism is flourishing in America.” — Jake Bernstein, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Laundromat: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite

A trenchant  and necessary addition to the growing body of literature on religious extremism in the United States.  Mary Jo McConahay, a concerned Catholic, shows how a cadre of conservative Catholic bishops have pushed the American Church away from the mainstream and the humane teachings of Pope Francis, and into the toxic operations of the Religious Right.” — Anne Nelson, author of Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right
“Through extraordinary research and eye-opening stories, McConahay offers a complex, comprehensive inquiry into the U.S. Catholic bishops’ support for Christian nationalism. Playing God is a provocative, prophetic and courageous work that speaks truth to power.” — Jean Molesky-Poz, Graduate Program of Pastoral Ministries faculty member, Santa Clara University, and author of Contemporary Maya Spirituality

Mary Jo McConahay is one of the most prominent Catholic journalists in America. In the 1980s she was a legendary war correspondent covering the Central American insurgencies. She is the author of three books, including The Tango War, The Struggle for the Hearts, Minds and Riches of Latin America During World War II, (starred reviews Kirkus, Publishers’ Weekly, Library Journal), and Maya Roads, One Woman’s Journey Among the People of the Rainforest (Northern California Book Awards Best Creative Nonfiction Book, National Geographic Traveler Book of the Month, Independent Publishers Award Best Travel Memoir).

Author Residence: Los Angeles, CA

Author Hometown: Chicago, IL