American Catholics often lamented — at least until the governmental attack on our First Amendment rights shook us all awake last Fall — that our bishops don’t say much that matters to us in our ordinary lives. However, several bishops who are attempting to provide us with timely guidance have contributed to “The Shepherd’s Voice Series,” including one of my favorites, Phoenix’ Bishop Thomas Olmsted (“Catholics in the Public Square“).

I received for review (a shameful amount of time ago — mea culpa!), from The Catholic Company, Cardinal Justin Rigali’s entry into the series, “Let the Oppressed Go Free: Breaking the Bonds of Addiction.” Even though it is short and seems sound to me, I had trouble plowing through it and would have a hard time recommending it to anyone in the grip of an addictive demon.

The problem is, I think, that the book wants to be both academic and practical; the cardinal wants to address students and addicts, and probably reaches neither. The student would find the hokey Q and A style grating, superficial, and disorderly, while the addict would find the very section headings dull and pointless (”Part II: The Importance of a Robust Christian Anthropology,” followed by “Part III: Initial Appraisal of Problems Posed by the Internet”).

The cardinal falls into bishop-speak, too. On page 36, he refers to “the proclivity of the masculine gender to the visual stimulation of sexual desire.” My guess is that a guy struggling with a porn addiction wouldn’t find that wording helpful — and he might not even realize that he’s under discussion!

Though I’m glad the cardinal broaches Internet addiction — my original interest in requesting this title for review — he envisions it solely as addiction to online gambling and pornography, not taking obsessions with social networking, chat, fantasy sports, celebrity gossip, and other such things into account.

A better book about the practical issues of online addictions is “Breaking Free of the Web.”

“Let the Oppressed Go Free” ends with a cursory discussion of the Catholicity of the Serenity Prayer and the 12 Steps. I would imagine that a brief Google search would turn-up the same sort of information about the cycle of addiction and methods of recovery within the Catholic Church. This book would have been helpful had it gone beyond evident or easily-found information and provided the addict a detailed program for recovery, or even had it been written as a properly-formatted academic paper for students training to help addicts.

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