‘I do not believe’, wrote Bertrand Russell, a man famous for his hostility to all religion, ‘there is a single saint in the whole calendar whose saintship is due to work of public utility’. In Earthly Mission, Robert Calderisi sets out to prove him wrong. Whether he does so is open to question.
Calderisi’s credentials for such a task are impeccable. He is a gay practising Catholic who left the Church for ten years after the papal letter on birth control in 1968 and he has spent much of his life working for the World Bank. He dreams, he says, of the day when a woman might become pope. He describes his own faith as ‘hopeful, hesitant and humble rather than heroic’. His concern in this book is with the extent to which the Catholic Church, with its 1.2 billion members, 5,000 bishops, 400,000 priests and 750,000 nuns, has contributed to the social good of the world through education, health programmes and charity. For his research, he visited 14 developing countries and read his way through countless reports and archives. Earthly Mission is aimed at the ‘general reader with an interest in international affairs and an open mind about religion’.
Much of what Calderisi describes is indeed admirable, and his decision to focus on individuals within the Catholic Church – nuns and missionaries as well as popes and cardinals – makes for lively reading. It is not surprising to find that high on the list of the people he most