American Catholic: The Saints and Sinners Who Built America's Most Powerful Churchby Charles R. Morris
The rise of Catholicism from an insignificant sect in the early nineteenth century to America's largest and most influential Church is a story filled with a cast of immensely colorful characters. Some were great and imposing. Others were comic, a few even shocking and sinister. Charles Morris recounts the rich story of the rise of the Catholic Church in America with… See more details below
The rise of Catholicism from an insignificant sect in the early nineteenth century to America's largest and most influential Church is a story filled with a cast of immensely colorful characters. Some were great and imposing. Others were comic, a few even shocking and sinister. Charles Morris recounts the rich story of the rise of the Catholic Church in America with an acute eye for the telling detail and the crucial turning points. American Catholic is not only about the saints and sinners who built the Church, but also the story of how it became the country's dominant cultural force. By the 1950s, no other institution could match its impact on unions, movies, or even popular kitsch. Protestant leaders feared the Church would "Catholicize" the entire nation. But Catholicism was always as much a culture as a religion, and the Church visibly floundered when the big-city-based Catholic culture suddenly broke down, just about the time John Kennedy became the country's first Catholic president. The last section of the book explores the Church's continuing struggle to come to terms with secular, pluralist America and the theological, sexual, doctrinal authority, and gender issues that keep tearing it apart. But, surprisingly enough, Morris's grassroots tour - from ultraconservative Lincoln, Nebraska, to more open, experimental dioceses in Saginaw and Seattle - finds Catholicism alive and well, even flourishing, at the parish level.
Morris (The AARP and You, 1996, Iron Destinies, Lost Opportunities, 1988, etc.) treats his subject with great respect and a certain wistfulness. Part I traces the path (already well trod by scholars) of Catholicism's American rise through WW I, focusing heavily on the Irish example (to the unfortunate neglect of Italians and Germans). In the rest of the book, however, Morris offers an ethnographer's clear perspective on the challenges of 20th-century Catholicism. He claims that the 1950s represented the "triumphal era" for American Catholics, who had mastered their own well-defined subculture and were venturing forth into the mainstream. (This era was symbolized in part by by the rise of Joe McCarthy, a Wisconsin Catholic who dictated the terms of patriotism in the 1950s, defining what all other Americans should be.) Yet Catholic assimilation came at the price of secularization; Morris notes that the chaos that ensued from Vatican II's massive changes had actually been brewing a decade before. Today, Morris claims, American Catholics are still trying to negotiate the legacy of Vatican II and to cope with the new institutional stresses facing their Church: Priests and nuns are aging, with few young people replenishing their ranks; a huge influx of Hispanic parishioners is challenging the norms of an Anglo religious establishment; and the debates over contraceptives, abortion, and women's roles in the church are intensifying. Through all of the current controversies, Morris finds that the vitality of the parish is relatively unchanged. It is not the grassroots, but the "middle and upper management" of the Church that needs to adapt, he asserts.
In all, a valuable synthesis of the American Catholic tradition; some of his insights on the Church's contemporary struggles are downright inspired.
- Crown Publishing Group
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- Product dimensions:
- 6.52(w) x 9.58(h) x 1.66(d)
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