Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Practicing Catholic

Practicing Catholic

3.2 14
by James Carroll

See All Formats & Editions

A clear-eyed and personal examination of the Catholic faith, its leaders, and its complicated history by National Book Award–winner James Carroll


James Carroll turns to the notion of practice—both as a way to learn and a means of improvement—as a lens for this thoughtful and frank look at what it means to be Catholic. He


A clear-eyed and personal examination of the Catholic faith, its leaders, and its complicated history by National Book Award–winner James Carroll


James Carroll turns to the notion of practice—both as a way to learn and a means of improvement—as a lens for this thoughtful and frank look at what it means to be Catholic. He acknowledges the slow and steady transformation of the Church from its darker, medieval roots to a more pluralist and inclusive institution, charting along the way stories of powerful Catholic leaders (Pope John XXIII, Thomas Merton, John F. Kennedy) and historical milestones like Vatican II. These individuals and events represent progress for Carroll, a former priest, and as he considers the new meaning of belief in a world that is increasingly as secular as it is fundamentalist, he shows why the world needs a Church that is committed to faith and renewal.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Carroll, a former Catholic priest who wrote of his conflict with his father over the Vietnam War in An American Requiem, revisits and expands on that tension in this spiritual memoir infused with church history. Here, Carroll traces his life as a son of the Catholic Church, showing how he and the church changed as he moved from boyhood into adulthood. Ordained a priest in 1968, the year Humanae Vitae, the controversial encyclical on contraception, was released, Carroll discovered by 1974 that he could no longer keep his vow of obedience if it meant heeding teachings with which he disagreed. Leaving the priesthood freed him to pursue more fully his life as a writer, but also to be the kind of Catholic he believes the reformers of his church envisioned in the Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965. Although he laments what he calls the more recent "conservative reaction" to the council, he remains Catholic. Readers who, like Carroll, remain Catholic but wrestle with their church's positions on moral issues will most appreciate his story. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

This book is both a memoir of former priest and writer Carroll's life and a keen analysis of American Catholicism in the late 20th century. Carroll's An American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War That Came Between Us won the National Book Award, and his Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews-A History was an acclaimed best seller. Practicing Catholic takes readers through the liberating experience of Vatican II and finishes off with the more restricting trends of current Catholic fundamentalism. Carroll convincingly shows the church's ebbs and flows and parallels them with the era's cultural, political, and economic trends. While Carroll is critical of church leadership and its policies on many fronts, he remains faithful to the core fundamentals of gospel truth. His book is actually a loving critique of a very human institution that is both in need of salvation and simultaneously an agent of grace. Brilliant prose, historically insightful, and sincere passion remain hallmarks of the author's work. The book includes an "American Catholic Chronology" and notes. Recommended for all libraries.
—John-Leonard Berg

Kirkus Reviews
Engrossing faith memoir mirrors the changing face of American Catholicism. Novelist and former priest Carroll (House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power, 2006, etc.) sets out to understand and explain the state of Catholicism from the 1940s to the present, using his personal story as a nexus. In his view, the latter half of the 20th century was marked by this revelation: "Catholics came to understand that they themselves-not their priests, bishops, and pope-are the Church." Many would question that assessment, or at least state that it is not a global truth, but the author makes a good case that the "unchanging" Roman Catholic Church can and does change through the sheer will of its adherents. He begins by sharing childhood memories of growing up an Irish-American Catholic in the '40s and '50s, a time when Mass was celebrated in Latin, Catholics and Protestants rarely mixed and the people in the pews had no power or say. Carroll interrupted his undergraduate career at Georgetown to join an overtly American order of priests, the Paulist Fathers. His years at seminary and as a priest coincided with the Second Vatican Council and with one of America's most turbulent periods, a parallel history that the author traces with powerful effect. Becoming personally disenchanted with church teachings on celibacy, contraception, etc., Carroll left the priesthood in 1974. His account of the following decades focuses on the controversial social and religious stances of Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), as well as the reaction to their policies by Carroll and other lay people. The author's prose is occasionally too weighty-"Kennedy'speroration was my conscription," "implicit contract of coresponsibility"-but overall the book is a page-turner and offers controversial insights on modern American Catholicism. A captivating look at the Church and a call for change from within its numbers. Author tour to New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Milwaukee

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Sold by:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Sales rank:
File size:
470 KB

Meet the Author

James Carroll was raised in Washington, D.C., and ordained to the Catholic priesthood in 1969. He served as a chaplain at Boston University from 1969 to 1974, then left the priesthood to become a writer. A distinguished scholar-
in-residence at Suffolk University, he is a columnist for the Boston Globe and a
regular contributor to the Daily Beast.

His critically admired books include Practicing Catholic, the National Book Award–winning An American Requiem, House of War, which won the first PEN/Galbraith Award, and the New York Times bestseller Constantine’s Sword, now an acclaimed documentary.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Practicing Catholic 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
davelbst More than 1 year ago
James Carroll's approach to history is highly personal. In his recent historical surveys, "Constantine's Sword" and "House of War," he occasionally interspersed personal anecdotes to tie the broad sweep of historical events to his own life story and developing historical awareness. In this book, Carroll goes a step further and suggests his own story as a typical encapsulating narrative for the history of the American Catholic Church of our time. His life as a post-war Irish Catholic youth, Paulist seminarian and reform-minded, antiwar-activist priest anchors his account of the era leading up to Vatican II's aggiornamento and of the early stages of post-Council regression. But oddly, his personal narrative largely ends with his withdrawal from the priesthood in 1974. In the transition from his personal history, Carroll interweaves the background of the priestly sex-abuse scandal in Boston with the discounting of papal teaching on birth control before turning to pointed polemical diatribe against Cardinal Ratzinger / Pope Benedict. In a chapter titled "Religion and Terror" Carroll rises up as the dissident layman turned prophetic spokesman for the abandoned Conciliar reform agenda. Carroll left the priesthood to become a writer. But of his work over the next twenty-some years he has little to say. His return to religious topics was "an accidental development tied to religion's emergence as a public question in the past dozen or so years." More than likely it was undertaking a column at the Boston Globe that opened the pathway for "making public the private conclusions [he] had reached as a believer." Carroll's springboard into the final chapter on his faith as a writer is an episode once again drawn from the other side of his personal history, from shortly before his ordination. Here Carroll relates in greater detail than he did in "American Requiem" the story of his relationship with the poet Allen Tate, who had mentored Carroll as a beginning poet, and named his struggle to choose between two vocations, writer and priest. Flowing from this pivotal point in his vocational story, but standing on the other side of that choice now decades later as an accomplished writer, Carroll intertwines themes of word and meaning and language and even titles one section "Language is God." The creative medium of language, Carroll argues, somehow carries us beyond ourselves into the presence of the Word, a Christian turn of phrase, but also descriptive of the experience of Muslims in praying the Koran, or Jews in studying the Torah -- the point is the encounter with the divine beyond the mediating terms. While like Carroll we may have learned certain truths through a particular sequence of events and issues, the dramatic bias of one's role in the sequence can too easily become an endless replay of past conflicts without benefit of reaching any higher viewpoint. The inner story of a personal religious crisis of any existential authenticity surely runs much deeper than just returning to the polemical fray. Others who have gone through a similar crisis of faith and vocation have ended up in quite different positions. That there are a myriad other different paths through the same field of disillusionment contradicts Carroll's claim to universality. Once begun on a personal path, what one expected here was a more personal exploration of a particular journey toward the universal.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
dj4740 More than 1 year ago
Thoughtful slice of history of the Catholic Church since Vatican II. Easy to read - I enjoyed it and look forward to passing it on to friends.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was stimulating to me. Carroll is truly a scholar, and this volume is exceedingly well documented. I have one fault. The introduction is really all one needs if you are looking for what he means by the title. I was drawn to it, as my faith has been very empty for almost a year, and his journey, all be it more tortuous than mine, showed me how much ones search can parallel another. It took a long time to read, as the notes are extensive and worth the time. I don't think I have fulfilled my quest, but there is hope in practicing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a fan of James Carroll's earlier books. I expected this book to contain a more personal account of why he continues to be a practicing Catholic. It was a much more academic treatment of the evolution of practices in the Catholic Church. It was a good book, but not an easy read. I would recommend it to others, but enter with different expectations than I had.