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Book: In Search of an American Catholicism: A History of Religion and Culture in Tension
Author: Jay P. Dolan
Oxford University Press, NY, pp. 312

Excerpt from Jacket:

For more than two hundred years, Catholics have struggled to reconcile two sets of values, as Americans and as Catholics. In this written account, Dolan explores how Catholics have met the challenges they have faced as New World followers of an Old World faith.

The ideals of democracy and American culture in general have deeply shaped Catholicism in the United States, Dolan argues, even as far back as 1789, when the nation's first bishop was elected by the clergy (and the pope accepted their choice). Dolan follows the tension between American democratic values and Catholic doctrine, from the conservative reaction after the fall of Napoleon, to the modernist movement of the late nineteenth century, to the impact of the Second Vatican Council.

Dolan explores grassroots devotional life; the struggle against successive waves of nativism, from nineteenth-century Know Nothings to the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s; the impact and often, collision of different immigrant groups and their traditions; and the disputed issue of gender.

He shows throughout that influences have flowed in both directions; belief and church traditions have shaped Catholics' sense of citizenship, community, and public advocacy.

Today the tensions remain, as we see signs of both a resurgent traditionalism in the church in response to the liberalizing trend launched by John XXIII and a resistance to the conservatism of John Paul II.

Excerpt from Book:


The first and most persistent issue that sparked debate was the question of democracy n the government of the local church. It had first emerged at the time of the democratic revolution, and even though the hierarchy sought to abolish the trustee form of parish church government, the thirst for democracy never entirely disappeared. Where it was most visible in this period was in the parish communities of the new immigrants from Eastern Europe who sought to adapt their old-world style of parish life to the democratic culture of the United States. Like the Irish and Germans before them, these immigrant Catholics wanted to have a voice in the organization and government of the local church.

this was an entirely different issue from John Ireland's crusade to make America Catholic. This debate took place at the local parish level and engaged laymen as well as clergy. It was not about making America Catholic, but about democratizing local church government. The Polish provide the best example of how the thirst for democracy still permeated the immigrant church in the closing decades of the century.

Table of Contents:

1. Catholicism in an Age of Democracy
2. The Romanization of Catholicism
3. In Search of an American Catholicism
4. Competing Visions
5. An American Religion and a Roman Church, 1920-2001