Politics and Religious Authority: American Catholics since the Second Vatican Council

By Richard J. Gelm | Go to book overview

inquiry are secured. While the Roman Catholic Church is not predicated on a principle of democracy, it was forced to accept the realities of such political systems throughout the world. Through Vatican II it also endorsed the virtues of pluralism and individual freedom.

Like parents who must adjust to the maturation of their children entering adulthood, the church must change its relationship to its people in a rapidly modernizing and more sophisticated world. The discipline of the Church of the Middle Ages offered a security and stability needed to get Europe through potentially chaotic times. Widespread illiteracy rendered democratic government untenable. But with social, scientific, and economic advances, political and religious change would follow. At first reluctant to accept that change, the Church sought to tighten its grip. The Second Vatican Council, however, signified a formal reversal. The Church recognized the maturity of its people and loosened its reins. Mature adults are not receptive to orders; they must be shown the logic and reason for religious teaching. In recognition of this fact, Pope John XXIII maintained that the Church "considers that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations." 4

Attempts to go back to pre-Vatican II ways will ultimately fail. Freedom once gained is not easily relinquished. The spirit of Vatican II cannot be constrained. Especially for American Catholics, that spirit is reinforced by a 200-year-old culture of pluralism and freedom. The Church and United States Catholic bishops can continue to be effective players in American politics, influencing cultural values, but only if they accept this reality.


NOTES
1.
See David D. Laitin, "Religion, Political Culture, and the Weberian Tradition", World Politics ( July 1978), p. 572.
2.
Ibid.
3.
Quoted in Loris F. Capovilla, "Reflections on the Twentieth Anniversary," in Alberic Stacpoole, ed., Vatican II Revisited by Those who Were There ( Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1986), pp. 122-123.
4.
Ibid.

-129-

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Politics and Religious Authority: American Catholics since the Second Vatican Council
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions to the Study of Religion ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Tables ix
  • Preface xi
  • Chapter 1 Introduction 1
  • Notes 8
  • Chapter 2 Religion, Political Development, and Change 11
  • Conclusion 27
  • Notes 28
  • Chapter 3 Religious Contributions to Political Culture 33
  • Conclusion 43
  • Notes 44
  • Chapter 4 Catholic Social Teaching and the Second Vatican Council 47
  • Conclusion 60
  • Notes 60
  • Chapter 5 Politics and the U.S. Catholic Bishops 65
  • Conclusion 90
  • Notes 92
  • Chapter 6 Religion, Politics, and the Catholic Laity 99
  • Conclusion 116
  • Notes 116
  • Chapter 7 Conclusion: The Enduring Connection Between Religion and Politics 123
  • Notes 129
  • References 131
  • Index 145
  • About the Author 153
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