The Catholic Church in Mississippi, 1911-1984: A History

By Michael V. Namorato | Go to book overview

Part II
Clergy, Religious, and Laity

Vatican II changed the Catholic Church in a variety of very fundamental ways. Perhaps among the most important was the way the council redefined the church as an entity in and of itself. From this point on, Vatican II proclaimed that the Catholic Church was the "People of God." The concept was to be all-inclusive. Not only popes, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests, and religious were to be included in this new perception, but the laity, men, women and children, married and unmarried--all were now part of the "People of God." Thus, as bishops led dioceses in policy making, implementation of church rules and dogmas, and a number of other issues, priests, religious, and the laity would do more than just carry out those decisions. They were all to be actively involved in helping to formulate policies as well as responsible for carrying them out. Such a new perspective was to be applied in all areas of church life. For the Mississippi Catholic Church, this translated into working with, assisting, and helping the bishops in every way possible. Just as Bishops Gunn, Gerow, and Brunini defined their goals and objectives, the clergy, religious, and the laity did their part as well. 1

If there was one characteristic that the state of Mississippi and the Mississippi Catholic Church had in common, it was change. In both the state and the church, change was occurring everywhere in both of their internal and external lives. For the state of Mississippi, those changes crossed all parameters of its existence.

Politically, the state experienced significant changes in its voter makeup as well as in its political preferences. Here, the federal government's growing commitment to civil rights had its long-term effects. On a practical level, this translated very clearly into new patterns of behavior. In 1900, for example, practically no African American voted in Mississippi, given poll taxes, literacy tests, and Jim Crowism. Even by 1960, only 5 percent of the black population was registered to vote. However, as a result of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, all of that changed. By 1984-1985, 76 percent of the African-American population in Mississippi was registered to vote, and Mississippi had a significant number of black officials in state

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