Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

An Historian's Creed and the Emergence of Postconciliar Culture Wars

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

An Historian's Creed and the Emergence of Postconciliar Culture Wars

Article excerpt

Describing the contrasting visions of two Bay Area Catholic groups in their reception and interpretations of Vatican II, the author traces their roots back to different understandings of the relationship between the Church, social order, and the practice of the faith. The emergence of these visions presaged the development during the 1980s of ecclesial "culture wars." The author argues that these developments challenge the believing historian both to examine the relationship between the Church and political advocacy groups and to describe analytically the wide range of views that compose Catholic identity. He asks how this historical ratio might inform our ecclesial fides were the historian to be given and to assume a public responsibility in the Church.

"History is little more than a record of the miseries inflicted on the many by the passions of the few."1 These sardonic words, written into a description of the Roman military occupation of third-century Britain by John Lingard, the first modern historian of England, might seem a strange way to begin these few reflections on the course of the Catholic Church in the contemporary United States. They do, however, capture in a short sentence several historical developments that began to mark the public life of the community in the immediate postconciliar period and continue to mark it to the present day: the formation of small but fortified ecclesial groups, the struggle for the control of public space through the strategic placement of forces, the passions unleashed on the many through the images, structures, and alliances established by the few.T o be sure, such a description does not encompass all of the contemporary story of American Catholicism, nor even the most significant part of it. Yet having spent the last ten years of my own research life wandering through archives throughout the United States, I have the impression that images of struggle and the passions unleashed by competing parties will form a central part of the legacy confronting any future historian of the Church. As I was taught many years ago by my own mentor and predecessor in this office, Monsignor John Tracy Ellis,"suppressio veri est assertio falsi" (suppression of the truth is assertion of the false).2 And by almost any accounting-from the time of the incorporation of English into the public language of the Church on the first Sunday of Advent, 1964, through the media-driven debates over religious authority and the shaping of the moral order governing our life together as citizens, to the internal trench warfare that marked the Church of the 1980s and concluding with the political debates over the reception of communion by public officials-passions and ideological kinship groupings have woven their way into the fabric of the community at all levels; and they have, in turn, striven to shape the lives of the many. We have come to call this development, in its broadest dimensions, "culture wars."3 Within the Church itself, the reality begs for some historical description as to its origins, development, and impact; it also raises questions for its religious student as to the central articles shaping the creed of an historian who is at the same time a believer. It is both of those areas-historical description and analysis and the creed of the historian-that I would like to begin to address in this essay.

The Emergence of Postconcillar Culture Wars

I. A Case Study

Let us imagine ourselves as visitors to a local suburban church in San Anselmo, California, just north of San Francisco. It is the Saturday before Election Day in late October 1964. We watch as the parishioners parade in and out of the confessional and are surprised when one distraught and angry woman emerges from the ritual of forgiveness. She is a friend of ours, a fellow member of the Body of Christ. Frances Bodeen (1915-1992) is forty-nine years old, born in Aberdeen, South Dakota.4 A woman educated in parochial school and trained in nursing, she migrated with her husband to California after World War II. …

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