John Cardinal Krol and the Cultural Revolution

By Hitchcock, James | The Catholic Historical Review, January 1997 | Go to article overview

John Cardinal Krol and the Cultural Revolution


Hitchcock, James, The Catholic Historical Review


John Cardinal Krol and the Cultural Revolution. By E. Michael Jones. (South Bend, Indiana: Fidelity Press. 1995. Pp. x, 550.)

The author of this book is not a historian. He holds a doctorate in English literature, taught briefly in a Catholic college, and for some years has been owner and editor of two magazines, Fidelity and Culture Wars. The book is selfpublished and has no footnotes. For all these reasons it might easily be dismissed by historians, but that would be a mistake.

Cardinal Krol gave Jones access to his papers, so far the only person to receive such permission, and that in itself makes the book valuable. (Presumably there are no footnotes because the papers are not catalogued.) In addition, the author has interviewed a number of people close to the scene.

At first glance the title might seem forced, yoking together two unrelated subjects with an aim toward a wider audience. But it is in fact quite accurate, since the book is not a comprehensive biography of an important postconciliar American churchman but a study of Krol's response to the continuing waves of social and religious change which began breaking not long after he went to Philadelphia in 1961.

The coincidence of the Second Vatican Council and the rise of the "counterculture" has often been noticed, and Jones interweaves the two, alternating Krol's role in Rome as a council father and his handling of unprecedented problems in his archdiocese. The contrast is enlightening, among other things showing how ideas discussed in the abstract in Rome were working themselves out in the American situation.

Jones sees Krol as perhaps the typical American bishop of his generation (and, presumably, several generations before him)-loyal to the Church to the depths of his being, but in need of having the specifics of that loyalty spelled out. He was, as Jones puts it, more comfortable building schools than deciding what should be taught in them. As a liberal religious brother put it, Krol was not deficient in intelligence so much as in imagination-he simply could not comprehend the magnitude of the cultural shifts which were taking place in both Church and society. Thus he often appeared inconsistent, unpredictable as to when he might take firm stands and when he might merely allow things to happen.

Although Jones does not emphasize the point, one way of reading Krol's episcopacy is that his very "conservatism," in a narrow institutional sense, handicapped him and caused him to underestimate the problems he faced. Thus by default some liberal positions (especially in catechetics) triumphed during his administration. (A revealing example of this mentality is the bishops' abortive attempt to dismiss Father Charles Curran from the faculty of the Catholic University of America in 1967. The entire board agreed that it should be done, but only the "liberal," scholarly Archbishop Paul J. Hallinan of Atlanta thought they should specify their objections to Curran's theology.)

Krol was the elected vice-president of the newly reorganized National Conference of Catholic Bishops, but he seemed unaware that this organization was significantly changing the way in which bishops acted, and found himself bewildered at being repeatedly outflanked by a bureaucracy which was nominally under his authority. …

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