Roman Catholicism in America

By Garneau, James F. | The Catholic Historical Review, October 2000 | Go to article overview

Roman Catholicism in America


Garneau, James F., The Catholic Historical Review


Roman Catholicism in America. By Chester Gillis. [Columbia Contemporary American Religion Series.] (New York: Columbia University Press. 1999. Pp. xi, 365. $35.00.)

Together with Islam in America by Janet Smith, this volume constitutes the first offering of a new series by Columbia University Press on religion in contemporary America. These first volumes, each focusing on a major religious group, promise the reader an examination of who the adherents are; of their beliefs, practices, and organization; and of their relationships with American society. Furthermore, and it is a theme much emphasized by Gillis with regard to Catholicism, they seek to outline how these religions and their members have been changed by American culture. The stated goal of this book is to create a broad portrait of the Catholic Church in America for the general reader as well as for students. The results are somewhat mixed.

Gillis, an associate professor of theology and Catholic studies in Georgetown University, includes seventy-two pages (two chapters) of "A Brief History of Catholics in America;' almost entirely dependent on secondary sources. He appears greatly influenced by the work of Jay Dolan, writing that John Carroll's earlier "democratic" view of the Church was abandoned after he became a bishop, and repeating the unsubstantiated assertion that in the Church of the Early Republic "the vernacular liturgy was normative" (p. 58). Brief historical contexts are also provided in the other chapters, where the emphasis is on the "Post-Vatican 11 Church," though there are several errors in these, e.g., James Hickey was created a cardinal only after the Curran affair (pp. 108-109), Anthony Bevilacqua never served as auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese of New York (p. 100), the meaning of the appointment of women as "deacons" in the Early Church is still a disputed historical point (p. 101), and Pius MI's encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu certainly did not call upon Catholic biblical scholars to employ "the historical-critical methods that had long been used by Protestant scholars" (p. …

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