AMERICAN CATHOLICS: A History of the Roman Catholic Community in the United States by James J. Hennesey

AMERICAN CATHOLICS: A History of the Roman Catholic Community in the United States

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Fr. Hennesey professes to be writing ""people history,"" but spends most of his time talking about the clergy. He's strong on statistics and church organization, but neglects popular religious culture and the ethnic experience. He admits, in a hurried sotto voce, that narrowness, defensiveness, and intellectual sterility have plagued American Catholic life, but reels off lists of Catholic achievements and famous-people-you-might-not-have-known-were-Catholic (Kit Carson, ""Mother"" Jones, etc.) in a fashion only too reminiscent of the old ghetto mentality. In a word, Hennesey is a competent and reliable scholar, but he keeps a lot of the potential color and controversy of his subject under heavy institutional wraps. He notes, for example, that ""the combination of Americanist and Modernist crises, and particularly the powerful integrist reaction which set in after 1907""--all part of a ruthless Vatican witch hunt, though Hennesey doesn't say so--""effectively put an end for the next fifty years to further development of Catholic thought in authentic American dress."" Fair enough; but then, without another word, Hennesey moves on to Catholic missionary activities around the world. When he comes to the turbulent post-Vatican II scene, Hennesey does his usual partisan but fair survey. He spotlights the anti-war protests of Daniel Berrigan, but dryly observes that most Catholics disapproved of them and within six years had forgotten who he was. He concedes that the Catholic record on racial matters is, and always has been, spotty; but he stresses the best of it, such as Archbishop Rummel's battle to desegregate the parochial schools in Louisiana. The concentrated essence of a lifetime's work, Hennesey's text is dense but not rich, filling rather than hearty fare.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press