An eminent Catholic historian (History Emeritus/Notre Dame Univ.) tries with mixed results to examine the ways American culture and Catholicism have affected one another.
Dolan (The American Catholic Experience: A History from Colonial Times to the Present, not reviewed) is no prose stylist. His language is conventional, predictable, even pedantic and banal. Clichés are frequent, and so are dull quotations from sectarian authorities. But despite these impediments, the author provides a useful outline of the story of Catholicism in America. From the earliest pages, he establishes the central conflict between what he calls the “republican” and “monarchical” models of church authority and organization. He shows how these models have gone in and out of fashion, and he can’t hide his regret that the latter, under the leadership of Pope John Paul II (for whom Dolan appears to have little professional regard), is now ascendant. (A powerful postscript, written as news of the current sex-abuse scandal is emerging, reveals his belief that the church must permit women and married men to become priests.) Dolan examines a number of cultural issues that have greatly affected the status and role of the church in America, including immigration, wars, women’s liberation, civil rights, public education, church-and-state conflicts, and the economy. In his most engaging section, covering the past 40 years, he reveals his great admiration for John XXIII and his disdain for the conservative, authoritarian policies of the current pontiff. He does a good job, as well, of showing how Hispanic and black Catholics have affected the church as a whole. Although he addresses abortion and birth control, he does not point a way toward any resolution of these contentious issues.
In all, more patent than potent.