Competent survey of historical and current dilemmas faced by Catholics in America.
McGreevy (History/Notre Dame; Parish Boundaries, 1996) begins with Boston’s Eliot School Rebellion, which in 1859 pitted the public school system against a group of 300 Catholic schoolboys who refused to recite the King James Bible version of the Ten Commandments. While the differences in wording were minor, the implications were not, and the incident proved emblematic of future showdowns, not infrequently over issues of schooling, between the “nondenominational” Protestant majority and an increasingly “ethnic” Catholic minority. The author shows why, in the words of leading 19th-century Catholic intellectual Orestes Brownson, a faithful follower was expected to make “himself a foreigner in the land of his birth.” McGreevy’s timeline touches the nearly regular intersections where Roman Catholic teaching and the secular majority diverge on the foremost issue of the age, beginning with opposition to the abolition of slavery. He goes on to examine the historical context surrounding the Church’s stands on the sides opposite most Americans concerning liberty, social liberalism, war, abortion, personal freedom, birth control, euthanasia, and other controversies, including the current pedophilia scandals. He also delves deeper than the rhetoric and vitriol of the public record to suggest the role that Catholics’ underlying beliefs played in their often adamant refusal to join the Protestant mainstream. The first major divergence centers on the incompatibility of a theological view that stresses a hierarchy of obedience and America’s “Protestant culture begun in dissent.” The second variance results from the Church’s insistence on a constancy of belief amid the “degeneracy of the modern world,” a position guaranteed to keep it in opposition to a culture of constant change that offers a full assortment of personal liberties without concomitant social responsibilities.
No apologist, McGreevy offers a balanced approach that proves informative and challenging for Catholic and non-Catholic alike. (21 illustrations)