The ongoing changes and challenges in our Church have
ushered in a spate of new books and re-introduced others,
which while recent, were written prior to or were just
published in 2001. Given two recent VOTF experiences,
the Structural Change Working Group progress with a
Parish Pastoral Council primer and the widespread distribution
of a letter by three priests that challenges VOTF's
Catholicism, readers might benefit from some objective,
scholarly and readable thinking on just who we are -
Roman Catholics within the American experience. Jesus
asked "Who do you say I am?" (Mt 16:13-20). The question
has led Catholics to a path of self-inquiry not only
by prayer and reflection but by the research and lucid
thinking of our fellow Catholics - theologians, professors
of Catholic history, researchers and canon lawyers.
Two books in particular seem timely for In the Vineyard
readers: American Catholics - Gender, Generation
and Commitment by William V. D'Antonio et al., and
In Search of American Catholicism - A History of
Religion and Culture in Tension by Jay P. Dolan.
Both books are scholarly, readable and illuminating
and have the added benefit of being succinct.
D'Antonio, Davidson, Hoge and Meyer are distinguished
sociologists who use national surveys of Catholics to
examine the issues that define Catholicism for Americans.
This book is a study - it spells out "who we say we
are" with clarity and great respect for the differences
among and between the age groups surveyed and their
respective experiences. Among other findings, they note:
"…creedal beliefs are much more important in defining
a good Catholic than weekly churchgoing or obedience
to Church rules….Catholic lay people distinguish between
what they see as God's law and Church law. The former
is the valid criterion for who is a good Catholic."
Jay P. Dolan is Professor Emeritus of History at the
University of Notre Dame. His book places the D'Antonio
study in its American historical context, i.e., Where
did we come from? In so doing, Dolan grounds the current
dialogue about our direction as a People of God within
the experience of a Roman Catholic struggle or, as the
publisher notes, "…how Catholics have met the challenges
they faced as New World followers of an Old World religion."
Dolan writes," The ahistorical approach of traditional
Scholastic theology with its emphasis on the immutability
of Catholic dogma gave way to a methodology that emphasized
the historical conditioning of religious truths. Scholars
acknowledged that culture can indeed shape religion."
It should be noted that both books honor Vatican II,
in particular its documents Lumen Gentium, the
Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, and the
Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern
World as pivotal in the maturation of our Catholicism.
Lest one think either book succumbs to one-sided speculation,
here's Dolan on culture and religion: "It (Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World)
not only recognized the importance of culture in shaping
religion, but it also underscored the need for religion
to transform culture. As a result, dialogue between
Catholicism and modern culture began." It is this transforming
experience that is documented in D'Antonio's work.
Where does VOTF come in? The VOTF Structural Change
Working Group primer on Parish Pastoral Councils grew
out of the promise of Vatican II but also from the new
code of canon law issued in 1983, which, for the first
time, recommended such councils. The priests' letter
and David O'Brien's response grew out of the same history
documented and quantified in these two books. Again,
one faith - many voices. This is who we are.
the Vineyard welcomes your feedback on either or
both of these books. Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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