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American Catholic: The Saints and Sinners Who Built America's Most Powerful Church Paperback – October 27, 1998

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In journalistic fashion, Morris (The AARP & You, Random, 1996) unfolds the story of the growth of the American Catholic Church and its reshaping by the faithful. He emphasizes culture over theology and focuses on leading figures of the day, especially bishops and their governing styles. A fluid writer and "cradle Catholic," Morris chronicles U.S. church history in the two parts of his work and draws from numerous archives, interviews, and popular and scholarly publications. The third part focuses on the development of major issues confronting the institutional church; he fairly objectively delineates so-called conservative and liberal views. The work is more personal in content and style than Jay Dolan's The American Catholic Experience (LJ 10/15/85) or Patrick Carey's The Roman Catholics (Greenwood, 1993). The author argues for what is most hopeful in the church, particularly its grassroots and increasing lay responsibility. Recommended for public and academic libraries.?Anna M. Donnelly, St. John's Univ. Lib., N.Y.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In magazine essays and books, Morris has covered many topics, from the arms race to AARP. Here he writes about "the rise and triumph of a culture, and of the religious crisis that has ensued in the wake of that culture's breakdown." Morris focuses on the construction of the large system of Catholic institutions that "reinforced religious/ethnic identity and protected lay people from the virus of freethinking," the goal of the Irish diaspora that arrived in the mid-nineteenth century. The "Americanist" battles of the '80s and '90s centered on these institutions, which "finessed . . . the old conundrum of how to adapt to American-style separation of Church and State by building a Catholic ministate." But the powerful U.S. Catholic Church of the 1940s and 1950s was weaker than it seemed: Catholics had assimilated; their less passionate ties to the church and its institutions encouraged current turmoil over theological, sexual, and other issues. Likely to stir debate. Mary Carroll --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Softcover Ed edition (October 27, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679742212
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679742210
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #327,723 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Charles R. Morris is a lawyer and former banker. He has written fourteen books, and is a regular contributor to Politico, Newsweek, Reuters, and many other publications.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Matt McGuiness, M.A. on July 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book has been needed for some time. If America has ever been a "Christian nation," it has certainly never been a Catholic nation. In fact, "Christian" by definition (for many Americans) excludes Catholics. (It is still common to hear evangelicals say, "I was Catholic before I became a Christian.")
Morris sheds much light on the hostility and suspicion that Catholics in America have faced. He also illustrates in a masterful way how Catholics have attempted to find a way between the desire for acceptance by the larger, Protestant culture and the desire to retain a sense of Catholic identity. This latter stance has sadly resulted in various forms of isolationism and is characterized by a failure on the part of Catholics to evangelize American culture.
Morris writes clearly and avoids unnecessary Catholic jargon. His insights are often penetrating. Throughout most of the book Morris is fair to various perspectives within American Catholic culture.
I consider this text to be "required reading" for religious studies students and students of theology; it is also highly recommended to anyone who wishes to understand the role of Catholicism in American public life.
Nevertheless, the following omissions make this a less than perfect book: (1) He limits his discussion of Catholicism to the Latin (Roman) Rite; (2) there is a curious silence concerning the questions "what is Catholicism?" or "how does Catholicism differ from Protestantism?"; (3) despite the fact that a good third of the book is devoted to events since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and the fact that Morris draws from a variety of theological points of view, he fails to address the Church's own self-understanding as articulated in the documents of Vatican II: communio ecclesiology.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By John L Murphy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 20, 2005
Format: Paperback
I put down this book the night before the papal election, exactly at the point where Morris discusses how Ratzinger actually put the rein on some of John Paul II's more forceful moves towards declaring statements blocking women's ordination as infallible; carefully nuanced exegesis by Morris reveals very subtle but nonetheless wiggle room for future movement away from some of the last pope's more dogmatic pronouncements. He fits this into a battle between cardinals and the episcopate promoting a collegial right to establish doctrine based on their accumulated experience as part of the Church's magisterium against the centralisation of papal power. This data which may indicate the new pope's ability to create flexibility despite what on surface may appear to the casual observer only more rigidity, buried inside a footnote on pg. 349, is typical of the wealth of detail--you must read the extensive endnotes as well as the text proper to appreciate how thorough has been the author's research--found in this popular yet scholarly treatment of the Church from about the mid-19 c to the late 1990s.

In retrospect, some of the concerns Morris finds diminishing in his 1997 study have only increased, such as the pedophilia (or more often adolescent boys rather than pre-teens with priests, Morris and many critics parse) scandals that grew more prominent rather than less so in the beginning of the current decade. Vocations appear to keep tumbling at least in the West; non-compliance with Catholic teaching by the rank-and-file grows in the American segment due to democratic tendencies constantly eroding the earlier, pre-assimilationist culture that codified American Catholicism mid-20 c. These tendencies, as Morris shows, created tension from the later 19 c onward, and the battles with Rome by the U.S.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 1, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is the best book on American Catholicism I have ever read. It objectively looks at the good, bad and ugly in a way few have ever done. There's a lot of warts in this book, but there also is wonderful anecdotes about our shared Catholic faith and how it evolved into what it is today!
This book told me as much about who I was, where I come from and where I am going as a Catholic as anything I've ever read. I could not put the book down and read it over and over again for the sheer joy of reading. I'm afraid I might have missed something.
The story about Dennis Cardinal Dougherty, Philadelphia's long-time Archbishop, was worth the price of admission alone. The author's story about how Cardinal Doughtery dealt with racial prejudice was compelling as was the anecdotes about the Cardinal's ego, his need to curry favor with ROme and his eccentricities. And the book provides a marvelous look at William Cardinal O'Connell of Boston, alias "Gangplank Bill," for his wintering in warm tropical locales. You sometimes wonder when the next Martin Luther would evolve after reading some of this story.
But this is just part of the story.
The assessment this book brings to contemporary conservative Catholicism was eye-opening. Those who are liberal Catholics might gag at what the book describes as happening in Lincoln, NE, but the story is real and the results quantified and quite positive. The book has considerable advice for the future and talks glowingly of how some Bishops due what we in corporate America have done for years, evaluate priestly sermons, rate them and recommend ways to better reach congregants.
Trust me, this book is not on Pope John Paul II's reading list. But is should be! The Pope could better minister to us and be a much better representative of Christ if he read it and understood who and what we are in America.
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