Soc 461/561

Lecture 22:  Catholicism in the United States

May 19, 1999



Three Propositions of Secularization Theory
  1. Differentiation
  2. Decline
  3. Privatization


From a private minority to largest multi-ethnic, public denomination

    Four factors:

  1. Historically minority religion in predominantly Protestant country;
  2. W/ constitutional equal protection under law, it’s become largest denomination in America;
  3. Multiethnic, immigrant national church; &
  4. Both Roman and American (cf. Du Bois’ double consciousness).


Being Catholic & American (cf. Du Bois’ "double consciousness")


Once forced to confront modernity; issue now is how to modernize.


John Courtney Murray, We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition:

… people can live a life of reason, exercise their birth right of freedom, and assume responsibility for judgment, direction, and correction of the course of public affairs. It is implied that there is an authentic and exalted human value in this commission to the people of the right to self-government.


New understanding of relation between religion and world


Private faith can no longer leave secular public matters alone & spiritual truths are no longer immune from free, critical inquiry.


American Public Catholicism after Vatican II Aggiornamento (i.e., to bring up to date)


Three events above all exemplify "new type of public Catholicism:

  1. 1983 Pastoral Letter, The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response;
  2. 1986 Pastoral Letter, Economic Justice for All: Catholic Social Teaching and the
  3. U.S. Economy; &

  4. public interventions of American bishops in politics of "abortion" after
  1. 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision & their involvement in electoral
  2. politics since 1976 presidential elections.
historical background;
nature & character of these events as public events; &
their social consequences.

To explain emergence of American "public" Catholicism, Casanova starts by pointing out that Vatican II led to radical transformation of American Catholicism.


Catalyzing effects of 1973 Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade
Expansion of welfare state
Shift in party politics.

Emergence of the New Christian Right

Struggles within hierarchy & within laity over correct structure of authority or system of government of church (187).
Significant difference between Pastoral Letters & bishops’ statements on abortion.
Vastly different forms of moral discourse.
Key Point: differentiation of legality and morality


Mario Cuomo on "Religious Belief and Public Morality": need to make a distinction between morality & legality in modern pluralistic societies.


Key: relationship between religious doctrines, individual conscience, private and public morality, legality, and politics.


Challenge to liberal and secular claims that religion ought to be restricted to an allegedly provate religious sphere.


Legitimation of moral discourse in political & economic spheres