cover image Roman Catholicism in America

Roman Catholicism in America

Chester Gillis. Columbia University Press, $75 (366pp) ISBN 978-0-231-10870-6

In this new study, Gillis (Pluralism: A New Paradigm for Theology) provides a broad overview of the history and practice of Catholicism in America at the end of the 20th century. He attempts to offer an explanation of Roman Catholicism and its rites and practices for an American public for whom, he says, Roman Catholicism's doctrine and polity remain a mystery. In addition, the author examines the tensions between Roman Catholicism's universality (its doctrines, dogmas and papal encyclicals that are the same worldwide) and its particularity (the ways in which the American Church interprets these universal principles for its particular context). In his opening chapter, Gillis combines sociological analysis and case studies to answer the question ""Who are American Catholics?"" He offers five categories that describe the variety of contemporary Catholics: ""By the Rules Catholics,"" ""Bend and Break the Rules Catholics,"" ""Ignore the Rules Catholics,"" ""Rules Don't Pertain to Me Catholics,"" and ""Don't Know the Rules Catholics."" Gillis then provides a historical overview of the development of the Catholic Church in America from colonial times to the present, including brief glimpses of the popes and other religious leaders who played significant roles in shaping that history. Final sections explore specific Catholic teachings and beliefs, ranging from the infallibility of the pope to the Sacraments and the ways in which American Catholics incorporate these beliefs into their practice. One appendix includes brief profiles of selected American Catholics from the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin to film star Martin Sheen. Another offers a time line highlighting events in American Catholic history from 1634 to the present. Gillis's inviting prose and discerning insights make this a fine introduction to American Catholicism. (July)