The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion

Julie Byrne. Columbia Univ, $29.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-231-16676-8
In this probing study, Byrne (O God of Players), associate professor of religion at Hofstra University, provides a history and overview of independent Catholic churches in America, which have been largely invisible in the shadow of the Roman Catholic Church. Her research involved access to independent Catholic archives, surveys, clergy interviews, and years of ethnographic (“participant-observation”) field work. Biographical accounts of key historical figures, such as France’s 18th-century bishop Dominique-Marie Varlet and 19th-century bishop Joseph René Vilatte, help Byrne trace the roots of independent Catholicism in the United States, while stories about Bishops Herman and Meri Spruitt and Archbishop Richard Gundry illuminate the contemporary independent church experience. Diverse, independent Catholics share the apostolic succession of bishops, celebration of seven sacraments, and a reverence of saints. They also incorporate mysticism, though many debate “how much woo-woo was too woo-woo.” As “worker-priests,” holding day jobs and ministering without salary, clergy focus on “ ‘sacramental justice’ issues” such as ordaining women and non-celibate men and practicing open communion, which they frequently administer, upon request, to Roman Catholic laity. Byrne’s enlightening research and analysis will undoubtedly raise awareness of these little-known Catholic denominations. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/11/2016
Release date: 05/01/2016
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