The American Catholic Church

Article ID: DC170-1 | By: Kenneth R. Samples

The following is an excerpt from article DC170-1, “What Think Ye of Rome?” from the Christian Research Institute. The full PDF can be downloaded by following the link below the excerpt.

The American Catholic ChurchJust as Americans in general exhibit a different ethos from the rest of the world, American Catholics have a mindset distinct from other Catholics. Generally speaking, American Catholics tend to be both more independent and more selective in their practice of Catholicism. This attitude certainly contributes to the fact that many American Catholics follow their conscience over church authority, especially when it comes to some of the issues regarding sex and personal lifestyle. In fact, in 1990 the National Conference of Catholic Bishops was so concerned about the inroads the pro-choice element was making into the American church that it hired a public relations firm to “jazz up its public appeal on the abortion issue.”23 (This was the same public relations firm, by the way, that handled former President Ronald Reagan!) Russell Chandler comments on the extent of this American Catholic individualism:

American Catholics are more likely to follow their own conscience or personal preference than to assent unquestioningly to papal pronouncements. In no area is this more true than matters of sex and lifestyle. Not only do a large majority of U.S. Catholics disapprove of the church’s teaching against contraception, they also favor a limited pro-choice position on abortion. And many Catholics agree with dissident theologian Father Charles Curran who says that homosexual behavior, masturbation, premarital sex, and divorce aren’t always sinful. (About one-fourth of U.S. Catholics have been divorced and a half of these have remarried.)24

This is certainly powerful evidence that American Catholics tend to think for themselves. The fact is, there is a defiant attitude among a significant number from the clergy down to the general laity.25 This also seems to illustrate just how strong the cultural and liberal factions of Catholicism are within the American church. American Catholicism, like American Christianity as a whole, suffers from a growing secularization of both society and the church. The American Catholic Church- Priest ShortagesAnother area of great concern in Catholicism worldwide, but especially in America, is the growing shortage of priests and nuns. One estimate reported that one out of ten U.S. parishes had no regular priest in 1990.26 What has made this problem more acute is the fact that the American church continues to experience rapid growth. The church’s demand concerning celibacy is the central reason given for men not entering the priesthood. This would only seem to exacerbate the already explosive issue of women’s ordination. However, on the positive side, this shortage of clergy has led to a great increase of lay involvement in ministry. As of 1989, an “authorization allows bishops to designate a deacon, non-ordained sister, brother, or lay member to lead prayers, read Scripture, preach, and perform a Communion service if bread and wine consecrated by a priest is available.”27 In today’s church, the laity is performing many of the duties once performed exclusively by the priest. A continuing bright spot for American Catholicism is its educational system. From elementary schools to colleges, the Catholic church has some of the best educational institutions in the country. Having gained some appreciation and understanding of many of the facets of contemporary Roman Catholicism, we are now in a position to examine Catholicism from a theological perspective.