Many Catholics blame Vatican II for the woes of the Catholic Church in America. Traditionalists claim that changes in the Mass brought on the decline while liberals say it was caused by failure of the Church to bring its theology in step with the times.
In this groundbreaking study, David Carlin challenges both views. The roots of the crisis in America are not theological, he says; they're cultural. Forty years ago the Church in America unwittingly sailed into a perfect storm spawned by the unprecedented confluence of three powerful social forces.
Changes introduced by Vatican II unsettled the self-identity of American Catholics just as their improved social status began to draw them from their Catholic enclaves into full communion with American culture. Then, as they struggled to adjust to unfamiliar roles in the Church and in society, American culture shifted out from under them, abandoning its traditional Protestant character to become openly secularist, libertine, and boldly anti-authoritarian.
American Catholicism might have withstood one of these transformations, says Carlin, or perhaps even two. But together, the three combined into a perfect storm that capsized the Church in America.
Demoralized and adrift, American Catholics forged a compromise with their new secular culture. They downplayed specifically Catholic elements of their faith. They stopped seeing Catholicism as the one true Church to which all are called and came to think of it as just another denomination among many.
That led to a widespread loss of Catholic identity in America, a general weakening of fidelity to Catholic doctrine, and the exodus of many from the Church.
Carlin shows that it has taken more than bad priests, weak bishops, and liturgical abuses to cripple this once formidable institution; it will take more than good priests, strong bishops, and a reverent liturgy to save it. Fundamental changes must be made. Unfortunately, Carlin's diagnosis leaves little reason to hope the American Church can make those changes soon enough to save itself.
The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America takes you past the lurid headlines to reveal the fundamental reasons for the collapse of Catholicism in America. It's essential reading for anyone who hopes to rebuild the Church.
"Among books that attempt to analyze and prescribe for the crisis in American Catholicism, David Carlin's stands out for its uncompromising religious orthodoxy and its hard-headed sociological realism. He explains accurately how we got into this mess and what will have to be done — supposing it can be done this late in the game — to get out of it." Russell Shaw