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Practicing Catholic by James Carroll

Practicing Catholic by James Carroll



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From a National Book Award-winning and bestselling author, James Carroll's examination and explaination of why he is till a practicing catholic, set against the history of the Catholic Church in America and the sometimes glorious, sometimes discouraging actions of its leaders.
From a National Book Award-winning and bestselling author, James Carroll's examination and explaination of why he is till a practicing catholic, set against the history of the Catholic Church in America and the sometimes glorious, sometimes discouraging actions of its leaders.

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Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on Mar 20, 2009
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved


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Why am i a catholic
? There are a thousand ways to answer thatquestion, and this book will take up many o them. By its end, therewill be one answer. I will move through the three phases o my lie as aCatholic — rom my youthul ormation, in an immigrant amily thatmagnicently achieved its assimilation; to my time as a seminarianand priest, which coincided with the unexpected hope o the SecondVatican Council; to lie ater the priesthood, a time when the limits o assimilation into the American consensus showed themselves, and thereorms o the council were repudiated, but when I discovered a ardeeper meaning o the aith.This book has the orm o a personal and historical essay aboutthe Catholic Church in my lietime — rom the ull fower o the aux- medieval Catholicism into which I was christened, through the heady arrival o an Irish- American subculture in the Kennedy era, the glori-ous witness o a humanist pope, the rightening dislocations o as-sassination and war, the crisis o authority over sexual morality, thepolitical power-brokerage symbolized by a pope who helped end theCold War, the ironic collapse o post–Vatican II Catholic identity aterthat “arrival,” the stunning betrayal o the priestly sexual-abuse scan-dal, to the end o narrow denominationalism that sets Catholic Chris-tians against Orthodox and evangelical Christians. Ater 9/11, unda-mental assumptions o Islam came quickly into question, but so didthe assumptions o every religion. Like millions o Catholics, my aithhas been shaken by the events o our time. We have had to announce,
004504_Carroll_Book_APP.indb 11/7/2009 2:18:41 PM
2 introduction
“The Church is dead,” while searching or a way to declare, “Long livethe Church.”I trace the large drama o major shits that aect the whole Ameri-can people, but do so by telling a personal story that is rmly locatedin part o the nation’s lie. Though centered in one person’s experi-ence,
Practicing Catholic 
is less a amily memoir than a religious andcultural history, addressed to every one concerned with questions o belie and disbelie. Apart rom the museums that anchor the greatcities o Europe and America, the Roman Catholic Church is what re-mains o “Christendom,” the generating aesthetic and intellectual tra-dition o Western civilization. Oshoots o the Protestant Reorma-tion claim that same Christian heritage, but the Catholic Church, inits institutional DNA i not its ideology, has served as the vehicle orcarrying key elements o the Roman Empire orward into history,much as Rome carried the achievements o ancient Greece orward.Even today, in its organization, judicial system, o cial language, at- tachment to material culture, and elevation o the classic virtues, theChurch embodies that rst
Leaving theology aside or the moment, this worldly rootedness hasbeen a source o the Church’s exceptional longevity as well as o itsglobal reach. The diocesan structure o its organization, or exam- ple — with bishops and cardinals exercising over local churches an au-thority derived rom the transcendent power center — is a repetitiono Rome’s proconsul method o governance. The way the Church’s -nances are organized, with independent dioceses eeding support to that center; the way the Church’s diplomacy is structured, with papallegates dispatched to world capitals; the way the cult o the leader ismaintained, with the bishop o Rome regarded as the deity’s vicar —all o this echoes the methods o the imperium, a system that is other-wise long gone.St. Peter’s Basilica, ater all, is an architectural duplication o thepalace o the emperor; indeed, the word “basilica” derives rom thebasil wreath with which, in primordial Rome, the ruler was crowned.Meanwhile, Catholic doctrine is grounded in philosophical propo-sitions that came into their own in the ancient world, which is why any revision o that doctrine — is it even possible? — would amountto an extraordinary intellectual and spiritual transormation. Downthrough the ages, the tension between the papacy and the councils
004504_Carroll_Book_APP.indb 21/7/2009 2:18:41 PM

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upstairsgirl reviewed this
Rated 4/5
The thesis of Carroll's half-memoir, half-history of the Catholic Church of the last seventy years has as its thesis that the laity need to relcaim their faith from the hierarchy - specifically, that the laity need to reclaim and insist upon maintaining the legacy of Vatican II against the assualts of a reactionary papacy. Carroll describes his own spiritual journey in the context of pre- and post-Vatican II notions of what it means to be Catholic and to be "saved," and does a good job of explaining how his own experience fits in to both the larger Catholic and larger American cultural experience during that time. He beleives that leaving the church in protest is not the answer, and for him it may not be. He does, however, lay bare a number of twentieth and twenty-first century failings of the ecclesiastical hierarchy that force one to consider where one stands in relation to it. The book is a dense, intense read, and presumes a fair amount of historical and religious knowlede on the part of the reader. But it's well-footnoted and indexed, and contains a lot of interesting suggestions for further reading as well. Carroll is an engaging writer, and while his own experience definitely forms the core of the story he is telling, he remains fairly humble about that experience, and open about his own failings and changes of heart. I highly recommend it.
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