Review by Dr Pravin Thevathasan
The Decline & Fall of the Catholic Church in America
by David Carlin
This is an excellent analysis of the decline and fall of the Catholic Church in America since the end of the Second Vatican Council. The author is a professor of sociology and has excellent credentials to make this study.
Carlin examines the various factors that led to this disintegration. Before the Second Vatican Council, there were tight-knit Catholic communities. I remember talking to elderly and not so elderly Catholics who told me how they met their spouses at various Catholic events. These supportive Catholic communities started to disintegrate in the sixties as Catholics chose to become members of an increasingly secularised wider community. In a similar way, Catholics embraced the sexual revolution of the sixties. Finally, there was a false understanding of the Second Vatican Council including a widespread belief that the Council taught that Catholicism was just one religion among many.
The author notes that America was founded on Protestant principles that were broad enough to accommodate a variety of denominations.
Nevertheless, America was a Christian nation until the sixties. Following the Second Vatican Council, Catholics entered the public square just when the public square was moving away from its Judaeo-Christian identity.
Catholics had the choice of Christianising the secular culture or be secularised by it. Many Catholics chose the latter and not surprisingly left the Church or tried liberalising it.
Catholics had to now decide what they had in common with secularists, not with Protestants. Hence the decline and fall. The author has argued that this crisis is cultural, not theological. He believes that the documents of the Second Vatican Council were misused in order to secularise the Church.
But it could be legitimately argued that there were enough ambiguities in the documents themselves that led to the secularisation of the Church.
When one reads the document on the liturgy, it could certainly be interpreted in a Catholic way. But it could also be interpreted in a radically secular way.
Carlin wrote this book back in 2003. Since then we have witnessed a collapse of the Catholic Church. President Biden represents the culmination of the American Catholic dream. He also happens to be the most pro-abortion president in the history of the United States.
If only Catholics had looked carefully at the liberal Protestant denominations they are trying so hard to emulate, institutions that are in danger of disappearing altogether. Such institutions fail to nourish our souls.
Carlin is calling Catholics to be counter-cultural. Catholics need to stay married. Catholic priests need to behave like Catholic priests and stop dancing around the aisle. If parishioners want to be entertained, there are better places to go on a Sunday than churches.
I believe Carlin is right. Some people may point to the sex abuse crisis to try and explain the decline and fall. But the sex abuse crisis was itself a symptom of the secularism that has infected the Church since the ending of the Second Vatican Council. What is now needed is for the Church to go out into the world to proclaim the Good News. The Good news is on the inside, not outside.