The Self-Inflicted Wounds of American Catholicism

Catholics and the American Public Order "

By Joseph A.Varacalli
Lexington Books, 2000


In his Foreword to this brilliant study and handsomely printed work capsuling much scholarly research, Dr. Stephen Krason, president of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists, pays due tribute to his co-worker Dr. Joseph A. Varacalli, by characterizing him as "probably America's premier Catholic sociologist." A Professor of Sociology at Nassau Community College, SUNY, and a co-founder of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists, Varacalli has proved to be one of the most acute analysts of the cultural dynamics of American Liberalism and the latter's effects on the religious behavior of millions. In "Bright Promise, Failed Community" he brings a wealth of knowledge to bear on the state of contemporary American Catholicism.

A number of eminent Catholic philosophers and theologians (Louis Bouyer, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Jacques Maritain, Cardinals Danielou, Du Lubac, Siri, Ratzinger, and Hans Urs von Balthasar, to mention but a few of the best known), and such social thinkers as Msgr. George Kelly and Prof. James Hitchcock have diagnosed with great clarity the heresies and errors of that neo-Modernism which would explode in the Church after Vatican II. American Catholics would soon encounter them in such best-selling works as the "Dutch Catechism" and "Christ Among Us" which would form for years the staple thinking of thousands of priests, seminarians, and catechists.

Now, in this study, a sociologist plies his trade to provide the average Catholic with a solid assessment (buttressed by the tools of modern social science) of the present condition of American Catholicism and its lamentable failure to leaven American society with Catholic social teaching or to shape the American public order for the common good. With regard to much recent discussion concerning a "Catholic moment" in American history, Dr. Krason observes that "Varacalli is entirely correct that there has never been a 'Catholic moment' in American history, not even in the heyday of American Catholicism from 1945-1960."

But why the failure of American Catholics (since a Catholic president was elected in 1960) to transform the American public square and marketplace with an authentic Catholic presence? Why the failure in American Catholic leadership, both clerical and lay? How could a simple sociological truth have been so quickly forgotten – namely, that the "restoration of all things in Christ" – in Dr. Varacalli's words – "naturally presupposes in a society the institutionalization of the Church's social doctrine?"

Varacalli shows how into the 1960's American Catholicism was blessed with a "Catholic plausibility structure" (a vibrant set of orthodox Catholic institutions: parishes, hospitals, orphanages, schools, colleges, and press) that resulted in a formidable sense of community and solidarity among Catholics. In the 1960's this same remarkable manifestation of social Catholicism began to unravel. The Catholicism that had been the "major institutional, philosophic, and attitudinal force holding back liberalism (with its notion of the autonomous self) from engulfing all of American culture" – would suffer from "self-inflicted wounds."

A destructive process of "secularization from within" led by an alienated intellectual class of liberal Catholic journalists, moral theologians, university administrators, religious educators, etc., would be allied with the spread of dissent and disobedience from the Magisterium of the Church. These "agents of change" would infect much of our religious and cultural life. This arrogant "new knowledge class", enamoured with bureaucratic planning and programs, heartily despised the preconciliar Church and "ghetto Catholicism." Moreover, they would lay exclusive claim to the Church's social doctrine and manipulate it for their own ideological purposes, as with "liberation theology" and "peace and justice" causes. The result was inevitable, as Dr. Varacalli notes:

"Given the inability of the Church's leaders in America to keep its house in order by effectively transmitting and evangelizing the Catholic world view, external ideologies (e.g., feminist, socialist, capitalist, therapeutic, new age, homosexual, etc.) have made strong internal inroads into the Church, both structurally and attitudinally, thus polarizing and factionalizing the Mystical Body of Christ."
(Page 38)

Dr. Varacalli has provided his readers seeking to better understand the present "Civil War" in American culture and in American Catholicism, with an intellectual treat. Above all, he demonstrates the absolute need to rebuild the "Church's plausibility structure" if the Church in the United States (and elsewhere) is to regain its credibility before the "modern world." This is a book which deserves to be seriously studied by every informed Catholic, and, above all, by every bishop concerned at the surrender to the "spirit of the world" by so many professed Catholics.

About James Likoudis
James Likoudis is an expert in Catholic apologetics. He is the author of several books dealing with Catholic-Eastern Orthodox relations, including his most recent "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church." He has written many articles published by various religious papers and magazines.
He can be reached at:, or visit  Mr. James Likoudis' Homepage