Three histories of the Catholic Church in the United States have become available within a two-year period—books by James Hennesey, S.J., Martin Marty, and now Jay P. Dolan, the bitterest of the three. More remarkable than the mere number are the significant likenesses. Are they the result of the zeitgeist or an attempt to shape it? The specter of an American Catholic Church hangs over them; pluralism is the new god. Social issues and democratic polity are given a central place in the life of religion. In reading such revisionist studies of the past, George Orwell's maxim comes to mind: "Who controls the past controls the future."
For Dolan the turning point in the history of Catholicism in the United States was the Second Vatican Council. In its documents he finds a justification for Catholic pluralism. In his belief that the Council sanctioned the right to dissent, he asserts, "There are various ways of being Catholic and people are choosing the style that best suits them."
The American heroes of the 18th and 19th centuries are those who wanted a "national American Church," those who wanted to step boldly into the future and "fashion a church in tune with the republican spirit of a new nation."
A good deal of selectivity must be employed to build Dolan's unattested thesis that there have always been two equally important schools of thought regarding...