Paradigm shifts have occurred in Catholics' faith and practices as the teachings and authority of the traditional Catholic Church are challenged by modern and post-modern social forces and social thought. In William V. D'Antonio, et al's third installment, American Catholics: Gender, Generation, and Commitment (2001), the authors provide important information about American Catholics and their attitude shifts over multiple generations. The work is based on findings from an extensive Gallup survey (1987, 1993, 1999) that analyzes the American Roman Catholic's perception of self, others, and society. Unique to the investigation is the concentration on the three defining variables, gender, generation, and commitment and how they have significantly influenced American Catholics' attitudes regarding Church doctrine, faith, and religious practice.
Following the first two books, American Catholic Laity in a Changing Church (1987) and Laity, American and Catholic (1996), this third book in the series provides further evidence of the changing trends among Catholic laity and authority. Most recognizable is the way in which the laity's perception of moral authority in relation to church leaders and personal autonomy has changed. Instead of relying on papal authority the laity is increasingly relying on personal understanding and thought when making decisions and offering opinions about key social issues. Data reveal a shift in the belief that Church leaders have the final say on key social issues such as sexuality, abortion, gun control, economic spending and cutting, and political alignments.
Unlike the first two books, American Catholics: Gender, Generation, and Commitment focuses on marginalized groups of people to further explain the changing attitude of the Catholic laity and priesthood. Emphasis is placed on women's involvement, the Latino/a population (the fastest growing Catholic population), Generation X and to some extent Z, and homosexuals. For example, the idea of women holding positions of papal authority is discussed along with the ordination of married men, a direct challenge to the celibacy regulation. Until recently, papal authority and other elite sectors of the Catholic Church have kept these various populations on the periphery when making important decisions. The authors shed new light on these marginalized communities by showing how they are now directly impacting moral authority and policy within the hierarchical structure of the American Catholic Church.
The book offers insightful information about where Catholics have been and where they are headed. The authors argue that small communities are the future of Catholicism as we enter the 21st century. The saturation and globalization of cultural values requires more personalized contact between the Catholic Church and members. The authors encourage diversity among Catholics and point out that the voice of ecumenicalism is louder than ever in the Catholic Church. They call on church authorities to heed the call of their adherents and incorporate their concerns into the core beliefs of the Catholic Church. By embracing the voices of the laity, the Church may be able to recapture and reinvigorate the faith of members.
By examining key elements of the American Catholics' belief system, along with Catholics' level of commitment to the Church, the researchers have been able to provide critical insight into current and possible future trends. Overall, this book is an important compilation of national data that will, among others, serve Catholics, laypersons and the academic community. Undoubtedly, the research methods used will serve as a guide to others who wish to gain insight into the laity/authority dichotomy that exists in most faith-based organizations. The book is informative and easily interpretable at every level of investigation which will help to popularize its important message.