In Conservative Catholicism and the Carmelites, Darryl Caterine probes a range of theoretical problems and questions within diverse ethnographic locations and communities in an examination of American Religions that by the end emerges as a study on conservative Catholicism through an analysis of religion in relation to culture and community. To prove his point, Caterine provides a scholarly investigation of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles taking us to four neighborhoods throughout the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area; the border community of Douglas, Arizona; the affluent Cuban American suburb of Coral Gables, Florida; and an inner city parish in Cleveland, Ohio.
Part one of the book highlights the historical transformation of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles founded in 1927 by the Mexican sister Maria Luisa Josefa. The Carmelites existed as a semi-cloistered teaching order quietly serving Mexican Americans families in the Los Angeles Diocese through the 1960s. Ever since this time, the Carmelite Sisters have led a movement among American Catholic women religious that seeks to redress the "liberal" trend, merging American civic with Roman Catholic religious identity, and have been steadfast in defeding what Vatican II identified as the unchanging "essentials" of monastic poverty, chastity, and obedience. According to Caterine, the Carmelites have followed Hunter's notion of orthodoxy that situates moral authority in their respective inherited traditions, and is inviolable to transformation of any kind. A central claim put forward in this study is that Roman Catholic neo-traditionalism espoused by the Carmelites represents an unprecedented reconfiguration of American religion. Part two of the book takes us on a journey into the aforementioned communities to affirm the range of Carmelite and Roman Catholic expressions of neo-traditionalism through insightful ethnographic interpretations and discussions.
In the final analysis, Caterine suggests that we imagine American Catholicism as a "theater of dynamic interactions" between at least three ethno-religious or religio-cultural poles. The first is described as the liberal Catholic Church which reflects a fusion between Roman Catholic religious and Anglo-American cultural ideologies. The second is a neo-traditionalist church that he defines as an "invented tradition" that offers its members communal solidarity through "literalistically" interpreted theological tenets and a standard repertoire of rituals inherited from the Roman Catholic tradition. The third Caterine describes as a "borderland" or transnational church of communities descended from Spanish Catholic (New World) countries bringing forth an ethno-religious identity betwixt and between the United States and their homelands. The common denominator within all three of these distinct religio-cultural homelands is that they converge within the political territory of the United States and account for the multidimensionality of contemporary American Catholicism.
Caterine is cognizant of the plurality of American Catholic identities emerging as a result of cultural and theological interactions between all three of these categories and points to his ethnographic research for examples of these combinations and possible relationships. Drawing from the scholarship of Figueroa Deck, Caterine concludes his work by challenging our notions of conservatism and liberalism in describing the contemporary post-conciliar American Catholic Church. The final pages of his book supports the claim that the contemporary church must be understood as a global rather than national institution, comprised of constituents who are the product of a polycentric world, rather than an assemblage of "ethnic enclaves" orbiting around an Anglo Protestant center. In the end, the author suggests that we carefully scrutinize the cultural backgrounds and/or political objectives of a given Roman Catholic community. Such an agenda will require new models and categories by which to conceptualize the postconciliar church.
The significance of this publication should be recognized within the context of it being the first volume in the series in Religion in North America, out of Indiana University Press, dealing fully with some aspect of the Roman Catholic tradition. In theory, this work offers uS a subtle decentering of Anglo Protestant culture as a starting point for interpreting the American (Roman Catholic) religious experience. It challenges the assumption that the history of American Catholicism has reached its teological end through the Protestantization and democratization of the church. The pre-Vatican II model focusing on tensions between hegemonic Protestant society and marginalized Catholic immigrants no longer explains Conservative Catholicism as manifested by religious orders such as the Carmelites. Whereas Caterine is truly cognizant of this significant discovery, this reviewer believes that the concluding paradigm he puts forward unfortunately remains bound by the noose of Protestantism even though he skillfully critiques these assumptions and biases.
Consider, for example, the emerging categories offered through his "theater of dynamic interactions" hypothesis for describing the contemporary church. A "liberal" Catholic church embraces Anglo-American cultural ideologies whereas a "neo-traditionalist" church is deeply invested in the rituals inherited from Roman Catholic tradition. The question arising for this reviewer is: can a liberal or conservative interpretation for American Roman Catholicism exists without genuflecting to the gods of Protestantism? Is it historically and theoretically possible to evaluate American Roman Catholic tradition without a Protestant lens? Such a perspective implies historical, economic, linguistic, and political implications in the construction of North American society that go beyond religious expressions regardless of denomination or tradition. What is desperately needed here is a paradigm shift for assessing this critical issue. Part of the answer lies in the polycentric thesis put forth by the author. One can capture the complexities of Roman Catholic and Protestant North American realities through a thorough "betwixt and between" analysis into the range of American Roman Catholic expression in relation to orthodoxy identified by Caterine as a borderland and transnational church. From this perspective, the Protestant versus Roman Catholic traditions are placed outside of a historical binary and instead understood as representing part of a continuum where linear and stagnant categories are replaced by interactive and porous ones emphasizing blending and mutuality. As Caterine's borderland model implies, it shifts our attention to the "mestizajeization" of American Religions.
A related concern in relation to the Carmelites' categorization as defenders of conservative Catholicism is the need for a deeper historical contextualization of the Mother Luisa's exile in response to the Cristero revolts in Mexico. As defenders of the Mexican institutional Church in the early twentieth century, there truly existed no alternatives for Carmelite Catholicism within the North American context other than conservative and cloistered. Furthermore, it comes as no surprise that this Carmelite perspective would remain constant over the years as described in this research. A deeper historical contextualization would reveal a gender and ethnic/national identity that has been systematically marginalized by the centers of power in the American Catholic Church. Historical research conducted by this reviewer reveals how the spiritual needs of Mexican Cristero refugees were ignored by the Roman Catholic bishop of San Diego, California, at Mexican parishes in the early twentieth century. This illustrates that the perspectives of marginalized groups will remain constant if they are denied access into the institution's corridors of influence and power. It is much deeper than devotionalism and self-segregation as suggested by the author and requires us to place the category of race and ethnicity at the center of any analysis that explores dimensions of race, religion, and community. Finally, such a rich and insightful ethnographic study could have only been enhanced with photographs to ground and identify the unique American Roman Catholic story being told in this book.
Conservative Catholicism represents an important statement on the contemporary Roman Catholic Church in the United States. Darryl Caterine offers scholars of American religions the beginnings of an important paradigm that can serve as a foundation for future research. Both scholars and practitioners would be wise to examine it closely as it has much to teach us about the evolving and transformative nature of American (Roman Catholic) Religions in the new millennium.