William V. D’ANTONIO, Michele DILLON, and Mary L. GAUTIER. American Catholics in Transition. New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2013. Pp. 202. $27.95 pb. ISBN 978-1-4422-1991-5. Reviewed by Melissa A. CIDADE, Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20001.
American Catholics in Transition, the fifth in a series of books on the American Catholic laity, is the continuation of a tradition of excellent scholarly work on a pertinent and timely topic. The book is a concise, nontechnical but rigorous portrait of the American Catholic laity. Following the lead set by the previous four books, this volume outlines the general demographic and attitudinal trends of American Catholics; however, three particular trends are treated with greater attention in this text, including: the continued diminishment of the Pre-Vatican II Generation, the convergence of attitudinal and behavioral practices of Catholic men and women, and the rising proportion of Hispanic Catholics.
D’Antonio, Dillon, and Gautier begin the text with an overview of the four living generations of Catholics, with a particular emphasis on the oldest generation, the “Pre-Vatican II Catholics.” These Catholics – born 1940 or earlier - the authors argue, are the last of the Catholics known for “their willingness to kneel, pray, pay, and obey” (13). They “have been the most highly committed” (21) and are “consistent in what they consider the aspects of Catholicism that are most important to them personally” (23). However, the authors also point out the dynamism of this generation, arguing that these respondents are not stagnate, but rather that their attitudes and behaviors have also shifted across time, as evidenced by the comparisons of the data collected today to those same data collected over the previous four waves of surveys. In this way, the book provides a historical arc, and sets the generations within a cultural and historical context.
An intriguing thesis of the book is the convergence of attitudes and beliefs of men and women in the American Catholic laity. While men’s commitment and practices have remained about steady over the last three decades or so, women have shown significant change over time on three key factors: “frequency of Mass attendance, the importance of the Church in their lives, and their sense of whether they would ever leave the Church” (90). The authors offer a variety of possible explanations for such a convergence, and suggest that this trend, if it is to continue, could have major institutional implications for the American Church.
One continuing demographic shift in the American Catholic laity that the authors address throughout the text is the rise in the proportion of Hispanic Catholics. Instead of a dedicated, stand-alone chapter on the topic, the authors weave the demographic tale of Hispanic Catholics throughout the book, with a particular eye toward the differences in generational attitudes for Hispanic laity. While Hispanic Catholics are no different from Anglo Catholics in some ways (including belief in the Resurrection, Mary, the Sacraments, and helping the poor), they are generally “more devout, more theologically conservative, and more deferential to the institutional Church and the Catholic tradition” (54) than their Anglo counterparts. This differentiation provides a window into the complexities of the American Catholic laity.