A look at the state of the Church in the United States: perspectives on some of the more pressing topics for American Catholics right now
Catholicism arrived in America soon after the very first settlers, and in God’s providence, the charter for what became one the original colonies was given to a Catholic family, that of Cecil Calvert, second Baron Baltimore, in 1632. (Some historians view this granting of the charter for “Terra Mariae” — “Land of Mary,” or Maryland — as compensation for Cecil’s father, the first Baron Baltimore, having been stripped of his position as Britain’s Secretary of State in 1625 after announcing his conversion to Roman Catholicism.)
Maryland was not just a refuge for harassed British Catholics, however; in 1649, the Maryland Toleration Act was issued, one of the first laws that explicitly defined tolerance of varieties of Christianity. Ironically, there was a period of time when Puritans, who fled Virginia after Anglicanism was established as the official religion there, took control of Maryland and turned around and persecuted the colony’s Catholics; Puritan mobs burned down all the original Catholic churches in southern Maryland.
So Catholicism, while granted a tiny foothold in America, still had a rocky path to travel before Catholics were no longer objects of suspicion and ridicule among their countrymen. It was, in fact, not until well into the 20th century that it could be said that Catholics were full and equal participants in American life.
Alas, just as Catholicism was coming into its own in American society, that society was beginning to slide into chaos, a slide that seems to be accelerating by the day. The Church — her teachings, and even more, the graces of her sacraments — stands as a bulwark against the evils spawned in the chaos, and a remedy for the souls wounded by them.
But she has not remained untouched by the chaos herself. Values have shifted, attitudes have changed, and are still changing, some for the better and some for the worse.
The following contributors each deliver trenchant observations, point out issues of concern, and also demonstrate reasons for hope and even optimism that they see on the American Catholic landscape as Pope Francis makes his first visit to the U.S.