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  • A History of Canadian Catholics: Gallicanism, Romanism, and Canadianism
  • Vincent J. Mcnally
A History of Canadian Catholics: Gallicanism, Romanism, and Canadianism. By Terence J. Fay. [McGill-Queen's Studies in the History of Religion, Series Two.] (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press. 2002. Pp. xv, 400. $75.00 clothbound; $27.95 paperback.)

Terence Fay admits that a major hope in writing his book is to "create the first comprehensive history of Catholics in Canada"(p. ix). Though there are other works dealing with the history of Canadian Catholicism and Christianity, Father Fay claims to address his objective by focusing on French and English-speaking Canadian Catholics as well as Native people and Euro-Canadians from first contact to the present. Even so, given its very brief coverage of Canada's west and far west, especially since it claims to be "comprehensive," the book continues to reflect a perennial problem of Canadian Catholic church historiography of largely ignoring Canadian Catholicism west of Ontario. Surely, given the ever-increasing number of published monographs and articles on church history in Canada's west and far west, such a situation is no longer justified. As for the book's subtitle, it reflects its threefold chronological division from a state-controlled Francophone Catholicism, to a Vatican- or ultramontane-dominated Catholicism and finally, and especially since Vatican Council II(1962-1965), to a Catholicism that is still struggling to even comprehend, much less accept the pluralistic, globalized, multicultural, and interfaith reality of modern Canada, or, in short, that Canada is now no longer a Christian nation.

In trying to achieve his very worthy objective, Fay deliberately follows a strictly narrative rather than a narrative-analytical approach. In a word we are provided with "safe"history. Fay does this by stressing the importance of many figures, both clerical and lay, men and women, though mainly clerical-episcopal; and by covering significant social and political policies that have influenced cultural, ethnic, and gender development over four centuries. Again this is achieved by taking the "safe" road by not seriously challenging any past "shadows"in Canadian Catholicism (e.g., J. R. Miller, certainly a major and generally accepted authority on Native residential schools, makes no appearance, except for an article on anti-Catholicism; though Joanna Manning, a strong critic of the Catholic Church's treatment of women, is noted briefly [pp. 316-317], but without Fay taking any position short of admitting that, since they are over half the Canadian population, women are important). Instead Fay states the obvious that "women, the marginalized, and native people, given a chance, will help to universalize, energize, and organize the Catholic church in the twenty-first century"(p. 324). Certainly any critically thinking or curious reader must ask "why" are they not "given a chance"? But Fay offers no serious reflections, examinations, or answers to such "whys"on this or other important issues. So while this work could have an appeal to the general reader or first-time student, given his admitted approach, it will hold little interest for the scholar or critical reader who would find themselves throughout demanding far greater exploration and development of such issues. [End Page 357]

Of course, "safe"history does have an obvious objective. There is no doubt that the aim here is to make the book as acceptable as possible to the general reader, especially the still regular church-going layperson, or about one in five (20%) baptized Canadian Catholics. But such a methodology, in avoiding serious and balanced criticism can also err on the side of accuracy. For example, he states that "while some [most?] women consider the church the hand of the past and an instrument of oppression, most [some?] Canadian women are willing to engage in dialogue with the [still clerically dominated institutional?] church in the hope that a conversion experience [by the institutional Catholic Church?] will renew the Christian vision and inspire all to service"(p. 324).

"Safe"history also has its price. In 1971, due to Vatican II, a Roman Synod of bishops wisely noted:"anyone who ventures to speak to people about justice must first be just in their eyes."Surely historians who fail to address seriously...


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