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  • Katholiken in den USA und Deutschland: Kirche, Gesellschaft und Politik
  • John Jay Hughes
Katholiken in den USA und Deutschland: Kirche, Gesellschaft und Politik. Edited by Wilhelm Damberg and Antonius Liedhegener. (Münster: Aschendorff Verlag. 2006. Pp. viii, 393. €24.80.)

At the time of the Second Vatican Council, Germany exercised a powerful attraction for Americans seeking doctorates in Catholic theology. German theologians like Karl Rahner, Hans Küng, Walter Kasper, Joseph Ratzinger, and Johann Baptist Metz all counted Americans among their students. Today the tide runs in the other direction. Astonished at full churches in the United States, and impressed with the vitality of American parish life, German Catholics now come in increasing numbers to the United States to investigate a level of religious practice inconceivable in Germany today.

One of those impressed by American church life is the German businessman, Dr. Karl Albrechts, whose Aldi supermarkets can be found on both sides of the Atlantic. His generous grant provided funding for a conference in Berlin in May 2004, at which reports on church life in Germany and the United States were given by eighteen experts from both countries. Delivered in English, the papers have now been translated into German and are published in this volume. Several of the presenters report on the situation in the other country—a happy example of two-way cooperation and enrichment.

Despite their great differences, Catholics in both Germany and the United States share elements of a similar history. In both countries Catholics are a minority, suspected by the majority from the mid-nineteenth century to the eve of the Second Vatican Council of owing primary allegiance to the Roman pontiff. German Catholics responded to this challenge by forming a flourishing milieu consisting of numerous Catholic organizations including a political party. American Catholics lived largely in a self-imposed ghetto, dismantled by Vatican II's opening to the world, and by the entry of increasing numbers of American Catholics into their country's social, cultural, and educational mainstream. [End Page 122]

In other respects church life in the two countries is dissimilar. American parishes and other church institutions have always been voluntary associations, founded and supported by their members. This imposes heavier financial burdens than those borne by Catholics in Germany, whose parishes, church buildings, and other institutions are provided "from above," and supported generously from public funds. The need for self-support gives American Catholics a greater sense of ownership than those in Germany. Paradoxically, however, the Catholic Church in Germany has been, since Vatican II, more democratic than that in the United States. Germany's National Synod from 1972 to 1975, with both lay and clerical representation and enjoying legislative and not merely advisory power, is inconceivable in this country. Parish councils and diocesan pastoral councils are found throughout Germany. In the United States their existence depends on the local pastor or bishop.

Also dissimilar is the educational system in the two countries. Schooling, from kindergarten to university, is a state monopoly in Germany. Home-schooling, a small but flourishing feature on the American educational scene, is forbidden by law in Germany under penalty of heavy fines or imprisonment. The German state accommodates Catholic interests through church-supervised religious instruction for Catholic students in state schools, and by public support for state regulated Catholic schools, including the faculties of Catholic theology at the state-supported universities. Of special interest for German readers is the flourishing system of adult catechesis in the United States (the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), still in its infancy in Germany.

The book will be of greater interest for German readers than for Americans. The view of American Catholicism which it presents is colored by the selection of American presenters. They include such well known authorities as Andrew Greeley, Margaret and Peter Steinfels, and Leo O'Donovan, S.J. Unfortunately missing are others no less distinguished who could have presented a more balanced picture: Richard John Neuhaus, Michael Novak, and George Weigel.

John Jay Hughes
Archdiocese of St. Louis


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