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  • In Rome We Trust: The Rise of Catholics in American Political Life by Manlio Graziano
  • Lawrence J. McAndrews
In Rome We Trust: The Rise of Catholics in American Political Life. By Manlio Graziano. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017. 242 pp. $25.95.

“This book is born of the merging of two themes on which my research has focused in recent years, the geopolitics of the Catholic Church and the geopolitics of the global shift in power,” Manlio Graziano explains in the introduction to In Rome We Trust (1). Thus does the author imbue a familiar narrative with an original interpretation, which views American Catholics not only as citizens of a country and members of a church, but as influential actors on a world stage.

It has not always been that way. Graziano traces the “anti-Catholic tradition in the United States” to its colonial origins, when Catholics faced “theological and political ostracism.” A “legal quarantine” of Catholics accompanied American independence, and passive and active resistance to Catholics characterized the waves of immigration from the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century (27).

While American Protestants were shunning their Catholic countrymen, the Vatican was shaming American Protestants. The Holy See only “discovered America,” Graziano quotes John Pollard, when those immigrants began “filling Rome’s coffers” (60–61). Even then, however, Rome and Washington went about building “parallel empires,” as Pope Pius IX sympathized with the Confederacy in the Civil War, and the United States severed diplomatic relations with the Holy See for over a century beginning in 1867 (67). Pope Pius XII would repudiate the Soviet-American alliance during World War II, the formation of the United Nations, and the creation of Israel.

Not even a Catholic president could relieve the tension between his nation and his church. John F. Kennedy resented Pope John XXIII’s overtures toward Eastern Europe and mediation during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It took Ronald Reagan, a divorced Protestant who didn’t attend church, to restore diplomatic relations with the Vatican in 1984 [End Page 69] and to usher in a Catholic political ascendancy which would continue through the Barack Obama presidency.

Graziano therefore argues that since the 1980s, the Catholic Church has been rising while the United States has been falling. Most provocatively, he contends that the church has kept the nation from sinking even further. Each of these assertions is defensible. If only the author had more completely defended them.

Graziano builds his case for a Catholic heyday on the facts that two-thirds of the Supreme Court (before Antonin Scalia’s death), over one-third of the Congress, the vice president and one-third of the cabinet, and “all of the military and defense leadership” during the Obama administration were Catholic (4). But he concedes that despite those six Catholic justices, same-sex marriage became legal and abortion remained legal.

Graziano’s argument that the United States is in decline rests on three pillars: the end of the Cold War, the failure of the Iraq War, and the 2008 financial crisis. With little evidence, he posits that the dissolution of the Soviet Union, cheered by Catholics everywhere, was a defeat for the United States. He downplays the global nature of the Great Recession and overlooks the slow but sure American economic recovery. Graziano’s contention that the Catholic Church can help save Americans from themselves by providing “moral cohesion” (172) to a highly polarized polity (inside and outside the church) relies largely on the personal popularity of Pope Francis. Under Francis, Graziano claims, again with little evidence, the church “is much more a North American than a South American Church” (148). A Catholic in the White House cannot lead this rescue operation, the author concludes, because the Kennedy presidency taught that Catholics will not countenance disagreement with one of their own. Yet Catholic support for Kennedy increased during his administration, and, as the author notes, Catholic majorities have helped elect Catholic governors, members of Congress, and a vice president, while a near-majority of Catholic voters chose one of their own, John Kerry, for president in 2004. In the end, this volume’s omission of archival sources, overreliance on a few...


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pp. 69-70
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