Why do American Roman Catholics tend to exhibit loyalty but not strict obedience to the Church and its authority? What are their characteristics?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Of course, there are many individual reasons why U.S. Roman Catholics have chosen not to adhere to certain rulings of the Church, but there have been some major issues that have caused Catholics to lose respect for Church authorities and to become disappointed in Church leaders. More traditional Catholics feel strongly about certain issues: 

  • Vatican II

There were a multitude of changes in Vatican II ranging from the discontinuation of the Latin Mass, changes in prayers, New Catechism, New Canon Law, changes in the religious orders, increased emphasis on "Lay Experts," and increased conformity to the world. Many of these changes  have seemed contrary to traditional practices; consequently, many Catholics have begun to suspect the viability of the Church.

  • The Boston Archdiocese Scandal

The Sex Abuse Scandal in Boston in 2002 caused many Catholics, especially in the Boston area, to lose faith in the hierarchy of the Church. Consequently, many fell away from strict adherence to practices in the Church as they lost respect for priests and lost faith in the hierarchy.

A major aggravating factor was the actions of Catholic bishops to keep these crimes secret and to reassign the accused to other parishes in positions where they had continued unsupervised contact with youth, thus allowing the abusers to continue their crime.

  • Birth Control

Other American Catholics are not in agreement with Church rulings against artificial birth control. They feel that they must use some form of birth control in order to be able to provide for their existing family properly. If they have too many children, they will be financially strapped and unable to provide higher education for their children, among other things.

  • Disappointment in the Popes

Because Pope John Paul II did not do what many felt was needed regarding the Boston Scandal, many Catholics lost respect for the Vatican.

Some were disappointed in Pope Benedict's view on science in the West, feeling he was somewhat backward in thinking, 

The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality and can only suffer great harm thereby

Pope Benedict viewed the modern concept of science too limited because
it allows the determination of "certainty" only from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements. 

With the recent persecution of Christians in Iraq and other areas of the Middle East having elicited no response or condemnation from Pope Francis, Catholics are disappointed again in papal leadership.