Sense of the Faithful
How American Catholics Live Their Faith
Jerome P. Baggett
Oxford University Press, $29.95, 285 pp.
Even before opening Sense of the Faithful, Jerome P. Baggett’s timely sociological examination of how American Catholics from six parishes in the San Francisco Bay Area understand and practice their faith, the reader is offered a visual sense of a church in flux. In a cover photo of the interior of an Upper East Side church in Manhattan, photographer Jeff Spielman’s camera peers down a darkened Gothic nave toward an alabaster-hued sanctuary. Everything seems in movement, slightly ajar, as if the painter Claude Monet were depicting the inside of Rouen Cathedral.
Steeped in a sense of American Catholic history, the profound impact of the Second Vatican Council on the institutional life of the church, and current trends in the sociology of religion (the endnotes run to more than twenty-five pages), Sense of the Faithful argues that today nearly everyone is a cafeteria Catholic. This includes the East Bay parishioners Baggett interviews at a magnet church for Latin Mass traditionalists and those shut-the-door-on-the-past progressives he finds across the bay at a predominantly gay and lesbian congregation in San Francisco’s Castro District.
Of the three hundred people he and his assistants contacted at the six parishes over a five-year period (Baggett teaches at both the Jesuit School of Theology and the University of California at Berkeley), almost all view the church’s...