The Catholic People of the 1800s

As the country began to develop a particularly American identity, the Catholic people in America also began to establish themselves as a community. American Catholic leaders began holding conventions in 1823 to establish what being an American Catholic in the democratic republic of America would be like. Churches in towns became more well-established, and priests became easier to find; however, new problems arose with relationships between priests and congregations. Because American Catholics previously worshiped in relative isolation, people struggled to negotiate new roles for their present priests.

American Catholic people felt that they should have a say in church activities, and in most cases the laity and priests worked together to meet the needs of the parish. Sometimes, however, fights broke out when the laity and priests had different visions for the church. The right of Catholic laity to hire and fire their community priests was a contentious issue throughout the early 1800s, but by 1829, a meeting of the bishops wrote a letter to the lay people of America saying that they did not have this authority. Because of clerical spiritual power, the bishops argued, no lay person could fire their priest.

International issues also played a role in Catholic people’s identity in the early 1800s. After Pope Pius VI died as Napoleon’s prisoner, his successor Pius VII tried to reassert power after the Congress of Vienna stabilized the European Continent in 1815. Because revolution caused turmoil on the Continent, Pope Pius VII and subsequent popes spoke out against democracy. Although John Carroll spoke out against these views, non-Catholic Americans became weary that the Catholic people in America could be true American citizens and still worship their religion.