A Church Divided

"I hope I die soon so that l can die a Catholic."

—Elderly woman parishioner of St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Ames, Iowa

Roman Catholic. The words are redolent of rich and solemn rituals chanted amid clouds of incense in an ancient tongue. Many American Catholics over 30 remember living in that history-heavy church as if living in a spiritual fortress—comforting at times, inhibiting and even terrifying at others. But it was a safe and ordered universe, with eternal guarantees for those who lived by its rules.

That fortress has crumbled. Before the Second...

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