The story of Catholicism in the United States can best be understood in light of the struggle to be both Catholic and American. This question of being both Catholic and American is currently raised with great urgency in these days because of recent tensions between the Vatican and the Catholic Church in the United States.
History shows that Rome has always been suspicious and fearful that the American Catholic Church would become too American and in the process lose what is essential to its Roman Catholicism. Jay Dolan points out two historical periods in which attempts were made to incorporate more American approaches and understandings into the life of the church, but these attempts were ultimately unsuccessful.
In the late eighteenth century, the young Catholic Church in the United States attempted to appropriate many American ideas into its life. Recall that at this time the Catholic Church was a very small minority church. Dolan refers to this movement as a Republican Catholicism and links this understanding with the leading figure in the early American church, John Carroll. Carroll, before he was elected by the clergy as the first bishop in the United States in 1789, had asked Rome to grant to the church in the United States that ecclesiastical liberty which the temper of the age and of the people requires.