Shepherds and Sheep: Parish Reconfiguration, Authority, and Activism in a Catholic Diocese
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This mixed method study describes contention over parish reconfiguration in a northeast Catholic diocese, and a case study of one merged parish. Guided by social movement theories about collective action frames and political opportunities in mobilization, we outline the diocesan frame of reconfiguration and the counter frame developed by activists who organized to oppose the process. While the diocesan frame focused on a shortage of priests that officials believed demanded reconfiguration of financially burdened parishes, the lay counter frame shifted the debate to questions about the role of the laity in the contemporary Catholic Church and what they perceived as failed leadership from their bishop. Our case study of Resurrection Parish shows how the merger process and the activists’ opposition to their diocesan leaders resulted in a parish that works to ensure the involvement of the laity, and continues to publicly dissent from Catholic leaders.
KeywordsCatholicism Parishes Priests Authority Activism Organizations Protest Framing
The authors wish to acknowledge generous grant support from the Louisville Institute. A version of this paper was previously presented at the 2013 meetings of the Eastern Sociological Society. We are grateful for the work of 3 anonymous reviewers and the editor who helped us prepare this manuscript. Special thanks to research assistants Catherine Farrell, Thomas Mickley-Doyle, and Katelyn Stevens.
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