The key to understanding the political role of the Catholic hierarchy is acknowledging that the leadership of the Catholic Church is remarkably well suited to participate at all levels of political contestation. Individual diocesan bishops often play active political roles in their specific contexts, generally framed around protecting the institutional interests of local churches, schools, and social service providers, as well as representing the social interests of Catholic communities in local political discourse and conflict. For their part, national conferences of bishops serve in many countries as vehicles for advancing the church’s positions within nationally defined policy debates and political contestation. These conferences have limited formal teaching authority according to Catholic ecclesiology. But in many contexts, these coneferences have come to play important roles as policy issues of interest to the Catholic hierarchy get played out on national rather than local political stages. Finally, the Pope, as leader not only of the transnational church but also of the sovereign entity of the Holy See is able to participate in world politics in ways that would be unthinkable for virtually any other religious leader. Enjoying formal diplomatic relations with over 180 countries and occupying a seat as Permanent Observer at the UN, the Holy See is deeply engaged in international diplomacy and firmly entrenched as a prominent element of global civil society. In sum, it is precisely this institutional complexity and multileveled breadth that renders the Catholic hierarchy uniquely well positioned to play meaningful roles at all levels of politics: local, national, and global. Moreover, the multifaceted ways in which these levels of the church’s leadership structure interact with and intersect with each other also grant complexity, nuance, and pervasiveness to the hierarchy’s political role. The first requirement for scholars seeking to conceptualize and explicate this role, therefore, is to be careful about what we mean when we use the term “the Catholic hierarchy,” and to be cognizant of the many different “levels of analysis” at which the Catholic Church operates as a universal institution.
Timothy A. Byrnes
Luis Felipe Mantilla
There is growing scholarly recognition of the prominent role that religion can play in empowering, shaping, and constraining political mobilization. Conceptually, religion can intersect with political opportunity structure in two general ways. First, it can be a component of the political opportunity structure: degrees of religious diversity, varieties of religion-state relations, levels of religiosity, and prevailing religious norms can substantially affect how social movements mobilize supporters. Second, religion can be an attribute of movements operating within a given political opportunity structure: a set of distinctive frames and resources available to religious actors that are unavailable to their secular counterparts. Understanding the intersection of religion and political opportunity structure requires addressing both of these dimensions of religion. One key challenge derives from the diversity of religious beliefs and organizations across and within faith traditions. There is persistent scholarly disagreement regarding the importance of specific ideological or doctrinal tenets and how these shape the salience of particular religions as both a component of the political opportunity structure and as a set of resources available to social movements. Scholarly understanding of these dynamics is hampered by the limited amount of research across faith traditions. Works focusing on Catholic, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish, or Protestant movements, among others, tend to emphasize different features of religion, in ways that make their findings hard to aggregate. Despite this and other challenges, the consolidation of religion as a topic of scholarly attention has resulted in increasingly sophisticated arguments and improved the scope and quality of data on religion and politics. Scholars now have access to a variety of global, regional, and national surveys that describe patterns of religious belief, behavior, and belonging. There is also a growing repertoire of country-level measures covering religion-state relations, denominational diversity, and religious conflict. In addition, a growing body of in-depth case studies focusing on particular religious movements and organizations has enriched our understanding of the dynamic interaction between religious groups and the institutional, structural, and cultural opportunities they face.
While three-quarters of the population in Ireland still declare to be Catholic in census data collection, the position and role of the Catholic Church has changed dramatically. A fruitful relationship between the state, church, and nation that developed in the 19th century became meaningfully embedded in social and political relations from the 1920s. Involvement of the church in the running of education, health, and welfare meant that its “moral monopoly” extended into both the institutional and individual spheres of life. The Irish Republic relied on the church organizations and personnel to provide education and guidance in absence of the state’s infrastructure and Will to consolidate the new political entity around a state-building project based on inclusivity, reciprocity, and diversity. The confessional state that emerged with its own constitution favored one religion over others, economic stagnation over progress, and patriarchal social values over equality. The internal processes of social change and the external impetus for economic development sent Ireland into modernization and changes in attitudes and behaviors. It became obvious that the church did not hold a monopoly on truth and that accountability of the relations between the state and the church should be called into question. Economic prosperity propelled Ireland into the world of consumerism, materialism, and instant gratification, teaching a new generation that religion helps keep your parents appeased and at times can provide solace, and that the Catholic Church is just an institution that seems to be around but nobody is quite sure what its role is. The vicariousness of the church coupled with cultural Catholicism makes the Ireland of today more open to change.
The breakup of Yugoslavia resulted in considerable violence and in the creation of new states. Religion is one of the factors that we need to consider in order to understand the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. Some of the key leaders involved in the conflict referred to religion in their rhetoric and had the support of religious organizations; places of worship were targeted for destruction; and religion to some extent influenced how actors from outside of Yugoslavia approached the conflict. However, religion is far from a sufficient explanation for the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. In particular, the role of leaders motivated by wanting to stay in power, the legacy of the war crimes committed in Yugoslavia during World War II, and the federal structure of Yugoslavia need to be considered as well.
Lawrence C. Reardon
Unlike democracies, the stability and longevity of autocracies are solely dependent on the ability of the paramount leader to maintain and wield power effectively. Whether the autocracy is composed of an absolute monarch or a supreme authoritarian, religious, military, fascist, or communist leader, the autocrat strengthens legitimacy by controlling competing power centers within the state. Autocrats are both envious and fearful of organized religion’s ability to mobilize the citizenry. Whether dealing with large religious organizations or organized religious believers, autocrats can choose to implement negative religious regulations to control or eliminate foreign and domestic religious threats, positive religious regulations to co-opt religious powers, or transformative religious regulations to create new organizations that consolidate and maintain autocratic rule. Adopting an interest-based theoretical approach, the autocratic religious regulations of four countries (China, England, Italy, and Japan) are divided into three categories (negative, positive, and transformative religious regulations). Autocrats within the four countries adopted formal regulations to consolidate their hegemonic control over societal forces within and outside the state.