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.
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.