For well over a century the Catholic Church has articulated clear
positions on many issues of public concern, particularly economics,
capital punishment, foreign affairs, sexual morality, and abortion.
Yet the fact that some of the Church's positions do not mesh well
with the platforms of either of the two major political parties in
the U.S. may make it difficult for Americans to look to Catholic
doctrine for political guidance. Scholars of religion and politics
have long recognized the potential for clergy to play an important
role in shaping the voting decisions and political attitudes of
their congregations, yet these assumptions of political influence
have gone largely untested and undemonstrated.
Politics in the Parish is the first empirical examination
of the role Catholic clergy play in shaping the political views of
their congregations. Gregory Allen Smith draws from recent
scholarship on political communication, and the comprehensive Notre
Dame Study of Parish Life, as well as case studies he conducted in
nine parishes in the mid-Atlantic region, to investigate the extent
to which and the circumstances under which Catholic priests are
influential in shaping the politics of their parishioners.
Smith is able to verify that clergy do exercise political
influence, but he makes clear that such influence is likely to be
nuanced, limited in magnitude, and exercised indirectly by shaping
parishioner religious attitudes that in turn affect political
behavior. He shows that the messages that priests deliver vary
widely, even radically, from parish to parish and priest to priest.
Consequently, he warns that scholars should exercise caution when
making any global assumptions about the political influence that
Catholic clergy affect upon their congregations.
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