Getting Organized

Catholics & Community Activism

These are days of hope for American Catholics, following years of despair for too many. The new winds blowing through Rome thanks to Pope Francis signal an important opening to renewal, yet the Catholic Church in the United States and elsewhere is struggling to recover an effective voice in public affairs and a semblance of moral authority in the lives of the people in the pews. This struggle occurs in the wake—dare we hope that it is the wake?—of the clerical sex-abuse scandals, and amid a deepening sense that young people had mostly just stopped listening. Both hope and despair thus shape the experience of laypeople in their everyday lives; of priests, religious, and lay ministers in their various pastoral works; and of bishops in their episcopal office. All are searching for ways to uncover the “treasure in earthen vessels” that is the church.

New research conducted by us and by others suggests that part of that treasure lies all around us, in cities and towns throughout the country, in the form of Catholic involvement in faith-based community organizing. Such work has been supported by the bishops and local parishes for decades—and today it offers a critical route for reclaiming Catholicism’s public voice and moral authority. Unfortunately, however, the recent institutional environment...

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About the Author

Richard L. Wood is associate professor of sociology at the University of New Mexico and founding director of the Southwest Institute on Religion, Culture, and Society. Brad Fulton is a PhD candidate in sociology at Duke University and was the lead researcher for Interfaith Funders’ 2011 State of Organizing study. Christine Doby is a program officer at the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and serves on the board of Interfaith Funders.

This article was funded by a gift from Michael Vertin and the late Margaret O’Gara in honor of Jim O’Gara, former editor of Commonweal.