New Report on Catholic Women and the Diaconate

I’m thrilled to share a new report summarizing findings from an in-depth interview study I conducted on Catholic women and the diaconate: Called to Contribute.

Together with my research team (Cella Masso-Rivetti of New York University and Jennifer Sherman of Georgetown University), we found that Catholic women feel called into service, constrained by barriers to ordination and service reserved for men in the Church, must adapt creatively to do “de facto deacon” ministry anyway, and contribute in ways that uphold the very foundations of the local and global Catholicism.

Read the executive summary in English or Spanish and download the full report here.

Responses to the report:

“This study provides an excellent insight into the plight of Catholic women already serving in diaconal ministries across the country and around the world. That so many women find themselves called and accepted by their local communities as “quasi-deacons” is a clear sign of the ways the Church is growing to recognize women as truly representing Christ in the world.”

Phyllis Zagano, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY, author of Women: Icons of Christ (Paulist, 2020)

“This report on extensive interviews with US Catholic women both acknowledges the fact of how many women are and have long been engaged in the work of diakonia but have been constrained by their exclusion from ordination to the diaconate. These women talk about discernment and their own creativity in the service of the Church. Reading this report will broaden your understanding about the sense of call that is experienced and counter any notions that a desire for ordination is a form of clericalism.”

Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., Diocese of Lexington, KY

“I read this report with tears and rapt attention: to put a structure and language on the real lived experience of women in ministry. This report is a gift. For me, for our sisters in ministry, for our Church.”

Bridget Deegan-Krause, Board Certified Chaplain, Mission and Formation consultant, Catholic Health Care and member of the National Association of Catholic Chaplains

To join broader conversations regarding the possibility of women deacons in the Catholic Church, check out the rapidly growing movement, Discerning Deacons.

My Interview in Marginalia Review of Books

On the occasion of Faithful Revolution’s release in paperback, I sat down with Phillip Sherman of Marginalia Review of Books (a Los Angeles Review of Books Channel). We talked about the emergence and impact of Voice of the Faithful as a movement inside the Catholic Church, and what it means for thinking about social movements, Catholicism, identity, and change.

Find a small excerpt below; read the full interview here.


Faithful Revolution: A Conversation with Tricia Bruce

APRIL 1, 2014

Phillip Sherman talks with Tricia Bruce about a movement that arose within the American Catholic church as a response to revelations of abuse.

Tricia Bruce is Associate Professor of Sociology at Maryville College in Maryville, Tennessee. The paperback edition of Faithful Revolution was released today. This interview took place on the campus of Maryville College and was transcribed.

Tricia Bruce, Faithful Revolution, How the Voice of the Faithful is Changing the Church, OUP, 232pp. $24.95.

PS: Can you begin by telling us a little bit about the nature of the research that led to this book, what this group (“VOTF”) is, and what they attempted to accomplish within the life of the Church?

TB: The Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) emerged in 2002, at the peak of revelations regarding the crisis of abuse within the Catholic Church. The outrage stemmed from not only new knowledge that Catholic priests abused children, but in discovering the complicity and institutional cover up of leaders who transferred abusive priests from parish to parish. So, VOTF emerged first in Boston. They were a group of enraged parishioners who loved their Church and yet felt it needed to change in light of these revelations. They mobilized together in order to find a way to act from within to change the Church so that this abuse would no longer occur.

Read the rest of our conversation here.

Pope Francis and “Elite” Interviewing in Social Science

We received today from the Jesuit Catholic magazine America a gift, in the form of a 12,000 word, candid interview with Pope Francis. Read the full article here.

Sociologists employ a variety of methods to better understand the social world; in-depth interviews are among them. In my current research on personal parishes (i.e. non-territorial parishes) in the U.S. Catholic Church, I have conducted more than fifty in-depth interviews, supplementing my national survey of dioceses. Most of these interviews have been with pastors, offering deeply insightful accounts of their congregations and the broader phenomenon of personal parishes. A handful of Bishops have also generously offered their perspectives.

These kinds of conversations – what may be called “elite interviews” – are incredibly useful in research for several reasons.

Among them:

(1)    People “at the top” often shape the story.

You can triangulate through talking to others and creative data-gathering, but elites often carry disproportionate influence. Indeed, that’s in part what constitutes the “elite.” Thus, hearing how they see the issue at hand can teach us a lot about how the rest of us see it.

(2)    Elites make the decisions.

Being in decision-making positions, these individuals may know more about who, when, and why certain decisions are made. Rather than gathering data via speculation, elite interviewing lets you find out (and verify) from the source him/herself.

(3) They (often) know what they’re talking about.

Elite interviewees may possess knowledge in a given area that surpasses that of many – if not most or all – others in their field. This expertise can fill in gaps exposed elsewhere in your research.

Now, all that said (and more), here’s the challenge: elite interviews can be incredibly difficult to secure. As political scientist Kenneth Goldstein put it (2002), this may involve more “art than science.” These people are frequently in high-power, high-responsibility positions. Read: They’re busy. And they’re able to say “no.”

Moreover, interviewing for social science is different than interviewing for journalism. Social science questions are geared toward understanding, explaining, and revealing patterns. You aren’t just looking for a headline or the best “spin,” forgotten by the next news cycle. You have a particular focus area (which your interviewees may or may not be willing to elaborate upon!). Ethics also come into play: research requires consent and voluntary participation. This formality — not to mention the final product — leads to a different character of interview than that conducted for journalism.

So – back to the original point – we celebrate when others provide us with a glimpse into something on our social science “bucket list” but unlikely to transpire. In this case: a three-day, 12,000 word, candid interview with the Pope. Christmas came early for sociologists of Catholicism this year.

P.S. Pope Francis – if you read this and want to talk about personal parishes, please email me. I’ll go anywhere, anytime!!