Examining the Level of Female Religious Political Engagement and Social Policy Influence within the American Catholic Church


  • Jeanine E. Kraybill California State University, Bakersfield



Catholic, clergy, institution, Leadership Conference of Women Religious, NETWORK, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, women religious


The Catholic Church, constructed on an all-male clerical model, is a hierarchical and gendered institution, creating barriers to female leadership. In interviewing members of the clergy and women religious of the faith, this article examines how female non-ordained and male clerical religious leaders engage and influence social policy. It specifically addresses how women religious maneuver around the institutional constraints of the Church, in order to take action on social issues and effect change. In adding to the scholarship on this topic, I argue that part of the strategy of women religious in navigating barriers of the institutional Church is not only knowing when to act outside of the formal hierarchy, but realizing when it is in the benefit of their social policy objectives to collaborate with it. This maneuvering may not always safeguard women religious from institutional scrutiny, as seen by the 2012 Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, but instead captures the tension between female religious and the clergy. It also highlights how situations of institutional scrutiny can have positive implications for female religious leaders, their policy goals and congregations. Finally, this examination shows how even when women are appointed to leadership posts within the institutional Church, they can face limitations of acceptance and other constraints that are different from their female religious counterparts working within their own respective religious congregations or outside organizations.


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Author Biography

  • Jeanine E. Kraybill, California State University, Bakersfield

    Jeanine E. Kraybill is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at California State University, Bakersfield. She studies religion and politics and presidential rhetoric. Dr Kraybill has had her work featured in the Journal of Communication and Religion. Currently, she is working on two book manuscripts, one dealing with Catholic female religious leadership and another examining the 2016 presidential election. She gives regular political analysis to domestic and international media outlets.


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How to Cite

Kraybill, J. (2017). Non-ordained: Examining the Level of Female Religious Political Engagement and Social Policy Influence within the American Catholic Church. Fieldwork in Religion, 11(2), 137-156.