Power, preferment, and patronage: An exploratory study of Catholic bishops and social networks


Social Network Analysis (SNA) has shed light on cultures where the influence of patronage, preferment, and reciprocal obligations are traditionally important. We argue here that episcopal appointments, culture, and governance within the Catholic Church are ideal topics for SNA interrogation. This paper presents preliminary findings, using original network data for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. These show how a network-informed approach may help with the urgent task of understanding the ecclesiastical cultures in which sexual abuse occurs, and/or is enabled, ignored, and covered up. Particular reference is made to Theodore McCarrick, the former DC Archbishop recently “dismissed from the clerical state”, and Michael Bransfield, Bishop Emeritus of Wheeling-Charleston. Commentators naturally use terms such as “protégé”, “clique”, “network”, and “kingmaker” when discussing both the McCarrick and Bransfield affairs, and church politics more generally: precisely such folk-descriptions of social and political life that SNA is designed to quantify and explain.


Catholic, bishops, social networks, abuse crisis, McCarrick

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