Date Approved


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Department or School

Leadership and Counseling

Committee Member

James Barott, PhD, Chair

Committee Member

Jaclynn Tracy, PhD

Committee Member

Ronald Flowers, EdD

Committee Member

John Palladino, PhD


This study investigated how the Roman Catholic Church, as a bureaucratic organization, governs the widespread and divergent Catholic cultural groups in the United States. The purposes of this research were (a) to examine the nature of the ecclesiastical governance structure in the Vatican, (b) to explore the nature of the American Catholic cultural environment, (c) to analyze the types of relationships between the divergent American Catholic subcultures, and (d) to establish ways in which ecclesiastical authorities in the Vatican govern the American Catholic cultural environment.

This study was historical in nature and longitudinal in scope. This study examined the relationship between the ecclesiastical authorities in the Vatican and various Catholic subcultures (Spanish, French, Irish, German, Polish, Italians, and others) as they emerged within the American Catholic community and the American society as a whole. In addition to data gathered from literary sources, ethnographic observations were conducted during visits made by the researcher to more than 300 churches in 40 states in the U.S. Whereas prior studies emphasized the top-down bureaucratic dimension of ecclesiastical governance, this study explored the multi-dimensional (vertical and horizontal, intra and inter) processes that shaped the relationship of subcultures in America with the centralized governance system of the Catholic Church in Rome.

Culture and governance were key concepts in the conceptual framework for this study. Six cultural categories were used to examine the Catholic cultural environment in America: (a) demographics; (b) tasks; (c) ideology; (d) cultural values expressed through symbols, heroes and heroines, sacred space, ceremonies, and activities; (e) education v structure; and (f) ecclesiastical leadership. Political theory was used to examine major conflicts and other governance issues as subcultures forged new relationships between the Church in Rome and American Catholicism.

The results from this longitudinal study showed that the nature of the governance relationship that evolved between ecclesiastical authorities in Rome and the divergent American Catholic subcultures was not entirely bureaucratic but of a negotiated order. Governance varied depending on circumstances of the divergent subcultures in America. The study also showed that, by nature, the Church, a global government, is a confluence of cultural, socio-political, and theological ideologies of the loosely coupled subcultures that subscribe to the Catholic value system. An implication for those holding hierarchical clerical positions in the church is that leadership is a process of learning how to negotiate one’s status and cultural affiliation and membership because, whereas the church controls the production of clerics, the subculture will only accept a cleric who is cognizant of its cultural peculiarities.

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