Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Religious capital and the Vatican

What a coincidence that on the same day (yesterday) as our lecture on religious capital the Vatican announced a new policy that makes it easier for dissatisfied Anglicans to switch to Roman Catholicism. The key background to the story is that Anglicans disagree about what should be the Anglican Communion's policy on same-sex marriage and the ordination of gays and women.

From the third paragraph of the AP news article:
The change means conservative Anglicans from around the world will be able to join the Catholic Church while retaining aspects of their Anglican liturgy and identity...
In our language, the Vatican is deliberately reducing the costs of switching from Anglicanism (Episcopalianism in the U.S.) to Roman Catholicism by making it possible for Anglican switchers to retain more of their religious capital.

A simple prediction is that this new Vatican policy should lead to more switching from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism. I expect this will be the case, however, there are mitigating factors. An important one is the perceived trajectory and timing of changes in Anglican policy. If policy is expected to change in the direction of supporting, say, same-sex marriages, then there would be more switching today than there would be without such expectations. Moreover, some people may seek to remain Anglican until policy changes actually occur, staying in the meantime with the hope that the policies will not change. The bottom line is that the exact number of switchers might not be very large initially, and the total number of switchers over the course of the next years will depend on the timing of the changes, if any, in Anglican policy.


  1. Danica BuenaventuraOctober 21, 2009 at 8:18 PM

    This is quite an interesting concept on how the Catholic Church are creating ways to allow those with a different faith, which in this article are Angelicans, to switch to Roman Cathilicism. I am a Catholic and feel that this is a good policy because any person who is not comfortable with their faith should be able to switch and not be viewed as something negative. I also believe that this article relates to last Thursday's lecture (Capital, Investments and Religious Concept). From what I learned and read, I believe those "unsatified Angelicans" can increase their religious capital because 1) Angelicans will be more comfortable and be part of the Roman Catholic which best represents them 2) They will still have their knowledge of the Angelican liturgy and identity (human capital) so it is not like they don't understand the bible 3) With this new policy, social ties between the two churches will be seen in a positive light especially if the Roman Catholic are allowing married Angelican priests to be Catholic priests. Churches are competitive, but should not be competitive in a negative way that hurts people. Though, I also believe it will take time to see a change and that this new policy will only be the beginning and will be an opening door for other religions to follow.

  2. What is so interesting about this is the cause-effect relationship in the religious competition for members (competition much like we see in capitalistic economies competing for consumers of products). No church is a lone island free of influences from others. For example, the Catholic church is responding to the controversy of policies within the Anglican church. And I'm curious to see if this incentive from the Catholic church will have an effect on the Anglican church's decisions. I suspect that Anglicans will keep a more conservative code in order to prevent people from leaving and joining the Catholic church. And even if that is not the case, the Anglican church will still be affected by the proposal of the Catholic church because it will lose members.

    One of the allowances the Catholic church is making to encourage conversion is to allow married Anglican priests to become priests in the Catholic church (even though Catholic priests are supposed to be celibate- that is part of the cost they must surrender to become a Catholic priest). So, while the Catholics are lowering the cost of new Anglican members to join, they are also creating an imbalance with an issue that more liberal Catholics have been wanting to see reformed. So, ironically enough, in taking advantage of the discord in the Anglican church, the Catholic church may be producing a conflict for themselves.

    Sarah M.

  3. Danica, I, too, am interested in how this announcement will affect Anglican-Catholic relations. But I would have guessed that it will strain relations between the two because to some Anglicans it looks like the Catholic Church is trying to take away their members.

    Sarah, I see where you are going here, though there could be a counteracting effect. If some Anglicans switch to Catholicism, then there are fewer Anglicans inside the Anglican community to lobby on behalf of their preferred policies on ordinations and marriage, thereby decreasing the overall influence of people with those beliefs in the Anglican community. If all Anglicans agreed that maintaining current membership size was most important, then you are probably right that they ought to retrench to keep their membership. But my hunch is that maximizing membership size is not the goal of many Anglicans, especially those advocating same-sex marriage. They want to allow same-sex marriages due to some principle they believe in, just as those who dislike same-sex marriage argue from different principles. The former may see this as an opportunity to get rid of the latter and enact the changes they desire.

  4. Allen Wang (40666901)

    In Lecture 7, one of the predictions of how religious capital influences the benefits and costs of religious choices, states that people with less religious capital in that group will more likely convert to another religious group then people with large religious capital. Applying that statement to this article we can see that Anglican's who will actually switch over to Roman Catholicm probably did not have much religious capital in the Anglican Church, or they simply value the issue of Gay Marriage as something of a greater value then the other religious capital that they had in the group. On the otherhand, Anglican's who do have lots of religious capital (have lots of social networks in the Anglican church, have many responsibilities as a member, etc.), will decide to stick with the Anglican Church regardless of the policy that is passed regarding the gay marriages.

    Of course, the predictions in lecture 7 are general trends and do not take away from the conversions, but it would be interesting to see if most people give up their all their religious capital in the Anglican Church simply because of a decision on Gay Marriages.

  5. Allen, I agree that it will be interesting to see what comes of this development. Some dissatisfied Anglicans had been lobbying the Roman Catholic Church to do this for some time. We'll see if they actually make the move.

  6. Kevin Santora

    It was a very interesting article, and it will be good to see exactly how many people cross over and how the relations between the two continue after this move by the Roman Catholic Church. On the other side though, I will find it more interesting to see exacly which people will leave the Catholic church because of this move. Undoubtadly some people will come over to the Catholic church from the Anglican church, but which people of the Catholic church will remove themselves because of this policy. In a way this is a stigma-screening that the Roman Catholic church has used upon itself that will draw some people that like the stigma into its religion and also keep others out.


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