MC's Bruce publishes book about Voice of the Faithful

MC's Bruce publishes book about Voice of the Faithful

Feb. 23, 2011
Contact: Chloe Kennedy, News and New Media Writer

Dr. Tricia C. Bruce, assistant professor of sociology at Maryville College, has recently published Faithful Revolution: How Voice of the Faithful is Changing the Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

A book launch and signing will be held on Thurs., March 3 from 5-6 p.m. in the Clayton Center for the Arts’ William Baxter Lee III Grand Foyer. The book will be available for purchase during the event.

Bruce, whose research interests include the sociology of religion, Catholic identity, social movements and organizations, gives an in-depth look at the development of Voice of the Faithful, a national movement of lay Catholics that mobilized in response to the crisis of child abuse by clergy in the Catholic Church.

The abuse scandal in the Catholic Church gained national attention after the Boston Globe published a series of reports in January 2002 that revealed widespread allegations of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in Boston and the efforts of the church to cover it up.

“It was not only about the abuse of children by clergy, but also the transferring of abusive priests from parish to parish, so it was perceived by some as institutional complicity, meaning the church was not helping to prevent it – in fact, they were actually doing things that made it worse,” Bruce said.

The crisis became such a major media event that one bishop referred to it as “our 9/11.”

Voice of the Faithful emerged after a small group of Catholics, still reeling from the news, gathered in the basement of a parish in Wellesley, Mass., to mourn and react.

“These people were longtime Catholics who were just heartbroken to hear this news,” Bruce said. “To see their church portrayed in this light, to realize that this abuse had been happening – they had no idea. So they gathered and started to react, and it was when more and more Catholics came together and started to talk about this and then eventually advocate for change within the church that this movement was born.”

The group took on three primary goals: supporting victims of sexual abuse by clergy; supporting what they called “priests of integrity,” or non-abusive priests; and supporting structural change in the Catholic Church to prevent further abuse. The movement grew to more than 30,000 members nationwide.

Bruce began her research on the movement in 2002, while a doctoral student at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

She came across a flyer that asked whether a chapter of Voice of the Faithful should be formed in Santa Barbara. She was intrigued, so she attended the meeting that was held at one of the local Catholic churches.

“When I was in that space and hearing people talk about their reaction to the crisis of abuse, thinking about what was happening in the church and how change was necessary, I heard Catholics talking in a way that I’d never heard before,” she said. “I heard the struggle, not with faith necessarily – some predicted that masses of Catholics would leave the church, and some have, but not as many as predicted – but people saying, ‘No, we don’t want to leave, but we’ve got to do something.’ So people tried to channel this deep-seated anger that they had towards making change.”

Immediately, Bruce began taking field notes.

“I was just fascinated to see religion enacted in this way – how people were navigating this dual identity of being both Catholic and committed to the church but also trying to advocate for change, which might pit them against leaders in the church,” Bruce said.

Bruce’s three-year study is based on her observations at Voice of the Faithful affiliates throughout the country, including California, Washington, D.C., and Virginia. She also attended conferences in San Francisco, New York and Indianapolis. She conducted 50 in-depth interviews with movement participants, including survivors of abuse, priests, and lay Catholics involved in the movement.

Bruce said the main sociological contribution of the book is that Voice of the Faithful illustrates what she calls an intrainstitutional social movement. Most of the writing and literature in social movements has looked at social movements that target “big-picture things,” such as the state or politics, Bruce explained. Movements that are happening inside of institutions like churches or schools often aren’t counted as social movements.

"So part of what I’m doing is saying 'This counts – this is also a social movement,'" Bruce said.

One of her findings is that as an intrainstitutional social movement, Voice of the Faithful shared an identity and a culture with the group that was being targeted, which Bruce said is “central to its collective identity as a social movement.”

“Many affiliates were banned from meeting on church property, so they had to legitimate themselves as Catholics,” Bruce said. “They had to say ‘We are Catholic.’ As an intrainstitutional social movement, it was strategic to mirror the culture and tactics of the larger church so that they would be seen as legitimate Catholics. But the risk was that they ended up replicating many of the dynamics of the larger church. So that was surprising for me and I think surprising to them, too – realizing how deep the Catholic culture is as far as dictating what you do and how you understand the way the world works and how to make change.”

Bruce said the book should appeal to a broad audience, including members of churches and other organizations challenged by change from within; Catholics and anyone interested in contested religious identities; and sociologists who study social movements, organizations and the sociology of religion.

Bruce said she has used the study as a teaching tool in many of her classes when discussing social movements and research methods. She plans to use the book in her “Sociology of Religion” class later this semester.

“I think it’s a neat opportunity, because we’ll get to have conversations that we can’t have with other types of reading assignments for the class,” said Bruce, who also plans to talk about her book to Voice of the Faithful groups throughout the country. “I welcome the conversation and the opportunity to think through what my book says both about the Catholic Church and general ideas about change – what it means to advocate for change, especially change from inside an institution.”

For more information about Bruce’s book, visit

Those interested in purchasing the book can find it locally at the Maryville College Bookstore or online at, or

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2016 semester is 1,197.