Ambiguous Legitimation: Grassroots Roman Catholic Communities in Italy and Ecclesiastical Hierarchies
AbstractThe article deals with the complex and multifaceted relationships arising between the ecclesiastical hierarchy and grassroots Roman Catholic communities, the so-called New Catholic Communities (NCCs), founded in Italy in the wake of the Second Vatican Council and variously inspired by it. Two issues of particular importance in the sociological literature are addressed. The first concerns the criteria with which to construct a typology which can embrace the extreme variety of NCCs in existence today. Adapting a classic distinction drawn by Weber, the paper introduces and discusses a model which distinguishes among communities according to the twofold criteria of ascetic vs. mystical and this-worldly vs. other-worldly. The second issue concerns the recognition that the NCCs are able to obtain from the Catholic Church. It is argued that the negotiations entailed by such recognition are often rendered lengthy and tortuous, both by the controversial nature of the institutional, organizational and liturgical innovations adopted by the Communities and by the existence within the Church of several sources of legitimating authority. Torn between the duty to disavow excessively radical innovations and the desire to prevent open confl ict, the ecclesiastical bureaucracy often resorts to forms of ambiguous legitimation, where it is not clear whether the Church’s silence amounts to tacit condemnation or tacit approval of the new communities. The paper concludes by exploring the advantages that the NCCs can bring to the Church, and the consequent reasons that induce the relevant authority to abandon its proverbial prudence and grant rapid recognition.
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