‘Sharing’ the Catholic Faith: How Priests Establish/Maintain Religious Authority on Facebook
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Understanding how religious leaders use the internet to maintain their religious authority has been an area of study in media studies for the past twenty years. Little consensus has been reached as to what religious authority is, in the context of the internet. Nor, has the population of Catholic priests been investigated in light of religious authority on the internet. Therefore, this study seeks to understand strategies used by Catholic priests in the United States on Facebook to establish/maintain their religious authority using Facebook. Data was gathered by survey and in depth interviews with priests who acknowledged using Facebook on a regular basis. Survey data indicated that priests utilized Facebook in ways that mirrored three parts of their priestly identity. They used it as representatives of the institutional Catholic Church, members of the profession of priests, and as individuals. These three parts of priests’ identities led to differing strategies. Being a representative of the institutional Catholic Church included disseminating important Church information and defending doctrinal teachings of the Church. As a member of the profession of priests, they used Facebook to disseminate information about their local Church and build relationships in the professional capacity. As individuals, priests used Facebook to stay in contact with friends and family, sharing life events, using Facebook as a news-aggregate, and as a source of comedic content. It became evident that even the personal ways that priests used Facebook were ways of maintaining religious authority. Contrary to the overt strategies, priests utilized the personal space for covert evangelization. Since the survey data indicated that their identity was so important on Facebook, interview questioning probed why and how identity construction took place. Interview data indicated that authenticity was of the upmost importance when constructing an identity. Priests had to consider various and sometimes contradicting audiences when posting content on Facebook to represent themselves on Facebook. Additionally, their identities had to indicate that they were made in God’s likeness in order to connect their various identities with a sense of religious authority. This led priests to the strategies indicated in survey data, namely, relationship building, evangelizing, and promoting Church-related content in order to establish/maintain religious authority on Facebook.
Altenhofen, Brian Joseph (2016). ‘Sharing’ the Catholic Faith: How Priests Establish/Maintain Religious Authority on Facebook. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from