Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header

The Invisible Politics of Religion: Catholicism, Third Sector and Territory in Southern Europe

Final Report Summary - CATSSE (The Invisible Politics of Religion: Catholicism, Third Sector and Territory in Southern Europe)

PUBLISHABLE SUMMARY – CATSSE project –The invisible politics of religion: Catholicism, the third sector and territory in Southern Europe

Summary of the project’s objectives: This research project aims at contributing to the debate over religion and politics in the EU by reconsidering the role played by Catholicism in shaping civil society mobilizations in Southern European regions. The project focuses on the Catholic third sector. Empirical support will be taken from fieldwork research carried out in Southern European regions: the Basque Autonomous Community (Spain), Aquitaine (France), Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy (Italy). Despite the institutional and societal decline of Catholicism, religious actors have not renounced intervening in public debates. Rather, they have renewed their repertoire of action while becoming civil society actors amongst others in a pluralistic environment. As an organization, the Catholic Church defends both general causes and its own interests, and is involved in territorial governance networks associating civil society actors, private bodies and public authorities. This hypothesis will be tested through three case-studies: a) Historical legacy: Catholicism and the emergence of territorial social economies; b) The Catholic third sector, territorial welfare mix and immigration; c) The Catholic third sector’s mediations in ethnonational conflicts (the Basque conflict).

Description of the work performed since the beginning of the project: The methodology firstly included documentary analysis: secondary literature, original production by the organizations under examination, media coverage. This preliminary survey was supplemented by 60 semi-structured interviewed conducted in the regions under examination. The interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed.

Task 1: Historical legacy - Theoretical and empirical contributions to the social history of the role of Catholicism in the genesis of territorial social economy in Southern Europe were produced in 2012-2013, in collaboration with research networks on the social economy (ESEAC-EURICSE, CIRIEC); Task 2: The Catholic third sector, immigration and local welfare systems: fieldwork research was conducted in Spain (Basque Autonomous Community), Italy (Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy, Tuscany) and France (Aquitaine). Interviews were biased towards Catholic third sector organizations working in the field of territorial welfare. In Italy, 15 interviews were conducted in Forlì (Emilia Romagna) and 18 in Brescia (Lombardy) with diocesan bodies, third sector organizations, public authorities, (non Catholic) religious and secular third sector organizations. Additional fieldwork was conducted with the “Economy of Communion” movement in Tuscany, and participant observation was applied to several public meetings of Caritas in Forlì and Florence and to the Terra futura social forum. In the Spanish Basque Country, 12 semi-structured interviews were conducted with diocesan bodies, Catholic and secular third sector bodies. In the French Basque Country, interviews were conducted with Catholic associations and with social economy organizations; Task 3: The Catholic third sector’s mediations in ethnonational conflicts: this aspect of the research concentrated upon the mediation of the Catholic third sector in the Basque conflict. Documentary analysis was supplemented by 12 in-depth interviews with key-actors (religious leaders and organizations, peace movements, political parties) in Spain and France, thus updating preliminary surveys conducted by the author.

Dissemination: in 2012-2013, preliminary results were presented in academic venues and published in edited volumes and academic journals (see below). The researcher organized or co-organized panels on Social economy, territory and politics AFSP 2013 Conference, Paris; The invisible politics of religion: religious third sector and territorial welfare in Europe ECPR 2013 General conference, Bordeaux; Religion organizations in the local political sphere, SISP Conference 2013, Florence; and the COSMOS workshop Popular culture and repertoires of protest, EUI, 2013.

Training: the project was hosted by the COSMOS Centre on social movement studies and in the Working group on Religion and Politics at the EUI. The researcher co-organized, with Prof. D. della Porta, L. Bosi and S. Malthaner (COSMOS) a research seminar (fall 2013) on Political violence and social movements, and undertook intensive training in the Italian language at the EUI.

Main results: Our research has singled out three major sets of results.

First, despite societal and political secularization, Catholicism still plays a relevant public and political role in the Southern European territorial public spheres. This public role is particularly visible through the Church’s initiatives in the territorial welfare mix, in peace and in intercultural mediations. These invisible politics of religion, that focus on social inclusion, contrast in their political meaning with the highly publicized Catholic advocacy on ethical and family policy issues (eg abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia) in Italy, Spain or France. The social activism of the Church and Church-related bodies draws its efficiency from an institutional structure ranging from micro-territorial parishes to transnational networks (as exemplified by the Southern European Caritas’ 2012 mobilization against austerity policies), and from a wide array of institutional positioning on the Catholic spectrum.

Secondly, our research has produced new evidence over the consistent internal pluralism of the Catholic third sector in contemporary Southern European public spheres. This pluralism is obvious in the Catholic mediation in ethnonationalist conflicts (here, the Basque case), where at least three positionings (legalist, alternative, deliberative) can be found within the Catholic spectrum. This pluralism is also noticeable over the Catholic answer to the socioeconomic crisis that has hit the territories under scrutiny since 2008. All territories under examination, despite ranking among the wealthiest ones at EU level, have been affected by the financial and economic crisis. It has provoked considerable restrictions in the territorial welfare provisions and generated new forms of precarity and poverty. The Catholic answer to the crisis has been a plural one, ranging from positions promoting free-market and “catholicized” capitalism (notably through networks of Catholic entrepreneurs) to a more protest-oriented social Catholicism advocating more and better public regulation of welfare, fair housing, inclusive social policies and immigrants’ rights, alongside new anti-austerity social movements. Between these two poles, an intermediate positioning among the whole set of Catholic experiences has been identified: the social doctrine of the Church has inspired local small-scale social economy and cooperative experiences addressing emerging social needs.

As a consequence, this social activism on the part of Church organizations in times of crisis reveals changing relations of subsidiarity between religious social actors and policymakers. Even if differences between national Church-state regimes do matter (in particular the French regime of laïcité), our research confirms that the key to understanding these interactions lies first in welfare governance styles (Pettersen 2011). Italy and Spain, as Mediterranean welfare states, have both long been characterized by the relevance of religious actors in private action in support of the family and of vulnerable populations. Increases in state welfare over the last decades had relegated the charitable action of the Church to an important but complementary role (Moreno 2006). However, welfare in Southern European countries has in recent times experienced a pattern of liberalization in the delivery of welfare services, which, among other consequences, has had an effect on the degree of institutionalization of welfare providers coming from the third sector. This phenomenon has been accentuated by the economic crisis. In Spain and in Italy, decentralization processes have produced distinct regional welfare regimes, which in turn, constituted different patterns of integration for the Catholic third sector. In a sense, the liberalization of welfare, and particularly the outsourcing of social and care services, has brought religious organizations back to the front line, this time as third sector organizations, reversing the sidelining which the secularization of welfare had produced.

Expected final results and their potential impact and use: The main academic outcome will be a habilitation thesis (HDR, habilitation à diriger les recherches) that will be completed in 2014 at Sciences po Bordeaux (tentative title: “The other Catholics: religious third sector, territory and politics in Southern Europe”). The HDR will serve as a basis for a book. Research results on the third sector will be disseminated in 2014-2015 through international networks associating practitioners and academics (such as the Working group on Social Economy and Territory launched in 2013 by the author and N. Richez-Battesti at the CIRIEC International). Research results on peace and mediation will be disseminated in local academic and civic venues and through international peace organizations such as the Peace Research Institute, Oslo, which has commissioned a paper from the author on conflict transformation in the French Basque Country. Research results will also be disseminated by the researcher through teaching seminars scheduled for 2014 at the University of the Basque Country and Sciences po Bordeaux. It is expected that these results will be used by religious and secular third organizations and by policy-makers in order to improve the governance of territorial welfare, as well as mediations around intercultural and ethnonational conflicts.

Relevant contact details: Researcher: Xabier Itçaina CNRS Research fellow, Centre E. Durkheim, Sciences po Bordeaux

Scientist in charge at the EUI: Prof. Donatella della Porta, SPS,