These organizations serve as informal schools for learning more about politics from a religious perspective.
This view of church as a community is popular among Catholics. In the Notre Dame Study of Catholic Parish Life, when Catholics were given a choice of possible images of church, the most preferred (by 42 percent) was that of the church as "the community of believers." 51 In another study, Dixon and Hoge found that the most preferred view of the church was that of a "mystical communion," or community of believers. 52 Given the communal emphasis within the church, opportunities for cooperative efforts, interchanges of ideas, and, therefore, group socialization are more possible than in an environment in which religious action is primarily personal.
Wald, Owen, and Hill demonstrate the importance of viewing churches as political communities. They find strong correlations between the theological emphasis of a church and the political attitudes of its members. "The extent of theological traditionalism prevailing in the congregation moves individual members to more conservative preferences on social issues and makes them more disposed to identify as political conservatives." 53 This connection between theological and political views is an important, though infrequently studied, phenomenon. The authors rightfully stress a need to "redirect inquiry on religion and politics from an individualist perpective toward models that stress the formative influence of the immediate religious environment." 54
While each congregation is unique, all Catholic parishes follow the same order of the Mass, and they share in a church teaching that is transmitted from higher authorities within the Church. More so than Protestant congregations, Catholic parishes are more directly responsive to the influence of a church hierarchy. All parishes and priests within a diocese are answerable to the bishop. A program of reform, therefore, if vigorously pushed by church leaders, has a good chance of percolating into the lives of practicing Catholics.
Over the last several decades, that formative environment of the church has been transformed by a theological revolution within Roman Catholicism. We now turn to an examination of this event, the Second Vatican Council.