Though the degree of influence that US bishops have over Catholic parishioners is inconsistent, the institutional power bishops have over parish priests suggests that bishops enjoy reliable influence over their local subordinates. However, there are an array of competing influences over parish priests that, when made salient, might make priest reliance on bishop instructions for political behavior less reliable. Using data from the first ever survey experiment on a national sample of US Catholic priests, we assess the effects of randomly priming priests with varying considerations of their professional responsibilities and relevant constituencies (including parishioner expectations). Results suggest that priests opt to rely on bishop cues when primed to consider institutional responsibilities as part of their professional identity, but that bishop influence over priest political behavior is, at best, indirect.
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