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Demands for fundamental church reform within the Roman-Catholic Church were recently expanded by the academic and judicial processes involved in coming to terms with the global clergy sex abuse crisis. Within the Church, and across civil society, many believe that the Catholic Church ought to be governed differently. However, despite the progressive agenda of the ‘liberal’ Pope Francis, the Church has failed to change fundamentally. This raises the questions: what aspects of the Church’s governing processes inhibit progressive reforms and what actors within its government possess the power to implement fundamental change. This research seeks to answer these questions by tracing the policymaking process of the four most significant reform proposals made during Pope Francis’s papacy, namely: the admission of civilly remarried divorcees and Catholics’ Protestant spouses to Holy Communion; the permission for women to become members of the clergy; and the relaxation of laws that prohibit members of the clergy to marry. Comparing and contrasting the different policymaking actors and procedures that led some of these reforms to (partially) succeed, and others to be deferred indefinitely, enables an assessment of the ability and willingness of certain actors to implement fundamental change. It is found that, although any reform depends on papal approval, it is primarily bishops in their various decision-making roles who enable reforms by raising, formulating, and devising progressive policy proposals. In practice, this means that Catholic activist groups ought not to merely address their demands to the pope but generate support among bishops too.
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