Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Kathryn Olson

Committee Members

John Jordan, Marie Sandy, Erik Timmerman, Leslie Harris


Catholicism, Deliberative, Feminism, Prophetic, Rhetoric


This dissertation contrasts the Catholic Church's rhetorical framing of feminist activism within the Church against the rhetoric of two organizations that speak on behalf of Catholic feminism. The study conceptualizes the engagement between the Church hierarchy and the feminists as a chorus of voices, each claiming to advocate for authentically Catholic principles. The rhetorical voice of each agent is analyzed to uncover underlying rhetorical strategies. The dissertation argues that although the Church establishment, through the use of the doctrinal voice, claims a contradiction between Catholicism and radical feminism, Catholic feminists attempt to dissolve the alleged contradiction with the use of two rhetorical strategies: the prophetic voice and the deliberative voice. The concept of the prophetic voice, developed from Darsey's (1997) theory of prophetic rhetoric, explains how Catholic feminists make sense of the rejection or censure they receive from the Catholic hierarchy and how they argue for their role in returning the Church to the fundamentals of the Gospel message. The concept of the deliberative voice, borrowed and adapted from its civic-political context, illuminates the vision of the Catholic feminists for a renewed Church. The deliberative voice serves as a rhetorical counterpoint to the doctrinal voice. In contrast to the latter, it insists that Truth need not be revealed exclusively through doctrinal authority. The combination of the prophetic and deliberative voices allows Catholic feminists to argue that taking a radical stance against patriarchy and hierarchy does not enact a deviation from Catholicism, but is instead consistent with the Gospel message. However, the prophetic and deliberative voices rest on contradictory assumptions of certainty and openness, respectively. This tension constrains Catholic feminists from fully realizing the rhetorical potential of either voice. Nevertheless, the obligations of the Catholic feminist identity impel the women to alternate between the two voices. Each group of Catholic feminists highlighted in this study privileges one voice over the other, depending on its level of engagement with the Church hierarchy. Finally, this dissertation argues that the rhetorical work undertaken by Catholic feminists demonstrates the potential for integrating progressive and fundamentalist rhetorical stances, challenging the conventional assumption that these two positions are inherently incompatible.