Defense Date


Graduation Date

Spring 2016


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Communication and Rhetorical Studies


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Janie Harden Fritz

Committee Member

Ronald Arnett

Committee Member

Richard Thames


American Catholic Church, Brand and Rebranding, Clergy Sexual Abuse, Ecumenical Councils, Isocrates


This dissertation attempts to rebuild the American Catholic brand fractured by the priests' sexual abuse scandals, using Isocrates' theory of self-defense and self-representation as found in his Antidosis. The work conceptualizes the Catholic Church as a brand because it is a religious organization with an army of followers, is well-known, and is an indisputable leader in the provision of education, healthcare, and social welfare, thereby playing an important role in the socio-cultural consciousness of many Americans. Built over centuries of service to its members and the country, the Catholic brand from the 1960s to the dawn of the twenty-first century had enjoyed high moral authority as a religious organization that promoted the dignity of the human person and acted as an ethically responsible corporate citizen in American society. However, such moral authority crumbled following the 2002 Boston Globe revelations that for decades the Church's hierarchy in the Archdiocese of Boston had sexually preyed on innocent children and vulnerable members. The result has been a crisis of faith and trust, lasting for over a decade in spite of the Church's efforts to create a safe environment for its children and vulnerable members and to hold predator priests accountable.

This dissertation holds the view that, for the Church in America to rebuild its brand and thereby restore its fractured image and reputation, it must adopt a rebranding model based on Isocrates' theory of self-defense and self-representation/characterization. Consistent with the Isocratean rebranding model, the American Catholic Church must embrace its core identity as a model institutional citizen that promotes the dignity of the human person, differentiate and dissociate itself from predator priests and their episcopal supporters, establish goodwill toward stakeholders by setting up monuments to memorialize abuse victims, organizing annual events for victims to tell their stories, holding abusive clergy and irresponsible bishops accountable, allowing the lay faithful to play an active role in priestly formation, being more transparent in its handling of sexual abuse cases, and requiring seminarians and priests to undergo frequent sexual assault and sexual harassment training. Moreover, the ecclesial community must reconcile with victims by honestly confessing its complicity in the tragedy of the abuse and seeking forgiveness.