A Crisis of Catholic Women?

Women listen to Helen Alvare, a law professor at George Mason University's law school in Arlington, Va., deliver a keynote speech June 8 at "Given," a leadership forum for young Catholic women at The Catholic University of America in Washington. The six-day event was sponsored by the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Where you stand depends on where you sit. If you are one of the 24 percent of Catholic women who sit in the pews at least once a week, some of the results of America Media’s comprehensive survey of women in the church, featured in this issue, could be disheartening or even dismaying. Over 50 percent of Catholic women attend Mass a few times a year or less; 70 percent go to confession less than once a year or never; very few take on parish ministry roles like lector or eucharistic minister.

But there are also more hopeful findings. All the women who responded to this survey still identify themselves as Catholic, however far they may have strayed from a consistent practice of the faith they were raised in. Despite their low level of traditional engagement in the life of the church, 82 percent said they never considered leaving Catholicism; the vast majority have no or little doubt about the existence of God; 68 percent “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree” that they are proud to be Catholic.

Despite their low level of traditional engagement in the life of the church, 82 percent said they never considered leaving Catholicism.

Advertisement

What are we to make of this wide and growing gulf between sacramental participation and Catholic identity? One reaction can be that of the older brother in the Gospel of Luke: dismiss apparently prodigal believers as unworthy of the designation “real Catholics.” A more productive and Christlike response would be to go to the peripheries of the church to listen to what is driving women from the pews—and to learn what is keeping them nonetheless Catholic. The America Media survey reveals several explanations for the former, from disagreement with church teachings to dissatisfaction with their local pastor or parish, that deserve deeper exploration.

The data should invite neither complacency nor despair. Most respondents said helping the poor (79 percent) and receiving the Eucharist (69 percent) are “somewhat” or “very much” important to their Catholic identity. Whatever human or institutional failings have led Catholic women to disengage from the church, Jesus and his good news continue to shape how they see themselves and the world.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Genevieve Burns
6 months ago

It's only an opinion, based solely on my personal anecdotal evidence....

I believe that the promotion of YOGA, as started in Hollywood via Kabbalists like Madonna and her kabbalist sponsors and promoters, is what is responsible for much of the loss of spirituality in Jesus' Church.

Just as many promoters of atheism are motivated by being anti-Christ and anti-Catholicism, I also believe that "at the top" the nationwide promotion of yoga is a scam, done to dilute belief in Jesus' message and spirituality.

Yoga isn't even that great a workout or time well spent. It's a scam on all of us.

go go
6 months ago

That's hilarious. Thanks for the satire. I choose to believe this is satire and not your real understanding of why people don't go to church.

Lisa Weber
6 months ago

I returned to the Catholic Church after 40 years away. I found it had much more to offer than I remembered. In the ten years that I have been back, I have found it discouraging that so many want to return to the forms of the pre-Vatican II church. I have also learned that a woman has to be courageous to withstand the attacks from other Catholics if she holds any but the most conservative (mindless) views. The hostility of conservative Catholics toward moderates and (nonexistent) liberal Catholics is a large part of the reason that the pews are so empty.

Nora Bolcon
6 months ago

Amen sister. No mystery here. Treat and ordain women the same as men just like Jesus would do and we solve most of our church's problems and many of the ones it has with women.

Genevieve Burns
6 months ago

Attacks? You were away for 40 years, but want to impose your views on good Catholic people?

Don’t you know the story of the prodigal son? Sure, you should be welcomed back! But you should be sorry and repent like the son did. You abandoned God, your Father, for 40 years!!!!!

Or are you more special than the prodigal son? You call the shots now? Sorry, but Jesus’ Gospel never changes. It is revealed truth.

Jim Lein
6 months ago

Not exactly a warm welcome home. Not quite like the father of the prodigal son, who I think that story calls us to emulate: forgiving and rejoicing when someone returns home. I was away for two different 10 year stretches of agnosticism/secular humanism and for some years attended both the Catholic and Lutheran churches before returning about 15 years ago. The Lutheran church was more accepting and welcoming, but I missed the kneeling, the praying.
Oops, perhaps I shouldn't be commenting here; I can't speak from a woman's perspective.

Lisa Weber
6 months ago

To Jim Lein - You can certainly comment on the experience of leaving and returning to the church, even if not from a woman's perspective. It sounds like your experience was similar to mine.

Nora Bolcon
6 months ago

I agree, that ritual and our sacraments have a real power that is difficult to leave behind. This is why I believe God has had me fight for same and equal treatment and ordination of men and women while remaining in the church. We do need to change our misogynistic rules or we will continue to lose people. However, I believe it is more important to make the RC Church that we are a part of now into a just church rather than leave it unchallenged allowing it to continue damaging men and women around the world. What's the adage, "Be the change you want to see happen". I believe this is the truly Christian choice.

Lisa Weber
6 months ago

To Genevieve Burns - Yes, "attacks" is the correct word for some of what I have experienced. I am not expecting to impose my views on other Catholics, but neither do I expect to be attacked for having my own views. I did not abandon God; I abandoned the Catholic Church - those two actions are not one and the same.

The comment section of America magazine can be an education in itself. I hope you enjoy your education and I pray that it proceeds apace.

Juan Pablo Hurtado
5 months 4 weeks ago

Thanks for your brave response to a totally uncalled for attack Lisa.

Nora Bolcon
6 months ago

There really is no mistaking why women leave the pews, a demand we uphold the ideals of misogyny and unequal sacramental worth and value. Women are still continually treated like we are the ones who don't know the Gospel when we explain to our brothers that they are not supposed to treat us any differently than they would like to be treated themselves. Stripping us of one our most important sacraments, ordination, along with forced voicelessness and votelessness while we watch many healthy parishes be destroyed for a supposed lack of priests. Few things hurt more than being a woman called to priesthood and watching a beautiful healthy parish close its doors because having no priest and no church for people is better to our leaders than having women ordained to priesthood the same as their brothers.

Genevieve Burns
6 months ago

Ridiculous. Women were MORE faithful to Jesus before Vatican II. A simple analysis of religious vocations, divorce and adultery % and “keep Holy the sabbath day” statistics proves this. The numbers don’t lie. Sorry.

Women spend more time doing “yoga” than honoring Jesus. Simple as that. We’ve been suckered. More women read 50 Shades than pray to God our Father or act the way Jesus wants us to.

We should all strive to have the faith of our grandmothers, who were far happier too.

go go
6 months ago

Seriously Genevieve, your doing a great job with this character - the over the top conservative bit is endearing. Your really busting these folks' chops. Yoga! Your grandma was way happier than you! Your killing it!
If being "faithful" means being willing to submit to male rules and not feeling like you have the freedom to disagree or speak for yourself, then heck ya, women were way more faithful pre-Vatican II.
I'm looking forward to your next bit about JP II saving the world from communism. Go all the way!

Susan Rose Smith
6 months ago

Go go, I am enjoying hearing your perspective...yes, the yoga reference is somewhat bizarre... As for Catholic women in the church, I was pretty amazed to read about the survey to begin with. I have felt marginalized since I was a little girl, though I never had the words to describe those feelings until much later in my life. If, in fact, it's truly all about our souls, then I don't see why a woman's soul is any less than a man's. God calls women to the spiritual life the same way men are called to the spiritual life. Ordained priesthood should be an option for women.

Nora Bolcon
6 months ago

Thanks Susan. You will find the Gospels back this also. In truth Jesus never said he ordained any apostle to any form of priesthood outside of the Royal Priesthood which all of his male and female followers were and are a part. He picked the 12 Israelite blooded men to be judges to fulfill a prophesy of lineage, so they had to have Abraham's blood and be male. I believe in the Sacrament of Ordination for priests and above but we are abusing it as a tool for misogyny with no scripture basis for doing this. It was in fact Jesus who stated do not condemn others, the flesh is nothing and the spirit (which has no gender or race, etc.) is everything." So kudos to you for your apt response.

Nora Bolcon
6 months ago

There is a difference between being faithful to Jesus and being faithful to the church. Yes all laypeople were more obedient to clergy Pre-Vatican II but our church was already starting to decline so hence forth we had Vatican II. Pre Vatican II, slavery was not only acceptable to our church leaders but our church owned many and sold many. (See Georgetown slavery articles). Slavery is bad and always has been. Just like sexism, especially religious sexism, and misogynistic bias has always been sinful and has always caused poverty, war, violence, child abuse, slavery and even terrorism on a global scale (these are facts not opinions). Sin is wrong in every age. Hate and discrimination of groups is always sin and sin does not become righteousness over any length of time, regardless of who commands support of the sin.

Jay Zamberlin
6 months ago

Once again, the generation "Me" has checked in to let us know who and what it's all about....it's all about, you guessed it; ME. They love the church songs about, well, did you have to ask, and they really don't want to become priests, but ME doesn't feel empowered without a reflection of ....who else??? ME, wonderful, fully realized, hyper insightful, self important, (I know, redundant) and ever worried about..MOI. (mmm. maybe that's why they stayed away, or like someone here suggested, while getting mocked for it, that some of generation ME have been prone to some outside influences along side a Church that can't seem to keep her own self story straight - no wonder people are confused)

Here's an idea, the Priesthood might just NOT be about self realization, your wonderfulness, it would seem that it might not be, a 'position we can "aspire" to,' maybe its a calling, and if the Church, guided by that same Holy Spirit, (oh, play along for a minute, thanks) has not "gotten the memo" from Jesus up until now (you know, the One who always leaves "unfinished" business and gave us a Church as a "work in progress" ) well, maybe, dear heart, the priesthood is really reserved to those Jesus actually called. Just a thought.

One more "consoling" idea, what about the eleven Hebrew tribes that weren't Levi, gee, do you think they felt as bad because THEY could not be priests either, neither men nor women.....Just a thought.

Nora Bolcon
6 months ago

Ok - I think this was in response to my comment but with these threads it is not always easy to tell.
For starters - concerning your idea that women when they are called to priesthood are self calling themselves? I can't really figure out thru your mumbo jumbo nonsense exactly what you mean. Also, why do you believe that Jesus ever set up the 12 apostles to be priests since there is not one reference to anyone being ordained a priest by Jesus or any of the 12 apostles anywhere in the New Testament? In fact, the only time St. Peter brings up priesthood is to describe how all men and women followers are equally part of the Royal Priesthood. None of the apostles ever describes themselves as being part of any other priesthood or a higher level or sacramental level than other believers. So Jesus didn't cause the sexism. He picked 12 men who had Israelite blood running thru their bodies to fulfill prophesy of lineage for judges over Israel not priests. None of the Apostles was even a Levite. So if only our clergy throughout history that meet the standard Jesus gave us for picking the 12 apostles makes any of our clergy's ordinations valid then appx. 99% of our past clergy and all of our present clergy are invalidly ordained by your standard. None of them has the right blood. Hebrews actually uses the Levitical Priesthood as a comparison on how Jesus has completely fulfilled that priesthood by his one sacrifice making it no longer important what body or blood the individual who leads in the Royal Priesthood has from the time of Jesus' death onwards. Gospel words of Jesus - "The flesh is nothing and the Spirit (no gender or race, etc.) is EVERYTHING." If you care about the Gospel, why don't you stand up for what it actually teaches which is this commandment above all and over all rules of men: "You must Love God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength and Love your neighbor (male and female) as yourself. Never treat anyone any differently than you wish to be treated" (This results automatically in a person having to treat all other people exactly the same in same situations, i.e. I can't treat Sally and Bob and Lucy the same as I want to be treated if I treat one differently than the other. It is impossible so I have to treat everyone the same.) This commandment is to all and there are no exceptions to it in any Gospel. So bishops, when they refuse to ordain women based solely on their flesh, they are treating their sisters differently than they would have wanted the bishop who ordained them a priest to treat them. Therefore they break this commandment of Jesus Christ's directly and absolutely. This is a grave sin. This commandment is the most fundamental law which Christ himself states defines us as his followers and saved individuals. Also, after much pain from this rejection of my people whom God called me to love and serve as an ordained priest in our church, God showed me to return and fight for change so your Me centered nonsense is probably best describing your own ideas. You seem to be of the mind: "If I don't like change we can just keep on hurting people even to our own complete self-destruction." Not very Christian in its agenda. In fact, on one of the recent surveys asking NONES why so many of our youth left the church - this was the 2nd highest rated answer: Catholics aren't very Christian. Sadly, you seem to be proving them correct with your comments.

fpm vd
6 months ago

Ridiculous. Women were MORE faithful to Jesus before Vatican II. A simple analysis of religious vocations, divorce and adultery % and “keep Holy the sabbath day” statistics proves this. The numbers don’t lie. Sorry.

Women spend more time doing “yoga” than honoring Jesus. Simple as that. We’ve been suckered. More women read 50 Shades than pray to God our Father or act the way Jesus wants us to.

We should all strive to have the faith of our grandmothers, who were far happier too.
music pleer

Randal Agostini
6 months ago

The letters mirror the Babel society we have created. The reason that women and men leave the Catholic Church is because they do not agree with the message. They are more comfortable living the accepted life of secularism, which cannot accept ANY religion or God except the God of self.
It does not matter how many ideas a displaced Catholic may have in their bag of conditions - none are worth a grain of salt unless the most fundamental lesson of Jesus is learned - humility.
Imagine - Our God, our Creator left the comfort of his spiritual world to become a human baby, of a poor peasant family in occupied Palestine - out of Love for Us.

Barry Fitzpatrick
5 months 4 weeks ago

And so, the question remains, when will this Church welcome full participation of women in its ministries, all its ministries? You say women have "strayed from a consistent practice of the faith they were raised in." Straying implies that they are doing something wrong, when, in fact, they may be developing and growing in their faith at a level and in a practice that does not match the model we have imposed on them. If clericalism continues to rule the day and the future, women naturally will continue to "stray" so that they might deepen their faith in settings that fully embrace them as equals and not as ontologically inferior partners in the mission of the Gospel. We continue to set apart priests in so many ways from publicly declared superiority to dress that we are almost immune to the absurdity of it all. Women are not alone in "straying" either. The young who long for a meaningful relationship with Jesus are not well served by the costumes worn during liturgical celebrations nor by the shutting down of all dialogue on issues deemed non-negotiable. The time to change the conversation has long passed. It is time to change the practice.

Lisa Weber
5 months 4 weeks ago

Thank you for pointing out that people, women particularly, may have to loosen their attachment to the church in order to continue growing in their faith. The church treats women like children and there is little opportunity within the church for women to have an adult discussion about faith in their lives. If a woman has to adhere to the childish rules laid out for her and carry on a discussion only within the parameters of what she is told is allowable for women - that is no discussion at all.

Advertisement

The latest from america

So what does it matter what a celibate woman thinks about contraception?
Helena BurnsJuly 20, 2018
Former US President Barack Obama gestures to the crowd, during an event in Kogelo, Kisumu, Kenya, Monday, July 16, 2018. (AP Photo Brian Inganga)
In Johannesburg, Obama gave what some commentators consider his most important speech since he vacated the Oval Office.
Anthony EganJuly 20, 2018
With his "Mass," Leonard Bernstein uses liturgy to give voice to political unease.
Kevin McCabeJuly 20, 2018
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, arrives for the Jan. 6 installation Mass of Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
Women often “bring up the voice of those who are the most vulnerable in our society,” says Hans Zollner, S.J., who heads the Centre for Child Protection in Rome.