No one had ever done a comprehensive survey of Catholic women. So we did.

Women pray during eucharistic adoration July 2 at the "Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America" in Orlando, Fla. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

This issue of America presents the findings of the most comprehensive survey of U.S. Catholic women ever conducted. The survey was commissioned by the editors of America and was conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, in partnership with The GfK Group. The results provide an unprecedented snapshot of the opinions of Catholic women in the United States on a wide variety of ecclesial and political issues.

You may be interested to know how it came about. Longtime readers will recall that in 2013, America published the first issue of a Jesuit journal written and edited entirely by women (10/13/13). In that groundbreaking issue, the editors announced that America would continue to make the role of women in the life of the church a top editorial priority. “As increasing numbers of women lead Catholic institutions and serve in parish leadership and theology departments,” the editors wrote, “we invite these women to share with us their thoughts and ideas on all topics, and we pledge to seek out their perspectives.” While acknowledging our own historical failures to represent fully the lives and voices of women in our pages, the editors also made a commitment to expand its roster of female contributors.

Longtime readers will recall that in 2013, America published the first issue of a Jesuit journal written and edited entirely by women.

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I am pleased to report that we have kept our promise. America has recruited more female staff members in the last five years than in the previous century. And a growing cadre of female contributors continues to explore the opportunities and challenges that women face in every corner of the church and the world.

But soon after making that commitment in 2013, we encountered a big problem. When our editors started to look for data about what Catholic women think about various issues, we could not find any. No such survey had ever been done. While both men and women would routinely say something like “Catholic women think this about X or Y,” no one had ever actually asked them, at least not in any comprehensive way.

So we decided to do it ourselves. Thus, what started as a search for basic information on Catholic women by one of America’s executive editors turned into a first-of-its-kind national research project. Over 1,500 women participated in the online study and shared their beliefs, practices, experiences and attitudes about being Catholic. Along with detailed data points comes a revealing and at times surprising portrait of a powerful segment of the population.

America has recruited more female staff members in the last five years than in the previous century.

When it comes to politics, Catholic women are a force to be reckoned with. Politicians should note that they fully intend to cast their votes in the 2018 elections. And, by and large, these women are independent thinkers who care deeply about the environment and about people who live in poverty.

The results also show that while the majority of Catholic women believe in God, the number who attend Mass and participate in the other sacraments is much lower at the younger end of the age spectrum. That is a wake-up call. The church in the United States must focus more intently on outreach to millennial Catholics and engage them in new and creative ways. And while there is good news in these results, the research also points to a clear lack of vision and mentorship for women in the church at both the national and parish levels. Accordingly, a majority of women would welcome the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate, a possibility currently being considered by a commission appointed by Pope Francis.

It is our hope that this survey will spark a new conversation about the role of women in the church in the United States. There is much here to reflect and act on. For our part, America will continue to pursue this topic in future issues and across all of its platforms. Many of the survey responses, in fact, warrant their own feature-length treatments. In pursuing this work, we will continue to benefit from the leadership of Kerry Weber, the executive editor who has shepherded this initiative. Many talented and committed people brought this survey to your mailbox, but it was Ms. Weber’s vision and leadership that ultimately made the difference. I am also deeply grateful to the Raskob Foundation for Catholic Activities, which provided the funding to support this work.

More than 20 years ago, the Society of Jesus called for a conversion of all its members, asking every Jesuit “to listen carefully and courageously to the experience of women” and to address the systemic injustices that women experience in all areas of life (34th General Congregation, 1995). This special issue is but one response to that call. But as the saying goes, the journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. With this issue we invite you to take a step with us toward a future in which the voices, talents and experiences of women are valued everywhere in the life of the church.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Charles Erlinger
9 months 1 week ago

I think that you all have done a very good job with this issue.

Lisa Weber
9 months 1 week ago

I am so glad that the views of Catholic women are finally being studied! We cannot move forward without understanding where we are. Thank you!

Michele Dillon
9 months 1 week ago

I appreciate that this survey focuses on women. But to say that: "When our editors started to look for data about what Catholic women think about various issues, we could not find any. No such survey had ever been done. While both men and women would routinely say something like “Catholic women think this about X or Y,” no one had ever actually asked them, at least not in any comprehensive way," - is to ignore a large number of published reputable sociological surveys of Catholic women and men, asking several of the same questions this survey asks.
Michele Dillon, Professor of Sociology, UNH

Mark Gray
9 months 1 week ago

There are many new questions here designed for this study. Of course questions like Mass attendance use the standards from previous research. What is interesting here is that this is a poll of Catholic women with a full sample asking about items specific to them. They aren't a sub-group within a poll with limited sample size and a more generic questionnaire. This new survey allows for people to examine sub-groups of Catholic women in ways that are difficult in many other surveys. It also includes questions that have yet to be examined elsewhere.

Michele Dillon
9 months 1 week ago

Hi Mark, yes, this survey has new questions - and that's good. But my point about the claim in the editorial stands. Several previous surveys, including (among other surveys dating to the 1980s), the data my co-authors and I gathered for *American Catholics in Transition* have not used 'generic' questions or 'generic' questionnaires but have asked specifically about many of the elements of Catholicism - the sacraments, social justice, specific church teachings, lay participation, political views, women's ordination, etc. - that are important to Catholics (women and men). And we had sufficient sample size to included generational and ethnic differences. I think *America* can celebrate its survey without exaggerating its novelty in asking Catholic women their views.

Sandi Sinor
9 months ago

Thank you, Michelle, for setting the record straight and providing specific information. Over the years, I have seen and read a number of studies focused on Catholic women. However, I could not name them specifically, because they were read over a period of years and I don't remember all who conducted the studies and when.

Nora Bolcon
9 months 1 week ago

With all due respect Fr. Malone, until we are ordaining women to priesthood exactly as you were ordained under the exact same sacrament, women are abused and treated as less in our church. I myself was called to priesthood when I was a teen. Back then I went thru the pain of people explaining to me how stupid I was not to realize that what God really meant is he wanted me to be a nun, even though God refused to agree with that suggestion when I brought it up to him in prayer repeatedly. Now we shove another far lesser, and unnecessary ministry of the permanent deaconate at women instead of push them towards the convent. This is not an improvement but yet another insult to women who know just as much as you knew what ministry they were called to when God called them to be ordained priests in our church.

“to listen carefully and courageously to the experience of women” and to address the systemic injustices that women experience in all areas of life (34th General Congregation, 1995).

Courage means standing by your sisters who were called to be priests even if it risks your own standing as a priest in our church. That is what Jesus would do. One wonders does anyone actually value what the Gospels actually taught. It seems less and less the case to me, sadly, especially in my church. Your answer is just throw something at women to shut em up. Don't respect the plea of women to be treated with equal dignity as human beings which can only be proven by equal and same treatment and yes equal and same ordination.

John Kasbar
9 months 1 week ago

This article states, “The results also show that while the majority of Catholic women believe in God...”. What process was used to determine whether those polled are actually Catholic?

Jeannette Mulherin
9 months 1 week ago

As long as male clerics continue to insist that women cannot image Christ on the altar, they are in effect telling all women that they are not made in the image of God. But please, continue to pat yourselves on the back for hiring three women and commissioning a study. Those millennials will be back in no time!

Luis Gutierrez
9 months 1 week ago

More men will go to church when we have women priests.

paul ryan
9 months 1 week ago

Need robux generator then hack roblox and acquire the whole world to win all the matches against the opponents.

Sandi Sinor
9 months ago

It appears that the men in the church are getting increasingly anxious about why so many Catholic women have already left, and are trying to figure out ways to keep those who haven't yet headed for the doors, especially younger women, active in the church.

IMHO, based on reading many studies that have been done already (as noted by Michelle Dillon), confirmed by the purely anecdotal evidence I could give based on my personal experience with many formerly Catholic women who have left the church, the biggest problem is Catholic teaching - women are denied a sacrament. The popes seem to look at women primarily as people whose main role in life is to bear and raise children, who will teach those children unquestioning loyalty in the church (referred to as "passing on the faith"), and in other roles that support men, both in the family and in the church,. Men are "active" and women are supposed to be passive.

The men who run the Catholic church seem to believe that they literally have a divine right to define women's roles for them, and to deny them access to a sacrament. One can see from the list of roles mentioned in this series of articles that women might play in the church these days that every single one of them is at the discretion of men. If a bishop decides it would be good PR to have a woman be Chancellor, he will choose a token women to be in a highly visible role. Some parish priests "let" women serve on the Finance Council or Parish Council, and others limit their roles to teaching the children and ironing altar cloths. It doesn't matter if it's an "important" job in a chancery or college or a seminary, it is the men who decide whether or not a woman will be "allowed" to serve in the job. If a woman is "allowed" to teach theology, she teaches theology defined exclusively by men. If she dares to suggest a different interpretation, most likely she will be fired. None of "allowed to women" jobs provide women input into definition of doctrine, including the doctrines that most often impact them, their marriages, and their families.

No matter how often men deny that they treat women as second-class citizens in the church, more and more younger, educated women see the truth and they will continue to walk away from an institution that so demeans them and their daughters. Many say they will not raise their children in a church that essentially teaches that their sons have more "ontological" value than their daughters.

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