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.
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.