The Future of the Organised Church Part III: Will Women Be Unhappy?

imageLast week, a study by the Social Attitude and Policy Research Group at Trinity College Dublin revealed that most Irish Catholic women think that their church does not treat them with respect. A stunning 74% of Irish Catholic women said that the Church did not treat them with ”a lot of respect” compared to just 6.3% of Protestant women.

That survey resonated with a Fermanagh Churches Forum panel discussion that I recently participated in, ‘The Future of the Organised Church: Any Questions?’ One of the questions from the floor was about the role of women in the church (you can read my first and second posts on the discussion here).

The woman posing the question wanted to know if the Catholic Church had any plans to recognise the role that women play in the church, through ordination or any other means.

I would like to think that this new survey would lend a sense of urgency to debate on the role of women in the Catholic Church, including ordination. But that’s assuming that the hierarchy takes seriously what the laity think, and what women think in particular. I’m not so optimistic about that.

For example, there was a short report in today’s Irish Times that Dublin parish priest Fr Gerard Dieghan of Harrington Street was planning to ban the latest issue of the Irish Catholic from his church, because it carries a front page story about the survey. Fr Dieghan denies this and says that the paper will still be on sale.

But the fact that people widely believed that the Irish Catholic would be banned – regardless of whether or not Fr Dieghan ever planned to do it – says something about the way people think the Catholic Church will react to more ‘bad news’:

By ignoring it, or covering it up.

Dr Geraldine Smyth OP, the Head of my School (the Irish School of Ecumenics) is quoted in the Irish Catholic article:

”I think the 76pc is a very high percentage, it needs to be listened to and attended to, not written off as lunatic fringe”. …the Church is wonderful at highlighting marginalisation of women in society and standing up for vulnerable women in the social and political sphere … however [that] does not translate in to the Church where women are not sufficiently valued.

Dr Smyth said that the church could not be renewed unless:

… The voice of women must be acknowledged, listened to and valued. Women have been excluded, this needs to be acknowledged and redressed in a practical way where the voices of women will be heard in structures within the Church.

The differences between how Catholic and Protestant women feel about their churches is perhaps even more striking than the percentage of Catholic women who do not feel valued.

The differences between Catholic and Protestant women was also discussed in Fermanagh. Panellists from Protestant traditions spoke of the positive impact that women’s ordination has had on the way all women are viewed within their tradition.

For instance, Zelda Kingston, a lecturer at South West College and Methodist preacher on the Enniskillen Circuit, spoke of the liberating impact of John Wesley’s including women in positions of authority from the very beginning of his ministry.

Presbyterian minister David Cupples added that he thought that all the churches could benefit from contemplating new models of pastoral care in which all members of the church – including women – are viewed as true equals.

He said women and men should feel free to use their gifts to serve each other – not wait around for a priest, minister or an elder to do it for them. I agree with this vision of church.

Indeed, I think that sometimes women’s ordination can be made into an idol, seen as the be-all and end-all of achievement for women in the church. I’m not saying I’m against women’s ordination, but I also think we should start thinking of – and valuing – other models of leadership among laypeople.

Many Catholic women would probably feel happier in their church if women could be ordained, but I fear this new survey shows that the problems go much deeper than that.

11 thoughts on “The Future of the Organised Church Part III: Will Women Be Unhappy?”

  1. There won’t ever be women priests in the Catholic Church. Cardinal Ratzinger affirmed, after Pope John Paul II’s ‘Ordinatio Sacerdotalis’, that the reservation of ordained priesthood to men only was part of the Deposit of Faith.This will not, and cannot change. The feminist/equality agenda wont, I repeat won’t, force the Catholic Church to ordain women. No amount of surveys or statistics or campaigning or protest will change this.

    Plus, since when was authentic Christianity ever about achieving recognition, status, or privilege? If you want to see a woman who is recognised and venerated, look at the Blessed Virgin Mary, the most exalted creature and mankind’s solitary boast. She who said ‘Do whatever He tells you’. And what did He say? He said ‘He who hears you, hears me.’

    Christ’s representative on earth has affirmed that there will be no women priests. That should be enough.

  2. I forgot to add: the point of real Christianity is not to get what we want in life, but to serve God in pure love. If it pains anyone that Christ appointed only male Apostles, then that’s a cross a person should carry, rather than protesting against Christ and His Church.

    There’s a really good website which explains the psychological origins of this whole problem and what can be done about it – I’ll link to the specific page, but the whole website is worth careful study:

  3. In my church situation, which Irish church authorities are free to replicate if they are willing to take responsibility, we have female as well as male lay pastors. This solution (which might not be the only one) is already known to those authorities who want to see and time is short.

  4. Women have not been excluded! Women are at the very heart of the Church.

    To the women who seek more involvement, I say, go home and evangelise your children and spouse. Then evangelise your brothers, sisters, parents and grandparents. Then evangelise your neighbours, friends, aquaintances and work colleagues. When you are finished with that lot, I am sure your PP will find you something else to do!

    The problem is that no one wants to do the real work!

  5. I agree with Caroline. It’s well known that the majority of those who attend church are female. I hear a lot of complaints about women being alienating from the Church but there seems to be little attention paid to the alienation of men. I think it’s in large part due to post-conciliar deformations of both the liturgy and doctrine. After having been shown the (experimental) new liturgy for the first time, Cardinal Heenan remarked: “At home it is not only women and children but also fathers of families and young men who come regularly to Mass. If we were to offer them the kind of ceremony we saw yesterday we would soon be left with a congregation of women and children.”

  6. Spot on Shane. I’m 29 and I feel alienated and so do my Catholic friends. I’m not against the New Mass per se, but I can’t attend a New Mass which is celebrated as the Church requires. Instead we get the cult of the priest’s personality and all the usual liturgical abuses which are the norm.

    I go to the New Mass locally on Sunday because the nearest EF Mass is an hour away.

    No matter where I go in the Church, I look around and wonder – ”Where are the young men?”

    The answer to that is: either in the pub, or at the EF (Traditional Latin) Mass.

  7. 1) How many Catholic men are evangelising?

    2) I will add that in my situation no acknowledgement is given to Clericalism (it interferes but that is another thing). I wonder if the women Gladys refers to are really reacting against Clericalism by wanting a share in it (which will not help other women as Clericalism has never helped men, boys or girls anyway).

  8. The involvement of lay people men and women, has lead to some “clericalisation” of the laity. In some churches we have lay people (readers and extra-ordinary ministers of Holy Communion dressed up in “clerical” robes. This was not supposed to happen!

  9. Where do men AND women get equipped to evangelise? What evangel have they to give to others?
    Gladys I think the bit about looking more widely for models is important. Some exist but get systematically ignored by authority.

  10. Michael:

    There are lots of resources available to Catholics, from books and DVDs from the Catholic Truth Society, to The Great Adventure Bible Timeline programme, to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the excellent Catechetical documents of the Church.

    See here:

    A good start would be to read CATECHESI TRADENDAE and EVANGELII NUNTIANDI, both available to read free online.

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