Women are deeply disappointed
· When there is no listening ·
Shortly after I began my work as President of America we realized we had a big problem: the absence of female voices. When our editors started to seek data on what Catholic women think with regard to various issues, they could find no trace of any such information. A survey of the kind had never been made. Thus we decided to carry out one ourselves. What began as a quest for essential information on Catholic women by one of the executive directors of America turned into a national research project, the first of its kind. More than 1,500 women took part in the online survey at the beginning of last winter.
Some of the information is good but much else is worrying. Although the majority of Catholic women remain in some way bound to the Church they are nevertheless disengaged or are in the process of disengaging themselves. While most American Catholic women believe in God, the number of those who take part in Mass and participate in the other sacraments becomes far lower as one moves down to the youngest age bracket. If you are a woman, then the younger you are the more likely it is that there is no room for the Church in your life.
Why? In the survey American Catholic women repeatedly indicated the lack of a clear vision and of visible leaders for women in the Church at both the national and parochial levels. In simple words: women do not feel welcome in the Church because they do not see themselves in positions of authority or leadership, a situation which is exacerbated by the steep decline in female vocations to religious life. Therefore, according to the survey, the majority of American Catholic women would appreciate the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate.
However, if one of the more general causes of the crisis of sexual abuse is the culture of clericalism in the Church, then to ordain women to the first rank of the clerical state cannot be the only solution.
We must also separate power from the priesthood. The Church must ask herself whether every non-sacramental leading role currently carried out by a cleric must necessarily be carried out by a cleric. If the answer is no, these positions should be open to both lay men and lay women and the appointment of women to such positions should become a priority. If women are to remain or return, they do not only need to hear it said that they have an important place in ecclesial leadership but they also need to see it.
More than 20 years ago the Society of Jesus invited all its members to a conversion, asking every Jesuit “to listen with attention and courage to the experience of women”, and to “face the systematic injustices experienced by women in all the walks of life”. The Society of Jesus has followed that directive in a discontinuous way. But at least the Jesuits have tried. The Church must now seek to include the voices, talents and experiences of women everywhere in ecclesial life. However, to do this we must first do something that we do not always find easy: we must listen.
Jesuit, President of “America Media”
St. Peter’s Square
March 22, 2019
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