Women’s Leadership Survey
Most Committed Parishioners Also Most Hopeful
The only reason I still practice is because of my parish, which is not clerically centered and addresses gender/power/language issues with openness & action, wrote a Spokane, WA respondent.
One of the most interesting findings of FutureChurch’s 2006 Advancing Women in Church Leadership Survey is that those closest to the parish experience are also those who have the most hope.
Though there are more female lay ministers in the U.S. Catholic Church than diocesan priests, the institutional Church remains resistant to discussing women in Church leadership roles. The 2,018 survey responses to FutureChurch’s 2006 survey of progressive Catholics supplied helpful information and strategies for catalyzing this important discussion. Space does not permit a complete description of all findings. Read the comprehensive report.
Highly Involved in Parish Life. Progressive Catholics are often portrayed by their opponents as remote from Catholic experience, uncaring and in opposition to the Church. The opposite was true for survey respondents. Eighty-five percent were active in their parish and attended Mass weekly or more. A substantial 65% serve the church as priests, parish life coordinators pastoral ministers, Eucharistic ministers, and other roles.
Support Expanded Women's Roles. Most survey respondents strongly support gender-inclusive language and women's equal roles in all aspects of ministry and decision-making, including ordaining women to the priesthood and diaconate. The findings are consistent with numerous national polls showing Catholics support the idea of women priests. A notable finding of our survey is that those closest to the parish experience were also more optimistic about parish acceptance of women's leadership roles than other groups.
Over 20 Percent Called to Priesthood. Over one out of five survey respondents (22.2% or 447) agreed that “I have a call to be a priest,” and 64% know a woman with a call to be a priest. Far from being disaffected, critical observers of Catholicism, respondents who experience a call to the priesthood are deeply engaged in Catholic life. Many are women who are already serving the church.
What About Hope? One of the more provocative findings of the survey is that even though 69% percent of respondents agreed that they are losing hope in the possibility of any official changes to benefit women in the church, those more closely connected to parish life (serve church, active in parish, attend mass at least weekly) and members of small faith communities were less likely to “strongly agree” that they were losing hope about women's roles in the church. This leads one to wonder if there is something about staying deeply rooted in a faith community and the Eucharist that provides spiritual sustenance for the long haul?
Diverse Approaches Preferred. Only 36.6 % of respondents thought equality efforts should focus solely on priestly ordination, while 93.5% believed efforts to advocate for women homilists and deacons should also be made. Just 46.6 % believed efforts should focus primarily on education and prayer, while 80.2 % thought efforts should focus primarily on concrete actions and strategy.
Work Within, Outside Church. Increasing numbers of Catholic women are seeking ordination from alternative sources such as the Roman Catholic WomenPriests organization or the Ecumenical Catholic Communion. For those working for reform/renewal of institutional Catholicism, it is important to discover what progressive Catholics believe about working outside church structures for ordination. Respondents replied with the practical answer that work must take place both within and without. Seventy nine percent agreed “we should work within the existing structures to change the teachings and practices of the Church regarding women's equality,” and seventy four percent believe we should work outside the existing structures to achieve this end. While a substantial 60% majority accepts strategies aimed at working outside church structures, only 11% were willing to give their personal energy to this, the lowest rated of all activist options.
What Attracts Activist Energy? Activist energy and favored strategies support FutureChurch's preference for programmatic initiatives that are parish-friendly and doable by the average committed Catholic. The two strategies attracting the highest amount of activist support were: “celebrations and prayer services honoring great women witnesses in the faith community” (33.6%) and “an educational program about women officeholders in the early church” (31.2%). The two strategies attracting the lowest amount of activist support were: “a day of prayerful protest” (17.5%) and “the movement to ordain women outside the existing structures of the church” (11%).
Younger Catholics. Generally speaking, the 158 Catholics under 46 who responded to this survey are not dissimilar from other age groupings in their church and justice/renewal group involvement.
What Difference Does It Make? Survey findings will shape future women’s programming and affirm FutureChurch’s current Mary of Magdala and Celebrating Women Witnesses efforts. Our new Women and the Word: Synod 2008 initiative derives from survey responses saying we need to work within Catholic structures and advocate for “doable next steps.”
Our thanks to all especially for the hundreds of supportive comments such as this one from Lymbrook, NY: Thank you for he work you are doing. Equality of women in the Church is just as important as the Civil Rights fight for justice in this country. Jesus did not discriminate. Why should the hierarchy?
More Quotes from Survey Responses