‘Sick of it’: Catholic women vent frustration over sex, power and abuse

Sometimes I regret being an academic with long experience in survey research. It means that much of what I read stinks of dishonesty. The survey reported below is a case in point. The originators of the survey say bluntly that "the survey does not claim to be representative of all Catholic women" yet you get no idea of that in the report below. You get the impression that what was found DID represent what Catholic women think.

But it is a basic axiom of survey research that to find out about a given population by survey research you have to draw the sample in such a way that it IS representative of the population you want to study, otherwise it could tell you all sorts of untrue things about the population concerned.

And sampling or the lack of it is not the only problem on this occasion. We read here that the questions in the survey were largely leading questions, not fair ones. So the survey tells us only what its authors wanted to hear. To be blunt about it, it is nothing more than Leftist propaganda. It tells us nothing truthful

The largest study of Catholic women in the church’s 2000-year history has found they are hungry for reform. They resent their lack of decision-making power, want to follow their consciences on sex and contraception, and think the church should be more inclusive of the diverse and the divorced.

Australian researchers led the global study, to be presented at the Vatican on International Women’s Day, which also found women want to be allowed to preach, dislike priests promoting political agendas, and are concerned about a lack of transparency in church governance.

Theologian and sociologist of religion at the University of Newcastle Tracy McEwan co-authored the study, which surveyed 17,200 women from 14 countries.
Theologian and sociologist of religion at the University of Newcastle Tracy McEwan co-authored the study, which surveyed 17,200 women from 14 countries.CREDIT:FLAVIO BRANCALEONE

“There was this underlying sense of hurt, and certainly this feeling of being voiceless and ignored,” said co-author Tracy McEwan, a theologian and sociologist of religion at the University of Newcastle. “These are not women on the edge. These are women in the church. Being Catholic is important to them, and they are struggling.”

The study, which surveyed 17,200 women from 140 countries, comes as Pope Francis leads the church in a discussion about whether women should have a greater role in its governance and ceremonies. He has ruled out female priests, but the deaconate – someone who assists priests during mass and can preach the homily – is a possibility.

McEwan will present the findings to female ambassadors to the Holy See on Wednesday. They will include Australia’s representative, Chiara Porro, who helped organise the presentation. The first woman ever to be allowed to vote with the Vatican’s synod of bishops, Xaviere sister Nathalie Becquart, has also been briefed on the research.

The survey results show 84 per cent of women supported reform in the church, and two-thirds wanted radical reform. Almost three in 10 said there would be no place for them without it. There was significant concern about abuses of power and spiritual harm, particularly by male clerics. “I cling on to the church by my fingernails,” said one respondent.

Almost eight in 10 agreed women should be fully included at all levels of church leadership, and more than three-quarters agreed that women should be able to give the homily, a commentary on the gospel during services. Two-thirds said women should be eligible for the priesthood. “I’m ashamed of my church when I see only men in procession,” said one respondent.

More than four in five said LGBTQ people should be included in all activities, and just over half strongly agreed same-sex couples were entitled to a religious marriage. Seven in 10 said remarriage should be allowed after civil divorce, and three-quarters agreed that women should have freedom of conscience on their sexual and reproductive decisions.

Some respondents pointed out that they do much of the work in the church, but get no recognition or say. “If every woman in every parish stopped cleaning, cooking, dusting, typing, directing ... for just one week, every parish would have to close,” said one. “Yet, why do women have so little real power?”

Co-author Kathleen McPhillips, a sociologist at the University of Newcastle, said she was surprised at the enthusiasm with which women embraced the survey. “What it showed is they’re really sick of it,” she said. “They want to be there, but they’re sick of not being able to contribute. In their secular lives, they can do so much more.

“It’s still the largest religion in the world. It’s hugely important we understand it. The church itself hasn’t been interested in studying its own population.”

The results varied between countries. Australia was more conservative than the global average on some of the indicators; 74 per cent of women said they wanted reform, compared with the global average of 84. Appetite for change was strongest in the Catholic strongholds of Ireland and Spain, as well as Germany.

But the tension has been evident in the Australian church and boiled over at a historic plenary council meeting last year, at which bishops failed to pass two motions aimed at empowering women in the church. About 60 delegates staged a silent protest. The motions were re-worded and passed.

Younger women were also more conservative than older ones, with the 18- to 25-year-old age group least likely to want reform, according to the survey, and the over 70-year-olds most likely. The eldest women were also more likely to support same-sex marriage and the homily being preached by women.

But even among conservative women, there was concern about having their contribution respected. “They were articulating the idea that you want women to be a certain way, that’s OK, but give us our due, give us our voice,” said McEwan.

The church is a hierarchical patriarchy, but McEwan hopes the results will get through to those who will ultimately make the decisions. “I’m hoping that presenting this major report to the women ambassadors and to the more senior women in the Vatican will have an impact, and it will feed through,” she said.

Catholicism is the largest religion in Australia. They make up 20 per cent of the population (women make up slightly more than half), and Sydney is its most Catholic city. The church is the country’s largest non-government provider of health care, education and welfare, and employs almost two per cent of the nation’s workers.

Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher was contacted for comment, but a spokesman declined, saying he was in Rome.


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