Catholic lay women survey shows frustration about their ministries

A survey asking Catholic lay women about their work for the Catholic church has found while their faith is important to them, lay women are frustrated by lack of women’s leadership opportunities, financial insecurity and clericalism.

The lay women surveyed say these frustrations are barriers to them fulfilling their ministerial paths in the church.

Entitled “Mainstreaming Women’s Ministries in the Roman Catholic Church,” the survey was conducted by the Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC).

Of the 224 young Catholic lay women in formation and ministry in the U.S. who responded, 82 percent of respondents think women’s ministries are not valued equally to men’s.

In addition, 80 percent are dissatisfied with the ministry opportunities available to them in the global church, and 73 percent said the same about local opportunities.

Survey respondents overwhelmingly described their Catholic identity as “extremely important.” Eighty-two percent attend Mass at least once a week.

“What this survey affirms is that women of the church are overwhelmingly educated and trained and thoughtful Catholic leaders, and they will persist,” says Kate McElwee, executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference.

However, they will only “persist to a point,” McElwee says.

Young Catholics are choosing to disaffiliate with the institutional church.

“It’s a loss that’s happened for many generations before this one, and our hope is that we can work to support these women to stall their exit,” she says.

McElwee says the survey responded to the WOCs Young Feminist Network and Women’s Ordination Conference members’ struggles with ministerial discernment after completing pastoral degrees.

The survey report cites women’s inclusion and ordination as the two most common changes respondents wished to see in the church. Thirty percent of respondents say they would pursue ordination in the diaconate or priesthood if they could.

Although many respondents identified vocations that did not fit within the existing structure of the institutional church, 82 percent would not seek ordination through an independent Catholic movement.

McElwee says this result is “surprising.”

“A lot of the members of the WOC really look to those movements as prophetic witnesses, living their vocation and modeling a new, renewed ministry,” she says.

“To see that that really didn’t seem like an option to the survey respondents is interesting for our movement to consider.”

McElwee says the WOCs primary goal now is to “listen to the women who took the survey and to respond as a community” in the form of discussion groups and conversations among members of the Women’s Ordination Conference and its Young Feminist Network.

The survey and the discussion it generates will show “women who are persisting in their faith and in their ministry and in their careers know that they’re not alone,” she says.


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