Women’s Ordination Conference surveys Catholic women in lay ministry

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University of Chicago Divinity School student Rebecca MacMaster entered seminary out of a desire to make the Catholic Church “the best it can be” and to answer a calling to teach and work in college or parish ministry.

“My Catholic identity is so important to me, and it informs so much of how I interact with the world,” said MacMaster, who is a candidate for a master’s in divinity.

“I know the Church can be a force for good and instrumental change in the world, and it became very important to me to help affect that change.”

MacMaster wouldn’t pursue ordination if it were available to women and has not felt excluded from any forms of lay ministry by her gender, she said in an email interview.

Even so, she has often felt that other Catholics expect her to pursue children’s ministry, or that her gender and age have caused her to be “talked over or pigeonholed into certain affinity ministries” in her work in the church.

In her multifaith seminary, she has experienced misogyny and anti-Catholic sentiment. Despite these experiences, MacMaster remains committed to her calling: “If I have to carve out a niche for myself, I will.”

“Everything I’ve experienced has only made me stronger in my conviction to help all feel at home in their faith — to see themselves in this beautiful community,” she wrote.

MacMaster’s experiences and feelings about women’s work in the church aren’t uncommon, according to a recent survey conducted by the Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC).

Titled “Mainstreaming Women’s Ministries in the Roman Catholic Church,” the survey found that 82% of those surveyed felt that women’s ministries were not valued equally to men’s.

Of the 224 young Catholic women in formation and ministry in the U.S. who responded, 80% were dissatisfied with the ministry opportunities available to them in the global church, and 73% said the same about local opportunities.

Although the survey respondents overwhelmingly described their Catholic identity as “extremely important,” they also described a lack of women’s leadership opportunities, financial insecurity and clericalism as barriers to the fulfillment of their ministerial paths.

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

But they will “persist to a point,” McElwee said, referring to young Catholics who choose 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 said.

McElwee said the survey was a response to the resurgence of her organization’s Young Feminist Network and Women’s Ordination Conference members struggling with ministerial discernment after completing pastoral degrees. Continue reading

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