Catholic women divided over sex, divorce and patriarchy

Catholic women and their views on sex, divorce and patriarchy show a generational divide, a recent Australian University of Newcastle study found.

Older women want reform, but younger Catholic women are more conservative. They want the rules on sex, contraception and the priesthood to remain as they are.

About the study

The study surveyed 17,200 Catholic women from 104 countries; 1769 came from Australia.

The authors say the generational differences in attitudes could come from life experience, migration, or the more conservative Church which younger people have experienced.

“There has been a push back towards conservatism [in Australian Catholicism]” says one of the authors.

“I think that’s been impactful for young adults in the church.”

She also notes that women of all ages expressed disappointment, frustration and challenge with the Church.

“[There was] a feeling that some women’s voices weren’t heard in the church. That was across age.”

This comes as Pope Francis leads a discussion about whether women should have a greater role in church governance and ceremonies.

While women being ordained as priests seems out of the question, Francis has not ruled out the diaconate.

Study results

74 percent of Australian Catholic women want reform, while an average of 84 percent of Catholic women internationally want change.

The authors defined conservatism as adherence to Catholic doctrine and the embrace of traditionalism.

The desire for a more traditional approach was driven by younger women, the study found.

While 74 percent of respondents supported reform, only 44 percent were aged 18-40; 87 percent of 56-70 year olds want reform, as do 94 percent of over 70s.

Survey comments show differences in what reform means.

Older women want the Church and its teachings to change.

However, the authors noted “there was a smaller, younger cohort of respondents who rejected any modernisation of the church and understood reform as a return to orthodoxy and tradition, including the traditional Latin mass.”

Fewer than a third of under 40s supported inclusion of women at all levels of the Church or the suggestion of female preachers and priests.

Sex, contraception, divorce

Allowing more freedom of choice on sex and contraception was rejected by two in three of those under 40; the 41 to 55s were about half-half, but the 56 pluses backed the idea enthusiastically.

Young Catholic women were less supportive of remarriage after divorce.

Older women talked about being shunned as divorcees, especially if there had been violence in their marriage.

All agree

All women agreed the misuse of power by male clerics was damaging the church.

They also agree leaders must do more to address abuse.

The Church institution was not doing enough to address the cover-up of sexual abuse.

The generational difference

One report author thinks life experience could influence older and younger women’s views.

The survey may have attracted more young women who were highly engaged in the Church, rather than those who might be alienated from it, she suggests.

She also noted religious orders attracting young women seem to be those which continue to wear a habit, despite a ruling against them in Vatican II. Numbers are growing.


Additional reading

News category: World.

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