Last week, a study by the Social Attitude and Policy Research Group at Trinity College Dublin revealed that most Irish Catholic women think that their church does not treat them with respect. A stunning 74% of Irish Catholic women said that the Church did not treat them with ”a lot of respect” compared to just 6.3% of Protestant women.
That survey resonated with a Fermanagh Churches Forum panel discussion that I recently participated in, ‘The Future of the Organised Church: Any Questions?’ One of the questions from the floor was about the role of women in the church (you can read my first and second posts on the discussion here).
The woman posing the question wanted to know if the Catholic Church had any plans to recognise the role that women play in the church, through ordination or any other means.
I would like to think that this new survey would lend a sense of urgency to debate on the role of women in the Catholic Church, including ordination. But that’s assuming that the hierarchy takes seriously what the laity think, and what women think in particular. I’m not so optimistic about that.
For example, there was a short report in today’s Irish Times that Dublin parish priest Fr Gerard Dieghan of Harrington Street was planning to ban the latest issue of the Irish Catholic from his church, because it carries a front page story about the survey. Fr Dieghan denies this and says that the paper will still be on sale.
But the fact that people widely believed that the Irish Catholic would be banned – regardless of whether or not Fr Dieghan ever planned to do it – says something about the way people think the Catholic Church will react to more ‘bad news’:
By ignoring it, or covering it up.
”I think the 76pc is a very high percentage, it needs to be listened to and attended to, not written off as lunatic fringe”. …the Church is wonderful at highlighting marginalisation of women in society and standing up for vulnerable women in the social and political sphere … however [that] does not translate in to the Church where women are not sufficiently valued.
Dr Smyth said that the church could not be renewed unless:
… The voice of women must be acknowledged, listened to and valued. Women have been excluded, this needs to be acknowledged and redressed in a practical way where the voices of women will be heard in structures within the Church.
The differences between how Catholic and Protestant women feel about their churches is perhaps even more striking than the percentage of Catholic women who do not feel valued.
The differences between Catholic and Protestant women was also discussed in Fermanagh. Panellists from Protestant traditions spoke of the positive impact that women’s ordination has had on the way all women are viewed within their tradition.
For instance, Zelda Kingston, a lecturer at South West College and Methodist preacher on the Enniskillen Circuit, spoke of the liberating impact of John Wesley’s including women in positions of authority from the very beginning of his ministry.
Presbyterian minister David Cupples added that he thought that all the churches could benefit from contemplating new models of pastoral care in which all members of the church – including women – are viewed as true equals.
He said women and men should feel free to use their gifts to serve each other – not wait around for a priest, minister or an elder to do it for them. I agree with this vision of church.
Indeed, I think that sometimes women’s ordination can be made into an idol, seen as the be-all and end-all of achievement for women in the church. I’m not saying I’m against women’s ordination, but I also think we should start thinking of – and valuing – other models of leadership among laypeople.
Many Catholic women would probably feel happier in their church if women could be ordained, but I fear this new survey shows that the problems go much deeper than that.