A survey of Catholic women ages 21-40 who have earned or are pursuing a higher degree in ministry or related studies was funded by the Louisville Institute. This study explores the joy and pain experienced by young Catholic women today, and the significant professional, vocational, and personal paths women navigate to contribute to the institutional Roman Catholic Church.
A questionnaire was sent to 32 academic institutions, various alumnae groups, and membership associations; it included 8 demographic metrics, 31 multiple-choice or yes/no questions, and 6 open-ended questions. The survey was completed electronically by 224 women between May 4, 2019 and July 8, 2019.
Here are a few quick statistics:
- 80% believe it is "theoretically possible" for the Roman Catholic Church to ordain women as deacons.
- 74% believe the Roman Catholic Church should ordain women as deacons.
- 63% percent believe it is "theoretically possible" for the Roman Catholic Church to ordain women as priests.
- 62% believe the Roman Catholic Church should ordain women as priests, while 11% responded that they were "unsure."
- 41% of respondents said they would not pursue ordination to the diaconate or priesthood, even if the Roman Catholic Church opened those ministries to women. 30% said they would pursue ordination and 30% responded they were unsure.
- A large majority (82%) said they would not pursue ordination through independent catholic movements, such as the "Roman Catholic Women Priests" or the "Ecumenical Catholic Communion," both of which welcome women candidates for ordination.
- When asked what barriers or challenges, either institutional or personal, experienced in their work or studies, the most frequent response was sexism, out-dated gender roles, or lack of women's ordination as a type of "glass-ceiling." The next most frequent barrier was financial insecurity and cost of studies, followed by clericalism.
- When asked what the most crucial changes they would like to see in the Roman Catholic Church, "women's inclusion" ranked first (20%), with "women's ordination" to the priesthood or diaconate a close second (19%).
The women of this survey are educated, trained, and thoughtful Catholic ministers that have very few sustainable opportunities to share their gifts, let alone pursue a career in the institutional Church. The marginalization and loss of the gifts of these women is a tragedy that extends to every generation of Catholic women and our Church suffers in its vitality, diversity, and relevancy because of it.
We found what we have known anecdotally: women persist - to a point - against sexism, clericalism, financial insecurity, out-dated gender roles, and few career prospects to participate in a faith that they love. Our work is to listen to the experiences of these women and commit to equality. The implication of continuing the Catholic Church's commitment to the oppression of women is both painful and a sure way to accelerate their exit.