Catholic women want reform – global survey

Published on 31st Mar, 2023
Authors of global survey – Dr Kathleen McPhillips (left) and Dr Tracy McEwan. Photo: University of Newcastle

WelCom April 2023

The largest study of Catholic women in the Church’s history has found that the majority of women support significant reform within the Church. The study surveyed 17,200 women from 140 countries.

The majority of women surveyed resent their lack of decision-making power, want to follow their consciences on sex and contraception, and think the Church should be more inclusive of the diverse and the divorced.

The survey was initiated by Catholic Women Speak in response to the invitation of Pope Francis for the Catholic Church to engage in a process of ‘synodality’ for the 2021–2023 Synod of Bishops.

Australian researchers led the global study, which also found women want to be allowed to preach, dislike priests promoting political agendas, and are concerned about a lack of transparency in Church governance. The study, International Survey of Catholic Women (ISCW), was presented at the Vatican to coincide with International Women’s Day, last month.

The study was led by Drs Tracy McEwan and Kathleen McPhillips from the University of Newcastle. Tracy McEwan, a theologian and sociologist of religion at the University of Newcastle, said the study found some women felt an ‘underlying sense of hurt’ and a ‘feeling of being voiceless and ignored.’

The results varied between countries. The appetite for change was strongest in Ireland, Spain and Germany. Interestingly, younger women were more conservative than older ones, with the age group 18-to-25 least likely to want reform, according to the survey, and those over 70 most likely.

‘We found even when women have considerable struggles with Catholic institutions, nearly 90 per cent said their Catholic identity is important to them,’ said Dr McEwan. ‘Many continue to practise their faith despite significant concern, frustration and dissatisfaction with the institutional church.’

Survey statistics

  • 84 per cent of women supported reform in the Church; two-thirds wanted radical reform.
  • Almost eight in 10 agreed women should be fully included at all levels of Church leadership.
  • Over three-quarters agreed women should be able to give the homily.
  • Two-thirds said women should be eligible for the priesthood.
  • Over four in five said LGBTQ people should be included in all activities.
  • Just over half strongly agreed same-sex couples were entitled to a religious marriage.
  • Seven in 10 said remarriage should be allowed after civil divorce.
  • Three-quarters agreed that women should have freedom of conscience about their sexual and reproductive decisions.

Sources: CathNews Australia, Sydney Morning Herald

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