Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of August 22, 2005
Progressive Catholic lack young members
Younger women generally uninterested in female ordination
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
While a keynote speaker at a conference on women's ordination warned delegates that the aging progressive Catholic movement desperately needed an infusion of youth, some participants said the women priest movement, in particular, did not resonate with young adults.
The 460 registered delegates attending the Women's Ordination Worldwide conference in Ottawa July 22-24 came from some 20 countries on five continents, but white women in their 50s and 60s dominated the gathering.
Fewer than a dozen conference delegates were under 30, prompting one of them to ask theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether what efforts were being made to recruit younger women.
Ruether, an author of more than two dozen books, said the progressive Catholic movement was mainly "grey-headed" and over 50.
She said female doctoral students were leaving the Church because they wanted to be ordained and have a job.
Many of the conference speakers acknowledged that their children were not remaining with the Catholic Church once they learned of its stance on birth control, for example.
"Young people don't have the same way of getting inculcated into the Catholic identity," Ruether said. "They simply won't tolerate this."
While the July 25 invalid ordination of four women as priests drew a barrage of mainstream media coverage, younger Catholic women interviewed by Canadian Catholic News did not seem to share the same interest in ordination or see it as an equality issue.
Patricia Murphy, who teaches ethics at St. Augustine Seminary at the University of Toronto, said most women born after the Second Vatican Council ended in 1965 have a different experience from women in their 50s and 60s who were "typically formed by what has been called a 'Catholic subculture.'"
"Many of the younger Catholics I know, both women and men, think they were never sufficiently educated in their own tradition," she said. "For them it is religious pluralism, not any distinctive 'Catholic subculture' that is a point of departure.
"They often come to theology to 'fill in the gaps,' to develop a mature - and truly thoughtful - understanding of their faith," stemming from a desire to "be more solidly grounded," she said.
Dorothy Cummings, who is pursuing a doctorate in theology at Boston College, said she believed most Catholics were uncomfortable with the invalid ordinations of women priests.
"The women who have been most loudly in favour of women's ordination have not been ones respected for their orthodoxy," she said.
There is a "yawning gulf" between baby boomers and those born after Vatican II, she said. "Younger women are interested in collegiality. They want to work with priests and bishops, not complain about them.
"So many of the older women seem so angry," she said. "I think amazing things are happening for women within existing Church structures."
Isabelle Coulombe, a Catholic writer from Quebec, said baby boomers seem to have a lot of hate for religious authorities, as if those in Rome were a "bunch of not very intelligent women-hating machos."
She said that when she points out that Christ chose men, some people respond by saying it was "because of the culture of the time."
"But isn't it God we are talking about?" she said. "How could he be the prisoner of any culture? Sometimes it seems to me they think of Christ more as a wonderful man," she said.
Coulombe pointed to Chiara Lubich, founder of the worldwide Focolare lay movement.
"How can you say women don't have power in the Church?" she asked.
Author and columnist Kathy Shaidle said that for younger Catholics women's ordination "is a non-issue. It's boring for us.
The fight is over
"The fight is over," she said. "The cafeteria is closed. These women can spend time with more useful, practical things than this."
Describing the movement as "narcissistic," Shaidle said the women could be fighting for social justice in ways other than "sitting on that boat," such as volunteering in a soup kitchen.