Survey: Women say Eucharist, helping poor is what it means to be Catholic

| Beth Griffin | January 25, 2018 | 3 Comments

Ana Tello-Duran, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico as a minor, smiles during a Jan. 11 panel discussion at The Catholic University of America in Washington. The panel was titled “On the Margins: At the Intersection of Catholic Thought and Migration.” CNS photo/Dana Rene Bowler, The Catholic University of America

American Catholic women are increasingly disengaged from the church although they remain affiliated and say helping the poor and receiving the Eucharist are the most important aspects of what it means to be Catholic.

They also have the potential to turn the tide in the 2018 mid-term elections, according to a nationwide survey released Jan. 16 by America magazine, a Jesuit-owned publication.

The online survey of 1,508 self-identified Catholic women was commissioned by America Media and conducted in August 2017 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate and the GfK Group.

The survey was offered in English and Spanish and the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. Using survey and data from the U.S. Census Bureau, CARA estimates that there are 37.3 million Catholic females in the United States, of whom 28.8 million are adults.

The survey showed that while the overwhelming majority of U.S. Catholic women believe in God (98 percent), the numbers of those who attend Mass or participate in the sacrament of reconciliation are dwindling. Younger Catholic women are the least likely to attend Mass. Seventeen percent of millennial respondents attend weekly Mass, compared to 24 percent of all Catholic women.

“This research is a real wake-up call for the Catholic Church to focus harder on its millennial outreach and to engage them in new and creative ways,” said Kerry Weber, executive editor of America.

A perceived lack of female role models, especially among the church’s visible leadership, is an impediment to further engagement, according to the survey. Six out of 10 Catholic women would welcome the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate and 21 percent more said they may support female deacons but want to learn more first.

Pope Francis appointed a commission in 2016 to study the history of the women as deacons in the early church and the possibility of allowing women to serve the church today as deacons.

Most respondents said the priests in their parish “do a good job” of including women in various aspects of parish life. Fewer said “yes, definitely” that priests do a good job of including women on parish councils (50 percent), in lay ministry positions (49 percent), and in the decision-making of the parish (45 percent). Ten percent said they had personally experienced sexism within the Catholic Church.

Adding more women to positions of leadership requires the church to de-couple power and the priesthood, according to America’s editor-in-chief, Jesuit Father Matt Malone.

“The church needs to ask whether every nonsacramental leadership role currently held by a priest needs to be held by a priest. If not, then these positions should be open to laypeople and the appointment of women to such positions should be a priority,” he said.

The survey indicated 74 percent of U.S. Catholic women intend to vote in the 2018 elections. Their views on major issues do not align neatly with the either political party. Among those surveyed, care for the environment (83 percent), migration and the treatment of refugees (77 percent), and abortion (76 percent) top the list of the most important political issues.

According to the survey, Democrats have an advantage among these likely voters. Nearly six out of 10 Catholic women identify as, or lean, Democratic, and 38 percent identify as, or lean, Republican.

“One thing that the survey results as a whole indicate is that in certain congressional districts with this population, a pro-life Democrat would be competitive in a general election,” said Father Malone.

The survey indicated 12 percent of respondents considered becoming a religious sister or nun. The percentage is equivalent to 3.5 million adult women who self-identify as Catholic in the United States today. The survey also indicates evidence of an increase in interest in religious life among the youngest Catholic women.

Sixty-three percent of Catholic women are married; 46 percent are married to a Catholic spouse and 17 percent to a non-Catholic spouse. Six percent are widowed and one in 10 are separated or divorced. Six percent live with a partner and 15 percent have never married.

According to the survey, the typical Catholic woman in the United States has had two children and both of those children are Catholic. Most often, she grew up in a household with three brothers or sisters. Thus, her parents often had twice as many children as she did. For the typical Catholic woman, two of her three siblings remain Catholic as adults.

Today, only one in 10 Catholic women has four children (9 percent) and 20 percent have three. Twenty-eight percent have two children, 13 percent have one and 25 percent have none.

Forty percent of respondents said the nightly television news is their primary source for news and 17 percent get it from cable news channels. Eleven percent read their local diocesan newspaper or website.

The survey divided women into four age groups: pre-Vatican II, born before 1943; Vatican II, born between 1943 and 1960; post-Vatican II, born between 1961 and 1981; and millennials, born in 1982 or after. It sought to study the beliefs, practices, experiences and attitudes of Catholic women in the United States.

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  • Charles C.

    There are other interesting numbers from the study of women who claim that the Eucharist and helping the poor are the most important aspects of Catholicism. Helping the poor is a vital role, but it is not specifically Catholic; However, the Eucharist is. Fifty-three percent said they go to church, at most, a few times a year. How, then, can the Eucharist be such an important aspect of Catholicism for them?

    Confession is usually a part of participating in the Eucharist, but only 16% say the take the sacrament of reconciliation more often than once a year, 32% say they go less frequently than once a year, and 38% say they never do.

    There is an interesting break in answers between those who go to Mass at least once a month and those who don’t. Fewer than half (47%) say they go to Mass at least once a month. Differences in Mass attendance predict a split in other opinions.

    Only 30% of those who attend Mass less than once a month agree strongly that they are proud to be Catholic. That’s true of 84% of those who attend Mass weekly.

    As far as being included in the parish goes, the majority of women who attend Mass at least once a month said that the priest(s) in the parish definitely do a good job of including women on parish councils, in lay ministry positions, and in the decision making of the parish. About one-third of those who attended Mass less often than monthly thought their parish was doing a good job of including women in these

    Are women being deprived of the chance to serve in the parish? The women were asked about the following positions: altar server, Lector, Minister of Communion, Minister of Hospitality, Religious Ed. teacher, RCIA team member or sponsor, and young adult ministry. When asked if they wanted to serve in any of those positions, slightly over 80% said “No.”

    And what about sexism? Ten percent said they experienced it. They were asked to explain what the sexism was. Answers included:

    “Dress code for girls at Catholic school.”
    “Everything about the Catholic Church is sexist. How can a woman not be exposed to sexism as a member of the Church? Just pick up the Bible and start reading. Ugh.”
    “Growing up girls were not permitted to assist during Mass.”
    “Not allowing women to become deacons.”
    “Only male priests.”
    “The Church is a patriarchy, after all.”
    “You experience it in every occasion. Men are the hierarchy of the Church and women are just there to assist the men and are told to listen to the man’s ideas. It is a world of suppression.”

    I mention these things to give a little more complete picture of the survey.

  • Ervin Miller

    The percentages reflect the combination of women from all ages. It would be interesting to see the percentages of the older group of women only. My wife and I are in our seventies, and our perspective changed significantly when we reached our late fifties and into our sixties. Other folks we know who are in our age group generally agree. The allure of the fleeting temporal things of this world are losing their significance for us, and we are focused on our salvation and firm goal to go to heaven. With a stop in purgatory to be perfect for eternity with our heavenly father. I have a hunch that an abundance of people have a similar experience as they reach old age. Perhaps our Catholic Churches need greater emphasis on the Book of Revelation, the core of Christian eschatological and our ultimate destination, eternal joy in heaven. I believe a significant amount of younger folks find the end of mortal life subject morbid.

    • Charles C.

      I can give you some of the numbers. If you want to see the 96 page report, do an internet search on “CARA Catholic Women.”

      17-18% of Catholic women born more recently than 1960 attend Mass once a week or more frequently. It’s 31% of women born between 1943 and 1960, and 53% of women born before 1943. So you’re quite correct, age makes a huge difference. (Interestingly, even though about 17% of women born after 1960 attend mass weekly, about 32% say weekly Mass is very important to their sense of being Catholic to attend Mass each week.)