Catholicism is declining in the United States. Of the 32% of Americans who were raised Catholic, 41% convert to another religion (Bengston 2013). The decline can be attributed, in part, to the historically patriarchal structure of the church which excludes women and fails to account for changes in the social beliefs of modern Catholics (Konieczny 2013). This has culminated in some Catholics leaving the church for modern alternatives which still emphasize Catholic beliefs, but better incorporate women. For the church to mitigate its current decline, adjustments to the structure of the church must be made to make women feel more accepted as Catholics.
The church has a patriarchal structure which marginalizes women. According to a fundament
al governing law, Canon Law 1024, only baptized males are permitted to be ordained as priests, pastors, bishops, cardinals, or the pope. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that only men can receive holy orders because Jesus Christ chose only men as his apostles. Pope John Paul II affirmed in 1994 that this teaching of the Church is definitive and is not open to debate among Catholics. More recently, Pope Francis affirmed the doctrine that only men can govern the Catholic Church, reaffirming the Catholic church’s favoritism of men. The tradition of the male-only priesthood perpetuates a predominantly male point of view on social issues, which does not sufficiently consider the perspective of female members.
The Catholic church’s best chance at survival in America is to become more compatible with modern egalitarian social norms, including opening the hierarchy to women. Wouldn’t ordaining women help the church to modernize? 64 percent of American Catholics support women’s ordination as priests and want women to administer the sacraments of the Catholic church.
Given the obstacles to change within the church, some Catholic women are seeking alternatives to practicing Catholicism outside of the traditional structures (Spickard 2005). Bishop Marie Bouclin is part of a small succession of Catholic women being ordained outside the official Church. “In the early Church, people gathered in their homes,” Bouclin says. She continues: “Who can say that what we’re doing is not valid? Sometimes, we have to obey God and not men… The Pope is not God.” Bouclin believes that her form of prayer is just as viable as services conducted by male priests in the Catholic Church. Being born a woman has not stopped Bishop Bouclin from connecting with her faith as both a priest and a leader of her congregation.
Bishop Marie Bouclin
If the Catholic church fails to modernize, its current decline will continue. In The Sacred Canopy (1967), social theorist Peter Berger argues that in a modernizing, secular society churches and religions may appeal more to their congregations when they are consistent with current social structures and mainstream cultural norms. The Catholic church’s failure to adapt over time has caused young people in America to leave the church (Smith 2014). A study conducted over ten years using a nationally representative sample of teenagers by the National Study of Youth and Religion found that, of those who identified as Catholic as teenagers, ten years later, only 50 percent of them still identified as Catholic (Konieczny 2016). This speaks volumes about the Catholic Church’s failure to connect with its latest generation.
As a college educated feminist raised Catholic, I have a personal stake in this. I am uncomfortable going to mass because there is going to be a male priest teaching me. I would like to see women at the altar, conducting mass, baptism, and communion. All of these symbolic rituals will have more meaning for me if a Catholic woman conducts them. The Catholic Church is sexist; its traditional doctrines must be defied so that women can be better incorporated within the church.