Why Are Any Women Still Catholic? July 21, 2010

Why Are Any Women Still Catholic?

The Catholic Church has issued a declaration which puts “female ordination in same category of crime under church law as clerical sex abuse of minors.”

[Insert your own joke about how that means the Church will simply ignore it.]

But think about that one: Ordaining a woman is now in the same category as raping a little boy.

Phil Ferguson has written a brief but straight-forward letter to the women who remain in the Catholic Church.

You must now realize that you will never hold the same status as men; you will never be seen as an equal. It is time for you to stand up for yourself. It is time to take your money from the people that are holding you down. It is time for you to show your strength. It is time to use your feet and walk away from the Catholic Church. It is time to take your family, your spouse, your children and leave. If not for you, then do it for your daughters and sons. It is time for you to stand up and break the cycle.

I’m with Phil.

I really want to know why any self-respecting women would remain in a Church that treats them so poorly.

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  • When I was a Catholic I accepted that as a woman I was inherently inferior to men due to Eve’s mistake. Stupid, I know…but if other Catholic women think like I did then they’re not self-respecting women, so the Church’s declaration would probably just be swallowed like all the other bullshit the Church dishes out.

  • Edman

    Probably because they believe in a God which doesn’t value women as much as men.

    So sad.

  • Kris

    I think people tend to have their own ideosyncratic reasons. Ann Widdecombe famously converted to Catholocism when the Anglican Church began ordaining women. Her reasoning was something to the effect that priests are meant to stand in for Christ in the communion, and Christ being male, a woman filling the role is ludicrous. I’m not sure how that reasoning doesn’t also exclude anyone who isn’t a Palastinian born to a virgin and a deity, but there you are…

  • Most of the women I know who are devout followers of the Catholic church usually have no self respect or self-esteem. It’s that simple, sad as it may be.

  • LeAnne

    I wonder the same question ALL THE TIME.

  • Maybe it’s because they haven’t felt that they need the priesthood to have their lives enriched by Catholicism or to have profound experiences within it.

    I understand that these things do not say, “Catholicism is right”, BUT these personal and subjective things CAN cause someone to stick with a cultural heritage, etc.,

  • Hemant,
    Thanks for the repost. You can see the full letter on my blog.


  • abadidea

    As a child raised to be fundie, I struggled from age 6 onwards with the idea that as a girl I was inherently inferior no matter how smart I was. At age 10 I invented my own goddess to save my sense of self-worth. I spent years hating and resenting men, then emulating them and trying to make myself into a lesbian, and finally coming to terms with how stupid modern Christianity is. I’m now happily engaged to a young man who accepts me as an equal and I’ve made a lot of progress balancing out my feminine side i’ve been repressing as “inferior.”

    My four female Protestant cousins and three Catholic stepsisters, however, continue to glorify the stereotype of the undereducated, under assertive religious woman. Being systematically instructed in inferiority has a powerful effect on the young mind.

  • Karen


    I’d like to know why any women willing participate in fundie religions that explicitly teach that women are inferior, to the point that men (husbands, fathers) make all the decisions and women must be submissive. Why do women go along with that? Why do women willingly (even eagerly) participate in the Quiverfull movement?

    I think it’s a kind of “Stockholm Syndrome” — identifying with your oppressors. It doesn’t help that your oppressors are in many cases your closest family members and loved ones, and the trusted religious leader in your church/community.

    And it doesn’t help that many religions seem to equate suffering with holiness.


  • Luther

    In related news, Obama is apparently not a stealth moslem but a stealth catholic:

    On Thursday, the news broke that the Obama administration included a ban on abortion coverage that basically meets the notorious Stupak restrictions that had been the focus of attention months ago within the health care reform debates. This means that the compromise that was satisfactory enough to the anti-abortion Democrats months ago to push through the “reform” has been surpassed with this measure; leaving many pro-choice activists asking “why did he do that? he didn’t have to!”

  • Deiloh

    Community, not caring, not paying attention to what Protestants have to say about Catholics… at least this is my take on it via my Catholic gal friends.

  • Jon

    Every time I hear something like this coming out of the vatican, I think of the scene in Total Recall where Schwarzenegger yells: “Hey Benny, SCREW YOU!!!”

    More to the point, I think women remain with the church for the same reason that many christians want terrible punishments for rapists and murderers, but see no problem with a god killing countless people (including children): it is part of their religion and thus they will accept it because if they didn’t then their religion would not be real and they would lose the comfort and promises it brings.

    And @Karen, I’ve also always thought there if there is a god, then religion is a form of Stockholm Syndrome 🙂

  • phira

    A broader version of this question is: Why do many women buy into patriarchy in general when patriarchy is a system in which people are separated into men and women, and men are considered superior.

    And most major religions tend to be hugely patriarchal–that is, they divide people into two categories of sex, call men superior, and make all these rules about how superior and inferior people are supposed to act.

    But then WHY does any woman (or progressive man or intersexed or trans person) want to uphold a patriarchy? There are benefits to compliance, or so we’re told. Be a good girl and you won’t be raped. Be a good wife and your husband will never cheat. There is a hierarchy for women even within a patriarchy, and the more you comply, the higher your own status.

    So it’s hard to convince women to abandon a patriarchy when it means a loss in status and benefits, and the elimination of the patriarchy is faaaar from a sure thing.

    And, well, as for religion, if you’ve been taught all your life that women are inferior to men, AND that there’s a god who also thinks this and is all powerful, etc. etc., there’s even more reason not to rebel.

  • Denis Robert

    Catholicism in particular (and Christianity in general) offers its followers a very attractive abdication of responsibility. Many consider that a benefit, not an issue with the Church. So I’m not surprised to see many women cherish the fact that they have no adult responsibilities under Canon Law. Men do have a few responsibilities, but they ultimately can always shirk the big ones by asking forgiveness…

  • Todd

    A very well-articulated post. I think the question you pose could be expanded: Apart from Church “authorities,” why is anyone still Catholic?

  • sachsomophone

    Kris’s explanation is the one I’ve heard: The priest is supposed to stand in for Jesus so it can’t be a woman. But this is just another excuse to perpetuate the patriarchy. The guys making the rules were surely thinking, “OK we don’t want women leaders, now how can we justify that?” By the way, I heard this explained on EWTN (catholic network), which my parents now watch nonstop. They’re recent Catholic converts, and they eat that stuff up. I don’t understand it.

  • I think religion is demeaning to women and it’s one of the main reasons I debunk Christianity. I am a feminist as much as a male can be. What religion has done to women is atrocious and here we see that same kind of thinking shown so well by Phil.

    Why is it that women are the most religious when religion has done them such a disservice? I would think women would be the least religious.


  • JD

    As sad as that is, it might actually be a step up. Ordination of a women probably used to be a crime worse than the systematic, institutionalized rape of young boys. Recall an event earlier this year where a nun had ordered an abortion to save the life of pregnant woman, and got excommunicated for making that difficult choice. How many pedo priests got excommunicated for their deeds? Anyone?

    One thing to consider is that you have a systematic teaching from birth of certain values. It takes very serious courage and will to break free of that kind of programming.

  • David W

    It’s also inferior to the raping of little girls. Why is rape of males “privileged” of the rape of females so frequently (and almost certainly unintentionally)?

  • Courtney

    @ David W

    Mostly because we live in a rape culture where we believe that rape is a thing that is inevitable and will happen to women. I strongly sense you already know this.

    (People reading this who are not familiar with the term “rape culture” may want to exercise their google-fu.)

  • nankay

    When I was little and struggling with this in Catholic school, I was told that men and women have different but equally improtant roles to fill. Even at such a tender age I could see the roles deinitely weren’t equal. Nuns take a vow of poverty while priests do not. Priests lived 1 or 2 to a nice house with a housekeeper and cook. Nuns lived a dozen or so in a dark dormitory type building. Priests went golfing driving their new cars, nuns stayed behind waiting for some nice parishoner to fix their one shared beater car….etc. etc. etc.

  • Miki

    @ abadidea

    I’m fascinated by your contribution because I strongly suspect your situation is the case with many male-identified lesbians I know.

    Will you please e-mail me?

  • Phil Ferguson in the article:

    Do not let your sons grow up and oppress women and do not let your daughters be oppressed.

    Exactly. I see something similar going on in some Muslim families as well, with people staying in the religion despite the fact that the religion itself discriminates against them and will hurt their children. In some countries, of course, this is due to fear of the law, but when I see it happen even in Western countries, I have ask myself why they stay. (Even if they have to stay, why do they actually keep believing it and promoting it?) Especially frustrating is that when a girl expresses frustration about the way she’s being treated, she’s told that that’s just the way things are.

    I know there are some people in various religions who want reform, and I hope they are successful, but I can’t help but think that the hateful verses which inspired the discrimination will remain in the holy books, available for use in the future, to bring the discrimination back, in an effort to get back to the “real” religion by some extremists.

  • abadidea

    Dear Miki:

    I can’t see your email because this wordpress hides it. I’ll be brave and post the email I *hope* my fundie family doesn’t know about: companionsphere [at] gmail dot com (Recently had an atheist friend outed by her family googling her nicknames… actually she recovered by claiming she registered at that site to do research for philosophy class)

  • Aj

    Pedophilia is also on the same list as heresy (publicly contradicting the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church), apostasy (leaving the Roman Catholic Church, being an ex-Catholic), and schism (e.g. what the Protestants or Anglicans did).

  • abadidea

    AJ: so if I join the church, somehow get ordained as a female, then say “You guys are dumb and I’m out of here to start my own club,” I can commit all the excommunication-worthy sins except pedophilia at once?!

  • Emily

    I wonder how many Catholics won’t even hear about this. How many of them get their updates on the RCC from their priests (who may or may not work this bit of news into the sermon)? And we know that people often choose media outlets that reflect their own biases, so how many Catholics will actually come across this quote that shows how blatantly sexist the RCC is?

    P.S. Yes, I know that there are quite a lot of well-informed Catholics. This comment doesn’t apply to all Catholics, just some.

  • Peregrine

    You want to know what I think? As a former Catholic, with a Catholic mother, and at least one Catholic sister (not precisely sure where the other one stands) and many Catholic friends, at least half of whom are female, and a predominantly Catholic family with a French-Catholic heritage…

    I wouldn’t presume to speak for them, but…

    I don’t think very many of them really care.

    I think they just do their hour of whatever on Sunday, and then get on with the rest of their week. For many of them, it’s just ‘church’. They go because they always go. Just like their parents did. It’s part of their routine, they see friends, family, and neighbours there every week, and if they stopped going, they’d start hearing “Oh, I didn’t see you at church last week.”

    In their minds, they know that the Vatican and the pope are the head of the church, but they don’t really experience it that way. They see their priest once a week, they don’t see their hour of mass interfering with their social life, their work life, their family life… they’re not really bothered with the big picture.

    It’s tradition; familial ties, hereditary bonds. It’s an hour of singing and praying, and really that’s about it.

    Maybe some of them agree with the Vatican and the pope. But the ones who don’t just sort of gloss over it, since it bears so little relevance to their lives outside the church. They don’t expect the church to change, but they only have to put up with it for an hour a week.

    The church says don’t use birth control; they use it anyway. The church says don’t have sex outside of marriage; they do it anyway. The church says homosexuality is wrong; many of them don’t agree, but they don’t really have much of a say in it, and they’re not really given an opportunity to do anything about it because it very seldom if ever comes up in that hour on Sunday. The church says ordaining women is as bad as child rape; oh well… Just another thing they disagree with, but can’t do very much about, because the course of the mass is singing and praying; not having an open forum on whether or not everybody agrees. The Vatican could say that women should wear clown makeup and red foam clown noses all the time, and very few of them would actually do it, and probably only for mass. But very few of them would stop going to church over it either.

    The church’s strength is in its tradition. In those familial and hereditary bonds, in the self-identity. Belonging to the tribe, the community, the group, whether or not spirituality or politics factor into it at all. Its policies may very well be a weakness, but the question is, is its strengths strong enough to overcome its weaknesses? As long as the church’s policies have no visible impact on their daily lives, they will go entirely unnoticed.

    That’s why so many women are still Catholic. And that’s why there are still so very many that will always be Catholic, and nothing we or the pope or the Vatican will ever say will change their minds.

  • False Prophet

    Peregrine hits the nail on the head. For most Western Catholics, there isn’t any direct burden on being a Catholic. You can call yourself a Catholic and only think about it for one hour a week, or even two hours in a year. Beyond the handful of sacraments (baptism, marriage, etc.) that serve as rites of passage, no Catholic is required to engage with scripture, sermons, or any other direct participation with the Church. We (thankfully) do not live in a society where the Church has real political power or influence, so priests can rant all they want against this or that, it’s not likely to be a factor in how most Catholics vote.

    The “cafeteria” Catholicism the Pope rails against can manifest in a couple different ways, including friends and relatives of mine who are Catholic schoolteachers and know nothing of Augustine or Aquinas beyond seeing their names on schools and churches. Or even a friend’s fiancee, who is a Catholic schoolteacher, sings regularly at Catholic weddings, and has said “Benedict isn’t my Pope” (which is kind of heretical). Or a cousin who is also a Catholic schoolteacher, who thinks Dan Brown uncovered a conspiracy in The Da Vinci Code (I’m the last guy to defend the Catholic Church, but Brown’s reading of history is ahistorical and devoid of real evidence).

    There are plenty of Catholics who subscribe to good, liberal, charitable values and just compartmentalize away the stuff they don’t want to hear about. For them, the Church is more about the social justice of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement, not the masochistic fascism of Josemaria Escriva and Opus Dei.

  • Mariela

    I was told in (all-girls) catholic school that it was because the apostles were all men, not because Jesus was male. Because Jesus ordered his apostles to go forth and establish the church, that means that he intended for priests to be men.
    I doubt this will make big news in the catholic community (although I have already heard from high school classmates that are outraged, but they are in the US), but I have to say that this pope is doing a good job making people leave the church just by being freaky. It was easy to feel comfortable with John Paul II and not really worry about it too much, but this guy and his past history are scary!

  • I think Karen has a good point. Even if acting submissive and inferior is not good for women as a whole, it does get the individual woman a nice patriarchal pat on the head, which would reinforce such behavior.

    As far as when I used to go to church, I deliberately tried to ignore or quietly disagree with the sexist parts for some time in a (failed) attempt to reconcile my own sense of feminism with christianity.

  • TMJ

    As a teenager, I was a devout and involved Lutheran (although my parents were not). When I became a self-respecting adult female, I could no longer be a part of a church that considered me second class. And I belonged to a liberal lutheran church.

    I am now an atheist who cannot understand why any woman would be a part of a religious group that considers her a second class (or worse) citizen.

  • I think Peregrine and False Prophet make good points. Catholics in countries with religious freedom don’t have to follow the rules of the Church if they don’t want to. What makes me sad is that some of them give money to the Church, and then that money is used in other countries to force people who don’t have the same religious freedoms under the law to follow the rules of the Church (whether through influencing the law in those countries or convincing governments to only give medical aid that it compliant with Catholic Church rules, so that people don’t have access to birth control and so on).

  • Miki

    @ abadidea

    Thank you. Just sent you e-mail.

  • john locke

    To be fair, the church clarified that they don’t consider the two sins equally bad, just addressed in the same document.

    In my experience, catholic women just don’t have an interest in being priests and outside of that, genders are treated equally. In fact, at the church I used to go to women held most of the positions in the church that they could.

  • Dan W

    “I really want to know why any self-respecting women would remain in a Church that treats them so poorly.”

    I’ve often wondered similarly, and not just about the Catholic church, but about all those misogynistic Protestant churches too. In some countries where Muslims are the majority, women would be risking their lives to leave their misogynistic religion, but in the West, where people often have freedom of religion? It seems odd to me that women of any misogynistic religious sect would stay in their church when they have the freedom to leave it.

  • abadidea

    john locke: But excommunication for one sin is equally bad as excommunication for another. Either way they throw the book, bell, and candle at you and say they’ll send you a get-well card in Hell.

    Also, seeing as the Catholic church is an actual political force with its own country, saying a woman cannot be ordained is like saying a woman cannot be mayor, governor, or president.

  • JD

    David W., in this case, at least it seems like the priests are abusing the boys by a large margin over girls. I don’t think one is worse than the other, I hadn’t heard of any cases where young girls were being raped by a priest, just boys. I don’t doubt it happens to girls though. And either way, it seems like they’re getting away with it with the help of the church hierarchy, which compounds the evil. There’s no punishment and no accountability, they just shuffle the priests around, somehow blind to the fact they’ll repeat their offense.

  • Sarah

    Peregrine’s got it.
    I went to Catholic school and mostly subscribed until I was about 16. I can’t believe I never noticed the disparity between the priests and the nuns (cars, housing) but it’s so true. I remember a female friend of mine wanted to be an altar server and they wouldn’t let her. This makes me mad all over again.

  • Dan

    I totally agree, women should not be ordained in the church. And neither should men.

  • Josha

    When I was a Catholic, up until college, I took my faith seriously. I also happened to become quite the young feminist at 12-years-old. I recognized the misogyny in the Catholic Church from a young age and from that point on it was a point of contention between my feminist beliefs and my Catholic ones. And this started me on my long journey to atheism. So thank you Catholic church for that.

    My good friend is a very devout traditional Catholic (no premarital sex, no abortion, no contraception, etc.). Occasionally he says something that is misogynistic which I recognize as being influenced by his faith. He doesn’t realize it’s misogynistic but it comes out. Although this is one person, so I can’t say that about all, or even most, Catholics. Most aren’t like him at all.

    So I was telling him how I hate the inferior position women have in the Catholic Church. And he says, “Men and women have different roles. Like a part of the body, they are different but they all work together to make everything possible. For example, men are the head and women are the neck, they support the head.” Yeah, exactly, you made my point.

  • Valhar2000

    Guys, women and men do have different but equally important roles in the Catholic Church! It’s just that the male roles are more equal than the female ones…

  • Mike


    As a teenager, I was a devout and involved Lutheran (although my parents were not). When I became a self-respecting adult female, I could no longer be a part of a church that considered me second class. And I belonged to a liberal lutheran church.

    Are you sure you were part of a liberal Lutheran church? Or were you simply in an ELCA congregation? While ELCA is very liberal compared to Missouri Synod, I have found that even within ELCA, most of the congregations are far from what I would consider liberal.

    The Lutheran congregation which I call home is very concerned with equality of ALL people regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, social class, history, etc. One of our members is a woman priest of the Old Catholic church (not the same as the Roman Catholic church). We have a number of gay couples who attend regularly (and a few that I believe have not yet decided to go public with that fact).

    Yes, it is a sad fact that most religious institutions, churches, and congregations are very big into “suppressing the other.” But, there are those handful of us that are trying to practice a moral religion.

  • Mike

    Perhaps we are all looking at the core issue backward…

    We are all seeing the Roman Catholic church (starting with Cardinal Ratzinger and working down) as trying to suppress women by equating their priesthood to an inherently despicable act.

    Perhaps the real motivation is to say that the rape of children is not really any worse than allowing a woman to be priest.

    Not that this is at its core any better. Just food for thought.

  • margiebargie

    They start working on kids’ minds very, very young. Particularly girls. These kids are never allowed to make an informed decision. That doesn’t happen until they’re teens/adults. It takes an extremely motivated individual to break away. It’s very toxic stuff.

  • ihedenius

    LinzeeBinzee Says:
    July 21st, 2010 at 2:14 pm
    When I was a Catholic I accepted that as a woman I was inherently inferior to men due to Eve’s mistake.

    I’m watching the “Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) Christine Hayes, Yale” course.

    “Adam” in original hebrew means ‘earthling’ without gender. Also in the Eve and the snake history, in original hebrew there is an “with” (as in “with Adam”) included that means Adam was present for Eve’s conversation with the snake. For some reason this “with” is always ignored when it gets translated.

    There is a misogynistic trend here apparently just as there is in the new testament. If the original OT text (Genesis) versus NT (Jesus & Paul) isn’t misogynistic enough, later traditions adds it in: the forged Pauline letters (Titus, Timothy, inserting a misogynistic passage even in an original ‘undisputed’ Pauline letter as some scholars think), changing Junia to Junias etc…

    Finally I’d like to recommend the above mentioned course for those interested in a secular textual critics of the Old Testament. Not just because it is available and free, I also think the course is very good, one of the better I’ve watched from the Academic Earth website where I think the quality differs a bit (they are all free after all). As good as listening to Bart Ehrman (a little more demanding I’d think, she talks fast and packs in a lot of information in every sentence as opposed to Ehrman who tend to repeat himself). Christine Hayes has a little fun when she recounts the creation of woman (approximatively: “the last part of creation, the crowning moment, what can I say ?”)

  • Angie

    The Catholic Church is responsible for so many disgusting, immoral things — oppression of women, child sexual abuse, failure to hold offending clergy accountable, encouraging the spread of HIV/AIDS through its anti-condom policy — that it has no moral standing anymore.

    I think people need to realize that even if they’re now atheists or agnostics, the church still considers you a member on paper unless you (1) defect, or (2) find yourself excommunicated. I encourage disgruntled ex-Catholics to make a formal declaration of defection, and to send this messed up institution a message en masse.


  • Peter

    Wow, so many posts, so much ignorance & irrationality, and such a big Straw Man to knock down!

    Regarding irrationality
    The definition of “equal” is “the same.” The obvious reality is that of individuality – that no human is exactly the same (not even “identical” siblings) – which means that no one is truly “equal.”

    The person who subscribes, knowingly or not, to the idea the people are simply animals that can be classified by numbers ends up reaching the conclusion that if this is true, that people can be classified into “superior/inferior” groups. Since such classification is unfair, then inequality must not exist!

    Regarding ignorance
    The Catholic Church believes that all humans (men/women, children/adults, white/black/brown/red/yellow/green/etc.) are equal in dignity, worth & value, which means no one is inherently “better” or “worse” than any one else. All are equally valuable, which incidentally demolishes the absurd claim that opposition to abortion is based on some supposed “inferiority of women.” In reality, it is based on the value of everyone, men & women alike.

    The “religion causes wars & murder” nonsense is especially laughable – fewer than 7% of all wars in history have had origins even remotely related to religion, & even the absurdly inflated body count that is attributed to religious motives is dwarfed by the tens of millions of deaths at the hands of atheist controlled governments, in just the last 100 years.

    Regarding the Straw Man
    The Vatican recently decided to formally list sexual abuse as one of the “most serious crimes against church law”. The “attempted ordination of women” is another item added to this list.

    So what?

    The “category” is “most grave crimes”, which includes things that are either crimes of morality or crimes against the sacraments, or both.

    The straw man is built out of twisting the facts into a claim that they the two acts have been declared equal as viewed through a particular prism – the prism of moral relativism.

    Have a beer, relax & let your blood pressure settle down. You’ll feel better, I promise.

  • Kell Brigan

    Visiting pious Catholic feminist via a web search warp:
    1) Read the Muliaris Dignatatum (It’s OK. It’s available in English.)
    2) I hear the phrase “equal in dignity” a whole heck of a lot more often, and from people in greater authority than anything having to do with “inferiority.”
    3) Women don’t need to be priests for many of the same reasons fish don’t need bicycles.
    God bless (I mean that in a good way.)

  • Elaine

    I am Catholic because I think that logically it must be the truth. Why else would anyone belong to a church that has been riddled with scandal for 2000 years and endure constant insults regarding her intelligence and self-respect? I think it must be the truth and I find living as a practicing Catholic to be more rewarding than living as a secular person or as any other religion. I follow the teachings because I want to follow them and I don’t find the rules oppressive, I impose them on myself of my own free will.

  • JC


    “For example, men are the head and women are the neck, they support the head.” Yeah, exactly, you made my point.”

    All right, All right. You can be the head, I’ll be the rest of the body that provides the nutrients and blood stream to the head. LOL

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