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Survey of Catholic women questioned

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The international survey of Catholic women was commissioned by the Catholic Women Speak network and is being submitted to the Vatican as part of the process of Synod 2021-23. Photo: 123rf
The international survey of Catholic women was commissioned by the Catholic Women Speak network and is being submitted to the Vatican as part of the process of Synod 2021-23. Photo: 123rf

There’s ‘rich’ data in women’s answers – but questions were loaded, says academic

The results from an international survey of Catholic women are in, but most questions revealed a bias that led to a focus on ordination for women and women preachers, LGBTIQ inclusion, and the Church’s teachings on sexuality in a submission to the Synod of Bishops in Rome, says a local researcher.

The report authored by Dr Tracy McEwan and Dr Kathleen McPhillips from the University of Newcastle, and Professor Tina Beattie at the University of Roehampton in London, was commissioned by the Catholic Women Speak network and is being submitted to the Vatican as part of the process of Synod 2021-23.

The findings were drawn from responses submitted by 17,200 women from 104 countries from 8 March to 26 April this year.

“An important insight to be drawn from the survey is that Catholic women do not constitute a homogenous group but reflect the many different cultural and communal contexts …”

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It included more than 20 closed questions, where respondents were invited to choose from a set of responses about their faith, practice and views about the Church, and three open-ended questions.

“An important insight to be drawn from the survey is that Catholic women do not constitute a homogenous group but reflect the many different cultural and communal contexts within which their faith is experienced and practised,” the researchers wrote.

“It is an area of concern to the researchers that this heterogeneity is rarely represented in official Church documents, with the result that many women struggle to see the relevance of some Church teachings to the complex realities of their lives.”

Their hope is that as “one of the most extensive surveys of Catholic women ever undertaken,” the findings should “inform lasting and genuine change in church institutions, structures, and practices”.

A new international survey of Catholic women has been criticised by a local Catholic female scholar. Photo: Elisa Ventur/Unsplash
A new international survey of Catholic women has been criticised by a local Catholic female scholar. Photo: Elisa Ventur/Unsplash

A significant number of calls for reform in the Church among women was a major finding, as was the urgency of addressing abuse, transparency and accountability in leadership and governance, and a collaborative leadership model adopted by clergy with laity.

However University of Western Australia academic Dr Philippa Martyr said while the full report of the international survey contained rich material from the open-ended responses, the media release , the report’s executive summary and subsequent reporting in the media highlighted responses to the “loaded” closed questions.

She is a contributor to a current study by the University of Notre Dame Australia surveying Australians who identify as Catholic about their beliefs and practices.

“What is disappointing is not only the loaded nature of the survey, but … when actually there was some really lovely rich data that could have been showcased, but wasn’t, and someone made a decision about that …”

The study aims to provide insights about the Catholic population in this country and inform understanding of it might develop in the future.

“What is disappointing is not only the loaded nature of the survey, but also that those were the findings that they showcased at the front end in the executive summary when actually there was some really lovely rich data that could have been showcased, but wasn’t, and someone made a decision about that,” she said.

When the survey was released in March, Dr Martyr wrote in The Catholic Weekly that most of the questions are “deliberately exclusive of conservative Catholics” and allowed for no nuance in responses.

“For example, we’re asked if we think radical reform is needed in the Church. I do think that radical reform is needed in the Church – but my idea of ‘radical’ and someone else’s is going to be completely different,” she wrote.

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