Leon J. Podles :: DIALOGUE

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Who Needs Men Anyway?

January 10th, 2011 · 18 Comments

Occasionally churchmen (and churchwomen) notice the lack of male involvement in the various Christian churches and try to think of ways of getting men involved, but the more common reaction is seeking to make the church ever more and more a women’s club.


U.S. Catholic celebrates the feminine triumph in the Church:

It’s lunchtime at St. Clement Parish in Chicago, and although some of the city’s best restaurants are within walking distance, most of the staff members instead opt for microwaved leftovers and conversation with colleagues around the conference table. The building engineer and associate pastor stop by for a quick bite, but otherwise this makeshift lunchroom is Estrogen Central.

A large parish of 4,000 mostly middle- and upper-class families, St. Clement boasts 12 full-time, well-educated lay employees. Only two are men.

St. Clement is a great place to be a woman in the church. The pastor is open and collaborative. Women are visible in leadership and liturgy, and they are accepted and respected by parishioners. Older women mentor the younger ones. And the flexible hours, reasonable salaries, and decent benefits make it possible for women to do the meaningful work they were trained and feel called to do.

Nor is this a peculiarity of St. Clement’s.

Women virtually run the church in the United States. They make up the majority of parishioners, volunteers, and staff at the parish level, and make up at least half of employees at most diocesan offices. A third of Catholic students pursuing advanced theological degrees are women—and most plan to use their education in service to the church.

At the parish level even more employees are women:

Parish employees—as many as 80 percent of whom are women.

The triumphant march of women through the Church will be completed (many of the female employees hope) when ordination is opened to women, and the last vestiges of male presence in the Church are swept into the dustbin of history, and the Bride of Christ will be composed almost exclusively of women – a process that is almost complete in the mainline Protestant churches.


As to the men – well, there is sports, war, crime, and other diversions – if the women are lucky. Fascism and Nazism replaced Christianity for many men in Europe in the twentieth century.

Tags: Catholic Church · Women in Church

18 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Crowhill // Jan 10, 2011 at 8:08 am

    This highlights one of the areas where I think conservative Catholics are not being honest with themselves.

    Once you get your brain out of the “I must defend the church at all costs to my intellectual honesty” psychosis, it becomes painfully obvious that the Catholic Church has a huge problem with sex. It simply doesn’t understand masculinity.

    Homosexual and/or effeminate priests, the inability to confront abuse, the inability to attract men, the disregard for traditional teachings on male headship, the problems with the liturgy and Bible translations — they’re all symptoms of an underlying disease.

  • 2 Joseph D'Hippolito // Jan 10, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    Did this trend start since Vatican II or was it prominent before Vatican II, at least in the U.S.? I know that in Latin America, men see religion as the exclusive domain of women.

    Interestingly, when reviewing the Marian apparitions (approved and otherwise), women and children are Mary’s initial “audience,” for lack of a better term (with the exception of Guadalupe and Diego).

    I think the problem with mainline Protestant denominations is the embrace of feminist ideology in the headlong rush to conform to intellectual fashion.

  • 3 Tony de New York // Jan 10, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    4 most of the priest here in the states, dealing with women comes naturally. In Spain some bishops FORCE las cofradias to accept women, one of the last men refuge.


  • 4 John Weidner // Jan 10, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Leon, Thank you for posting things like this. They go into my “Men” file. This is the conversation in the Church I’d most like to be a part of, but alas there seems to be no conversation! No conferences, no debate, nothing on the radar…

    Joseph, you really should read Leon’s book, The Church Impotent. The problem with men in the Church goes back to the 13th Century, and is both Catholic and Protestant. That was really an eye-opener for me. As was the fact that this is peculiar to the Western Church. I read that and immediately asked a Greek Orthodox friend if his church was a place that men attended as much or more than women. He said yes, and he didn’t even seem to consider it a matter of interest. It was just normal.

  • 5 caroline // Jan 10, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    It is a sorry situation, but gentlemen, please, it will never change until you men change it. Whining about it and implying that it is the fault of women just digs you deeper into the hole. Is it a question of what you want women to do or of what you want to do?

  • 6 John Weidner // Jan 11, 2011 at 12:57 am

    “Whining about it and implying that it is the fault of women just digs you deeper”

    Caroline, It’s NOT the fault of women. It was started by men, and women merely have, very naturally, taken advantage of a situation that favored their strengths and their type of devotion. And those things are not intrinsically bad, or false. It’s just that they have unbalanced the Western churches.

    Which led to a sort of Darwinian selection, where less masculine men flourished in the churches, and multiplied there, while strong and masculine men stayed away.

    Reform can only come from within, yet “within” there are mostly people who don’t have any feel for what they are missing. It seems like a hopeless situation.

    Yet I suspect there is a morsel of hope in our time because, paradoxically, masculinity is now in crisis throughout the Western world. The problems in the churches are now a small sub-set of much larger problems. Crisis may equal opportunity. People just may wake up and start to think.

  • 7 GuillermoSantiago // Jan 11, 2011 at 7:15 am

    The Catholic Church will regain its masculinity when they come to terms with the sainthood of the likes of Sainte Louis IX Le Roi.

  • 8 Father Michael Koening // Jan 11, 2011 at 8:31 am

    What do people who read this site think of the “Men’s Movement” type activity among some Catholics? I’m thinking of the “Promise Keeper” idea as reformulated for Catholics. It seems to have taken deepest root among fellows who are involved with the Charismatic Renewal. Steubenville University is big into this. Also, there’s a feisty “come on guys, man up!” attitude among some more conservative Catholics (one thinks of the uber-masculine Michael Vorris of Real Catholic TV). I don’t see a lot of visible impact by any of these among my people, but would like to read your thoughts.

  • 9 John Weidner // Jan 11, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    Fr Michael,

    My thinking is that these movements can’t make a real difference. Masculinity can’t be an add-on. A Catholic parish (or Protestant church or Jewish synagogue), in its true day-to-day nature, IS a “men’s group.” A men’s group where women and children can in fact be their own best selves flanking the men. That’s what Christ’s band of disciples looked like.

    The deep nature of the Church, as Walter Ong explained, is feminine. The masculine surface level is a necessary counter-balance.

    Mr. Vorris reminds me of Andy Warhol’s saying, “Nothing is more bourgeois than to be afraid to look bourgeois.” I’d say nothing is as un-masculine as trying to look uber-masculine. Christ was the most manly man ever–he cooly defied the greatest powers of his world, and kept to his purpose even when being tortured and killed. But he never needed to act tough, and could be gentle and tender without being sappy (though he is now often portrayed as a softy).

  • 10 Joseph D'Hippolito // Jan 11, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    Fr. Michael, I am skeptical of “come on, man up!” sentiments because they seem to imply that men cannot be sensitive. I ran into this with full force when my mother, to whom I was very close, died in October 2009 after fighting cancer for six months. Since I’m single and have no siblings, I had to take care of everything myself. During the funeral Mass, God gave me the composure I needed to recite the readings and the eulogy. But when I came back to the church after the burial to pick up the mementos I displayed for the reception at the parish hall, I broke down and wept profusely. The pastor — who officiated the funeral Mass, btw — said, “tell me what’s going on” (talk about being dense!) He then quietly berated me for being a middle-aged man and weeping the way I was! Who the Hell was he to tell anybody how to act at a particular age? Anyway, I sent an angry letter to him, telling him that I will no longer attend his church as long as he was pastor. I also sent formal complaints to the bishop and to the superior of the pastor’s order. I’ve only been back once, to give some flowers from my mom’s gardent to the secretaries.

    Strength is not the absence of tears. Strength is the presence of resolution in the midst of crisis.

    Guillermo, the Catholic Church will regain its masculinity when it learns how do discern when mercy is appropriate and when justice is appropriate. I was going through some old papers when I found a Zenit article about JPII asking forgiveness for the 9/11 terrorists on the first anniversary of that atrocity. Considering that the terrorists took God’s name in vain by committing their heinous acts and (I assume) did not repent, I doubt if God answered the Pope’s prayer. In any event, the late Pope’s action provides an example of Catholic “feminity.”

  • 11 Father Michael Koening // Jan 11, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    John and Joe, thanks for your comments. Michael Vorris leaves me cold and I’ve seen little impact by the men’s movement types outside of charismatic renewal.

    Joe, what the pastor did was simply awful. My father dies young of cancer 25 years ago. I certainly wept at his passing. When my mom dies (she’s 85 and still going strong) I’ll be a mess. What would this pastor have done with St. Pio who was inconsolable at the death of each of his parents? A better question is what would he have done with Jesus who wept (and the Greek verb is very strong) at the death of Lazarus?

  • 12 Crowhill // Jan 12, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Mr. Podles,

    I’m sorry if this is a little off topic, but what, in your opinion, is the most reliable estimate of the number of active priests who are homosexual?


  • 13 Joseph D'Hippolito // Jan 12, 2011 at 11:52 am

    Fr. Michael, thanks much for your comments and support.

    Guillermo, I’ll see your St. Louis IX Le Roi and raise you Moses and David when it comes to Godly masculinity. Both were warriors who had the sensitivity to intercede for an entire people (Moses) or write arguably the most touching poetry in Scripture (David).

  • 14 Megan Sweas // Jan 13, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    Fascinating conversation happening here. I blogged about it back on U.S. Catholic’s site too and would love to hear your thoughts. : http://www.uscatholic.org/blog/2011/01/men-versus-women.

  • 15 admin // Jan 14, 2011 at 8:39 am

    A Los Angeles Times poll in 2002 found that 15 % of priests identified themselves as homosexual, and that the proportion was higher among younger priests – 23%. Other estimates are much higher, up to 58%. Donald Cozzens, himself a former seminary rector, wrote that bishops who had worked in seminaries tended to the highest estimates, and that he suspects “that the true subculture in our seminaries, chanceries, and rectories, and religious houses is not gay, but straight.” W, Richard Sipe thinks that 20% of the Clergy “report homosexual behavior or identity,” but that if those who have problems with sexual identity are included, the percentage rises to 30% to 50%, and seems to have increased in recent years

  • 16 Skip // Jan 14, 2011 at 9:48 am

    Thanks for your comments and insights.

  • 17 Crowhill // Jan 14, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Thanks. I’ve seen estimates along those lines. There’s quite a variation.

    It seems that when you take them all together, something like 1 in 4 or even 1 in 3 is about right.

  • 18 Father Michael Koening // Jan 14, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    Greg, in my graduating class about one third of the guys were homosexual. The seminarians in our area now seem to be mainly heterosexual . I’m not sure how representative this is of the “new men” now attracted to seminary in North America as a whole. I find our guys very orthodox, fond of Latin, and big on JPII and Benedict XVI. Several have been drawn to Opus Dei that has a centre not far away. But again, I’m not sure how representative they are. I look forward to future visits to Ireland and the Netherlands to compare notes with clergy on the up and coming generation.

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