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Catholic, female and struggling: Survey reveals women's desire for Church reform

  • 17 March 2023
The Catholic Church is facing an urgent plea for reform from its female constituents. The release of a newly published survey by the Catholic Women Speak Network gives voice to over 17,000 women worldwide, demanding to be seen, heard, and valued. Led by Australian researchers Dr Tracy McEwan and Dr Kathleen McPhillips from the University of Newcastle, the International Survey of Catholic Women (ISCW) drew over 17,000 responses from participants from 104 countries, answering Pope Francis' invitation for submissions to the Synod of Bishops on Synodality. Not only do these women express their opinions on pressing social issues, but they also speak out about their dissatisfaction with a lack of transparency in church governance and the need for recognition of their contributions to the church. As Pope Francis sets his sights on the future of women's roles in the church, this survey couldn't have arrived at a more timely moment. Eureka Street's David Halliday speaks with Tracy McEwan about the findings.

DH: How did this survey come about? Can you share with us the background?  

TM: It’s an interesting story, how it came about. Professor Tina Beattie at the University of Roehampton coordinates a women's network called Catholic Women Speak. And she put a message out on the group Facebook page saying she wanted to gather women's thoughts for the Synod, and take the opportunity that was offered to the people of God to make that contribution. She said, can anyone create a survey? I am a theologian and sociologist of religion and I have an undergraduate qualification in maths and statistics, so messaged her and said, I can make a survey. This would have been late 2021. She was just going to do it on Survey Monkey, and I said no, let’s go through the University of Newcastle. And I bought Dr Kathleen McPhillips who is also from the University of Newcastle, and a sociologist of religion and gender, on board. The three of us met a few times, and we devised the survey in consultation with the women from the Catholic Women Speak Network. The University of Newcastle hosted the survey and volunteers translated it from English into seven other languages. 

The International Survey of Catholic Women had a very specific purpose - to listen to Catholic women’s understandings of the key issues facing women in the Catholic Church involving church reform and the COVID 19 Pandemic. We were expecting