“We emphasize the need to appoint women to positions that entail substantive responsibility and influence, so that the Church may reap the full benefit of their talents” (Bishops’ Committee on Women in From Words to Deeds: Continuing Reflections on the Role of Women in the Church).
Advocacy for women’s leadership in the church was a priority issue for the Committee on Women in Society & in the Church. The U.S. Bishops’ 1994 statement, Strengthening the Bonds of Peace, and the Committee’s 1998 statement, From Words to Deeds, both address this issue. In the latter statement, the Committee wrote, “We assume that all roles in the Church are open to women, unless stated otherwise by canon law. The roles are open; we need to continue to identify, invite, and educate the women who can fill them.”
Studies of Women in Diocesan Leadership
The Committee worked with the National Association of Church Personnel Administrators (NACPA) to study the employment of women in diocesan leadership positions. In June, 2004 the Committee released a NACPA survey, Women in Diocesan Leadership Positions: A 2003 Progress Report. The study is a follow-up to the 1999 Progress Report. The most recent study found that the percentage of women in diocesan leadership positions compares favorably with the U.S. workforce. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2002 women made up 51% of the executive, administrative, managerial and professional workforce. In that same year, women held 48.9% of diocesan administrative positions.
Other key findings include:
Over the five-year period between 1999 and 2003, the percentage of women in diocesan leadership rose slightly, to just under 48.4%. This compares to 46.6% during the 1995-1998 period.
During the 1999-2003 period, women held on average 26.8% of the top (Level One) positions. These include the chiefs of pastoral services, finance, personnel, education, and community services. This compares to 25.5% during the 1995-1998 period.
Small dioceses (fewer than 150,000 Catholics) and dioceses in the South and West are mostly likely to employ women administrators.
Consultation with Diocesan Women Leaders
In March, 2001 the Committee held a first-ever consultation with a cross-section of women in diocesan leadership positions. The Committee wanted to hear and critically reflect upon the experiences of women who influence diocesan decision-making. Representatives from more than 120 dioceses, plus national Catholic women’s organizations, attended the consultation. A report on the consultation was published in October, 2001.
The Committee also conducted a survey of women in diocesan leadership positions. The survey included questions about positive and negative experiences in diocesan leadership, collaboration, mentoring, and sources of support. Results were analyzed by the Life Cycle Institute at Catholic University and a report on the survey findings is available.