Tuesday 24 October 2017

Survey reveals changing attitudes of Catholic women

John Spain

Seventy-FIVE per cent of Catholic women in Ireland think that abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest, or where the pregnancy seriously endangers the woman's health.

More than 90 per cent of Catholic women here think that people should be allowed to remarry if their first marriage fails, and three-quarters of Catholic women are in favour of female priests.

The findings, which have implications for both church and state policy, are from a survey of more than 400 women in the republic and are contained in a new book by Dr Florence Craven, a Trinity College academic.

The survey also has interesting findings on attitudes among Catholic women to discrimination and other issues.

The book, titled Twenty-First Century Ireland From a Woman's Perspective, is due to be published in April by the American academic publisher, the Edwin Mellen Press.

Dr Craven has a PhD in Gender and Women's Studies and is affiliated with the Social Attitude and Policy Research Institute at TCD.

The focus of the book is an analysis of the social, religious and gender role attitudes of Protestant (Church of Ireland) and Catholic women in the Republic of Ireland. The issues covered include church influence on the social status of women, the ordination of women, and moral issues like divorce and abortion.

For the main study, 500 questionnaires were distributed among women in 12 counties and 467 were completed and returned (226 Catholic and 241 Protestant respondents), a response rate of 93.4 per cent.

In addition, detailed interviews were conducted amongst 48 respondents (24 Catholic and 24 Protestant).

Although all the findings are of interest, it is the response from Catholic women which offers the most surprises.

The survey does not have the standing of a national opinion poll, but it was large enough to be a significant indicator of the changing views of Catholic women in Ireland over the past decade. It shows that they hold views that are far ahead of both church and state on a number of issues.

The fact that three-quarters of Catholic women think that abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest, or if the pregnancy endangers the woman's health, suggests that it may be time for the State to reconsider its position on Irish women travelling abroad for abortions.

The fact that 91 per cent of the Catholic women surveyed think that remarriage should be a right if a first marriage fails indicates that the Catholic Church is far behind its flock on this issue.

Although the question did not specify whether the right should be to a state or church remarriage, it is fair to assume that Catholic women believe that remarriage in a church should be allowed.

The attitude to having women priests was also revealing. In the survey, the following statement was put to those surveyed: "Women priests -- I'm not too keen on the idea of women clergy, as it is not in keeping with the natural order of things." Just over 75 per cent of Catholic women disagreed with the statement, indicating that they are in favour of women priests.

Also interesting is the attitude towards discrimination. Despite our equality legislation almost 90 per cent of all the women surveyed think that discrimination against women is still common in Irish society. Even more surprising is the 88 per cent who think that how a woman looks is still important to society.

Dr Craven says: "While the economy has been a liberating force for women, it was of great concern to see that respondents in this study strongly believed that social attitudes towards women still continue to be negative.

"Now that church power and influence are decreasing, new forms of oppression against women have emerged; it could be argued that social and cultural tools such as the media, popular culture and advertising largely focus on women as sexual beings bereft of any economic agency."

Sunday Independent

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