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Study shows church is still a men's club: women's leadership roles show little increase in five years.

Despite the U.S. Catholic bishops' repeated declarations in support of women's equality, their track record indicates it is easier for them to say than do, according to a new study.

Called "All Talk and Little Action," the study shows lay and religious women lag far behind male counterparts in most leadership positions within the U.S. church.

Conducted by Catholics for a Free Choice, the study examined hiring practices in the top 19 nonclerical positions in 175 U.S. dioceses -- positions theoretically open to women. These include, for example, chancellors, vice chancellors, finance officers, directors of communication or public relations and directors of religious education, tribunals and ethnic ministries. The information was taken from the Official Catholic Directory.

The CFFC study compares 1994 figures with those taken in 1988. In 1988 it found that 16 percent of the bishops' top positions open to women were held by women; in 1993, this figure had risen to 19 percent.

During their November meeting, the bishops approved a pastoral reflection on women in church and in society, titled "Strengthening the Bonds of Peace."

In that statement the bishops called for developing a church-wide dialogue centered on women's leadership, equality and "diversity of gifts." They wrote: "We welcome this leadership, which in some ways is already a reality, and we commit ourselves to enhancing the participation of women in every possible aspect of church life."

The statement was not the bishops' first regarding the need to bolster women's leadership roles in the church. The promises "are beginning to ring hollow," said Frances Kissling, CFFC president.

"We saw that both the press and bishops treated the statement as if they never said this before, as if it was big news or a surprise," she added. "In reality, this notion of opening up to women is not a new one for the bishops."

Females and figures

The study findings include the following:

* In 1993, 80 percent of the chancellor positions were held by men.

* In 1993, 975 of the judges were men and 44 were women. Only 4 percent of the judges were women.

* The total percent of women holding positions as tribunal directors dropped 6 percent between 1988 and 1993.

* The number of women financial officers or financial administrators decreased slightly since 1988. That year 91 percent of these positions were held by men; in 1993, 92 percent were held by men.

Diocesan Position Totals: 1988 and 1993
Position Men Women
 1988 1993 1988 1993
Chancellor # 149 138 20 34
 % 88% 80% 12% 20%
Vice # 104 65 19 14
chancellor % 85% 82% 15% 18%
Judge # 1,214 975 23 44
 % 98% 96% 2% 4%
Tribunal # 13 15 21 19
director % 38% 44% 62% 56%
Defender # 668 522 29 45
of the bond % 96% 92% 4% 8%
Advocate, # 551 625 195 186
others % 74% 77% 26% 23%
Fin/admin # 178 154 17 13
director % 91% 92% 9% 8%
Finance # 607 822 77 30
council % 89% 86% 11% 14%
Cemetery # 109 98 0 4
director % 100% 96% 0% 4%
Comm. # 113 97 35 38
director % 76% 72% 24% 25%
Newspaper # 110 106 34 35
editor % 76% 75% 24% 25%
Rel. ed. # 58 58 82 106
director % 41% 35% 59% 65%
Superinten. # 71 64 79 96
of schools % 47% 40% 53% 60%
Education # 69 48 34 35
director % 67% 58% 33% 42%
Worship # 64 85 33 39
director % 66% 69% 34% 32%
Family life # 92 57 57 70
director % 62% 45% 38% 55%
Ethnic min. # 219 263 68 57
director % 76% 82% 24% 18%
Social min. # 166 122 38 41
director % 81% 75% 19% 25%
Respect life # 51 51 25 37
director % 67% 58% 33% 42%

Source: Catholics for a Free Choice based on information from The Official Catholic Directory.

Kissling said that however grim these figures, they paint a brighter picture than the one that actually exists because the study examined only jobs that are currently open to women. According to canon law, some diocesan jobs can only be held by priests. For example, only a priest can serve as vicar general, who assists the bishop in the governance of a diocese.

The bishops in their November statement pledged themselves to continuing the dialogue prompted during their decadelong effort to develop a pastoral letter on women, which finally failed in November 1992.

In November the bishops pledged "where possible" to implement recommendations originally in the pastoral drafts and now under consideration within various episcopal conference committees. They also expressed the need to look at "alternative ways in which women can exercise leadership in the church."

Kissling said she has another idea that might help the bishops carry out their promises. "They need to do what private industry has done," she said, calling on them to hire an outside firm that specializes in assisting corporations to diversify. This way, she said, they could develop "a concrete, quantifiable plan" with timelines and goals.

The comfort zone

Asked why the bishops are slow to put women in leadership roles, Kissling said, "It is the blindness to the fact that these (changes) don't happen just by goodwill. If you understand that discrimination is deep-seated and complex, then you know you have to work to change that. Most upsetting is that there is clear evidence that very little work has been done in the last five years in changing this objective discrimination against women.

"Of course the bishops don't see themselves as discriminatory people. But if they look at the statistics, they are discriminating against women. The results of that discrimination is still the profound underrepresentation of women in decision-making positions in U.S. dioceses."

The bishops are finding themselves in a predicament common among corporate leaders throughout America. They, like the bishops, feel good in what Kissling calls "the comfort zone."

"We all like to work with people like ourselves. All of us have a learned inclination to surround ourselves with people like us," she explained. "The bishops are inclined to hire priests because they are comfortable with them and they have control of them. Women are more independent than the bishops are used to. They are certainly more independent than priests."
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Title Annotation:U.S. Catholic diocesan office staffs
Author:Edwards, Robin T.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Dec 16, 1994
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