On June 14, a pink wave rolled onto to the shores of Huntington Beach, California where the United States Conference of Bishops was meeting for their annual spring general assembly. The wave – a witness for equality made up of about 40 activists participating in the “A Church for Our Daughters Campaign”– was an attempt to churn up discussion with the bishops on an alarming trend facing the Church: Women are leaving the Church at unprecedented and unsustainable rates.
The campaign is an effort sponsored by thirty Catholic organizations including FutureChurch. "A Church for Our Daughters” is a clarion call to our U.S. bishops to wake up to the reality they have created over the past several decades -- a church that no longer dreams God's dream for her people or has the courage to try," said Deborah Rose-Milavec, executive director of FutureChurch.
The group, dressed in pink, hoped to deliver a 4,000-signature petition with 15 recommendations for creating “a Church that is truly inclusive and alive with the gifts, spirit, and potential of all its members.” They also carried pink carnations attached to personalized invitations for dialogue to hand deliver to the bishops who had gathered at an ocean-side resort for a week of meetings and presentations.
The Church for Our Daughters Campaign was first envisioned at the November 2015 meeting of Catholics Organizations for Renewal (COR) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “We were all concerned about the growing body of evidence being presented by Pew, CARA, and others that women – particularly young women – are leaving the Church at unprecedented rates,” says Russ Petrus, program director of FutureChurch.
Recent sociological research shows that women’s centuries-long loyalty to the Church can no longer be taken for granted, a fact that is documented in great detail in American Catholics in Transition (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2013): “Unlike their grandmothers and mothers, Catholic women born after Vatican II seem less willing to give the institutional church the benefit of the doubt and to stay loyal to the Church and Catholicism while hoping for change.” [i]
A closer look at data pertaining to the Millennial generation published in AmericanCatholics in Transition (see chart) reveals that while the Millennial generation as a whole is significantly less devout than their elders,“non-Hispanic millennial women stand out for their disengagement from and indifference toward Catholicism” [ii]. Inf act, according to socialist Sr. Patricia Wittberg, “An analysis of the General Social Surveys (GSS) from 2002 - 12 shows that the likelihood of exiting Catholicism altogether is greater among young adult Catholic women than it is among Catholic men their age.” [iii]
The trend has touched the lives of many of the A Church for Our Daughters organizers. “As we went around the room, each of us had a personal story to share that gave spirit and flesh to the numbers: adult children who never went Mass; new parents who were discerning whether or not to raise their children Catholic, grandchildren who had never been baptized or were now being raised in other traditions; talented friends who – after years of heartache and rejection – offered their gifts and vocations elsewhere. We knew we had to do something for the Church and the people we love.”
Over the course of the two-day COR meeting, a plan was put in place. First, there needed to be a a declaration of a vision for what a Church for our daughters actually look like. The Declaration would eventually serve as the basis for the petition, which can still be signed at www.achurchforourdaughters.org. Next, two working groups would seek to bring that vision to life: an educationt eam would develop content for a website that would educate Catholics on the issues raised by the declaration, and an action and events team would develop ways of engaging Catholics in the movement and inviting bishops to dialogue on the topic, including the witness for equality held in June. FutureChurch was represented by Deborah Rose-Milavec who served on the actions and events team and Russ Petrus who served as the chairperson for the education committee. Both were also a part of the team that wrote the Declaration for Our Daughters.
The next several months saw several planning meetings as organization after organization signed on to the initiative. Tremendous energy at the grassroots level, and media interest led to the June 14th event in Huntington Beach. The campaign was covered by The National Catholic Reporter, Religion Dispatches, The Orange County Register, and TIME. (Visit www.achurchforourdaughters.org to see all of the coverage.)
Ultimately, the wave of pink-clad witnesses for equality crashed into the break-wall of hierarchical silence represented by resort security. Still, at the entrance of the resort, participants read the Declaration, gave several planned and impromptu witnesses, and sang religious and secular songs of equality and inclusion. “It was disappointing that we weren’t able to engage with the bishops directly. But they knew we were there and they knew why we were there. They won’t be able to ignore this problem for long. And in some ways, they made our point for us by not permitting us – a group that was largely women – access to the resort. Beach-goers and resort guests alike stopped and listened to our presentation, sang with us, and took information about our initiative,” says Russ Petrus, who represented FutureChurch in Huntington Beach. Board member, Barbara Guerin, was also in attendance for the demonstration.
After the demonstration, the petition and a bouquet of pink carnations were delivered to the USCCB offices in Washington, D.C.
In addition to its leadership in planning and executing the campaign and witness for equality, FutureChurch incorporated the campaign in its 2016 Mary of Magdala Celebrations organizing kits and hosted two teleconferences on the topic. Celebrating Mary of Magdala: Building a Church for Our Daughters was used by over 300 communities of faith throughout the world in planning their Mary of Magdala celebrations. A teleconference hosted in July featured sociologist Patricia Wittberg, SC, Ph.D., who presented “Young Women in the Catholic Church.” The second teleconference, on August 24th,“Millennials Speak for Themselves” featured the voices of two Catholic Millennial women, Annie Burns and Michelle Maddex. Recordings of the teleconference can be heard at www.futurechurch.org/podcasts.
[i] D’Antonio, Dillon, and Gautier. American Catholics in Transition.96-97: Rowman and Littlefield, 2013
[ii] Ibid., 148
[iii] Wittberg, Patricia, S.C. "The Alienation of Millennial Catholic Women." Vatican II Essays. Wakeuplazarus.net, retrieved 14 Aug. 2016.