The Catholic Church is dying. Priesthood is down, the population is aging, younger generations have less interest in organized religion and the Church is doing nothing. To save itself, the Church must capitulate to modernity in one of three areas: gender, sex or sexuality.
Recently, the Vatican was faced with a crisis in the Amazon region of South America. The Amazon is one of the few regions in which Roman Catholicism remains strong and continues to grow. Unfortunately, because of the Church’s failure to continue ordaining young men as priests, Catholics in many Amazonian areas rely on traveling priests and deacons. As a result, many South American Catholics, who are among the most faithful members of the Church, are forced to go months and years without Mass, often delaying time-sensitive matters such as burials and last rites.
In response, the Vatican considered both allowing the ordination of married men and allowing women to serve as deacons, two ideas Catholic progressives have wanted for decades. Don’t worry though, in true Catholic fashion, the Church did not do the right thing. Rather, the Vatican asked members of the Church to pray for more vocations.
The Church must allow women to be deacons. The gender solution to the imminent death of the Catholic Church is simple: Give women basic powers and some semblance of equality. Clinging to an archaic philosophy of male superiority is not only detrimental to the survival of the Church, it is dangerous. The Catholic Church prides itself on being a voice for the voiceless, a beacon of hope in dark times, a voice against injustice.
Yet in a world in which women must still fight for basic human rights, in which women face violence, prejudice and systematic injustice, the Catholic Church fails to serve as an example. Allowing women to be deacons would not only provide a path forward for a dying church, but would send a message that women are valued and appreciated. For how are we all “brothers and sisters” if our sisters have no power?
While steps towards gender equality would provide some relief to a Church in desperate need of religious leaders and show the world that the Church believes in gender equality, the underlying issues of a decrease in vocation and an aging population remain. To counter the decrease in vocation, the Catholic Church merely has to allow the ordination of married priests. Many married deacons exist within Catholicism, and while they are allowed to say mass, they are still prohibited from consecrating the Eucharist.
Quite simply, even if the Catholic Church refuses to forgo their sexism and allow women to serve as priests or deacons, a supply of ready and willing Catholic deacons sit waiting to be called on, one would simply have to relax the restrictions on marriage.
Additionally, while significantly more radical, an end to clerical celibacy in general would drastically increase the number of new priests. Even I, the man writing an immensely critical opinion piece, would consider becoming a (Jesuit) priest if celibacy were no longer required.
The final possible action the church can take to save itself is to cease its persecution of the LGBTQIA+ population. Jesus did not hate. The Bible writes against hate. Pope Francis famously asked, “Who am I to judge?” So why does the Catholic Church, which again is supposed to serve as a home for the marginalized, continue to reject the pleas for help from the LGBTQIA+ community? There is nothing less Catholic than ignoring the pleas of acceptance from a group of people dying for their existence.
Until the Church gives in to one of my three demands, gender equality, an end to clerical celibacy or the acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community, Catholicism will be doomed to die. Unless I find a viable religion to convert to, I will forever be ashamed to call myself a Catholic.