In response to the latest census information – showing that just over 78% of people in the Irish Republic now describe themselves as Catholic (down from 84%), there have been calls to involve more women in the Church’s structures and institutions. The thinking is that the male-dominated structure of the Church makes Catholicism seem old-fashioned and behind the times.
I’m all for involving more women in any institution, but in terms of strategy for the Catholic Church, I’d take the opposite view: the real challenge is to try and attract more men into faith practice.
Visit almost any church at any time and check it out. Despite women not being involved in Church hierarchy, the attendance will be predominantly female.
I went to Mass last year in a small village near Avignon in France. In opening up the church and doing the preparations for Sunday services, there was not a male in sight. When the priest appeared, he was the only man present. As Mass started, a couple of other men appeared, one elderly, one father of a young family.
What would a market strategist deduct from this? That ‘the product’ has no problem attracting women. The problem is attracting men. The logical answer would be that ‘the product’ needs to become more appealing to the masculine.
Now, I apologise for drawing a parallel between faith and marketisation, especially at the most important and holiest of Christian feasts, when our thoughts should be on the Passion and the Resurrection.
But this is an important subject, and lessons from market strategies can be useful.
If a Church (or any institution) seems to be too ‘feminine’, or even ‘feminised’, it’s harder to get men involved. That’s well established. J.K. Rowling was told she would never sell her Harry Potter books to boys if she used her Christian name – ‘Joanna’.
Call this misogyny if you will, but it’s the way things work. Girls will play with boys’ toys, but more rarely will boys agree to play with girls’ toys.
The religions gaining ground in Ireland – Islam and Evangelical Christianity – have a brand of ‘male muscularity’.
Think outside the box: evangelise men.
Legion of Mary deserve recognition
Veronica Kane of Blanchardstown, Dublin won the ‘Letter of the Week’ prize in the Sunday Independent last weekend, with – perhaps surprisingly – a letter pointing out the good work that the Legion of Mary had done for unmarried mothers in the past.
“I grew up in North Great George’s Street in the Dublin inner city in the 1950s,” she wrote. “At the end of the street there were five houses that the Legion of Mary owned. They bought them to help unmarried mothers to have somewhere to live and look after their babies.
“The condition of the houses was not great but it was an option instead of having to give up their babies. Most of the mothers found it hard as there was no unmarried mother’s allowance at the time.
“However, a lot of the children I knew grew up to have good lives, thanks to the Legion of Mary.”
What an interesting TV or radio documentary it would make to track down some of those adults that Veronica Kane knew as children, who grew up under the protection of this caring organisation founded by Frank Duff. The research basis for such a documentary would begin with Finola Kennedy’s meticulous biography (Frank Duff – A Life Story) published in 2011.
I should declare an interest and say that Finola is a friend of mine, but the biography stands on its own merits, and illuminates the very point that Veronica Kane makes.