Who Needs Men in Church?

By Joseph Shaw


Cardinal Burke recently gave a rather controversial interview on the crisis of men in Church. The lack of men in most Catholic churches in the West is there for all to see; looking at those most involved in parish life—readers, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, Altar servers—the lack of menfolk is even more striking. The general problem of lapsation and apathy has clearly hit men hard—or, even harder—than it has hit women.

This phenomenon, though undeniable, has attracted very little official attention from Church authorities. Part of the preparation for the 2015 Synod was an embarrassingly amateurish video put out by the Pontifical Council for the Laity seeking input for the Synod’s deliberations.

From men? No, from women. Even as men become an endangered species in our congregations, the focus remains on the experiences of women and how the Church can reach out to them.

While the Catholic Church may seem to need to make up some lost ground on the female front because the clergy is all male, those denominations with female clergy don’t appear to have any more interest in men’s concerns.

On the contrary, for liberal Episcopalians/Anglicans  the ministerial calling could soon be a female occupation, like nursing or secretarial work once was, and the feminisation of church structures will be complete and irreversible.

Latin Mass Society of England ad III

So what makes men uncomfortable with the Church? Does it matter? And can anything be done about it?

A good rule of thumb is that the more liberal a congregation or denomination, the fewer men are interested. Men are perfectly comfortable with Islam, which actually attracts more men than women. Hinduism, Orthodox Judaism, and Eastern Orthodoxy also seem to have no problem attracting and retaining men.

It isn’t religion per se which men don’t like; when surveys in Europe and America show that women are ‘more religious’ than men this reflects the failure of mainstream Christianity to engage men — not an unavoidable male distrust of religion. Within Catholicism, anyone wanting to see a congregation with a roughly balanced gender ratio needs to get themselves to a Traditional Mass.

Like or it not, men respond more readily to a religion which is demanding, which presents them with the objective and transcendent, and to a liturgy which ordered and reverent. They find it easier to relate to a religion which is serious, and grown up. This contrasts with emotional, spontaneous, wordy, and community-focused liturgy, catechesis, and churchmanship in general.

These may seem rather vague concepts, but it isn’t hard to see them in real life. Is Islam a demanding religion, or a soft option? Is Orthodox Judaism all about the worship of a transcendent God, or all about expressing one’s emotions? Is the liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox characterised by reverence and awe, or spontaneity?

We know the answers. We should not be surprised when the Traditional Catholic liturgy, with its emphasis on order and reverence, or Traditional Catholic spirituality, with its emphasis on self-discipline and penance, and its external and physical acts of devotion like pilgrimages, seems attractive to men, who have been told as young Catholics that being a good person is about holding hands, and joining in emotional spontaneous prayers.

A lot of men would rather gash themselves with knives (perhaps in honour of Shiva the Destroyer?) than tell a group of strangers about their deepest hopes and fears. That doesn’t make men irreligious, and it shouldn’t make them bad Catholics.

It isn’t hard to see what can be done about the situation: there are obvious ways to make the liturgy — and the way that the Church manifests itself to Catholics in general — less uncomfortable to men. This can be done without making it any less comfortable to women. The Traditional Mass offers a familiar model.

But at this point a common response one encounters is that, if men don’t like what progressive theologians and liturgists have done to the Church — often with the specific goal of undermining notions of objective truth, the transcendent, and anything smacking of ‘patriarchy’ — then it is men who are to blame.

According this view, men—and women too—who lapse because the liturgy is unbearable, and the teaching devoid of substance, should get a grip, because after all the Church is the Ark of Salvation and lapsing is a sin.

Why Aren’t Men ‘Included’?

The strange thing is that the same people who say this will go on to say that the Church should make itself more acceptable to feminists by removing ‘non-inclusive’ language from the Bible. Similarly, the Church should make itself more ‘acceptable’ to native Australian shamans by permitting their smoke-ceremony at a Papal Mass. (Editor’s Note: This occurred during Pope Benedict’s visit to Australia in 2008.)

Finally, is it important? Who cares if more men lapse than women?

It matters, in fact, not only because of the souls of the men involved, but because a community without men is without fathers. Simply put, Catholic family life is impeded without the involvement of the father. Indeed, studies have shown that children, of both sexes, are more influenced by the religious attitudes of their fathers than of their mothers. This may best be explained by the father representing, to children, the grown-up world, and the mother the domestic domain. If religion is not part of the adult world, children who want to become adults will tend to leave it behind.

Catholicism is, in fact, a religion for grown-ups. For the sake of all of us, we need a serious, grown-up liturgy and approach to teaching.


Joseph Shaw teaches philosophy at Oxford University. He is the Chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales and blogs regularly 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Please follow and like us:
  • Michelle Therese
    Posted at 05:23h, 04 July

    “The general problem of lapsation and apathy has clearly hit men hard—or, even harder—than it has hit women.”

    There is an elephant in the room that we carefully tip-toe around so as not to set off the Politically Correct Alarm… and that is the fact that once boys and men see something as “women’s work” they feel like intruders and they back off. I’ve worked in very male dominated fields and am now married into a farming community and I can say with honesty from experience that truly many men resent women “taking over” their space and their jobs. And intruding into their space. Others are more then happy to walk away and let someone else shoulder the burdens ~ us women. Still others feel that “women’s work” is for women and men doing the same work must be effeminate or something, so they shy away.

    And then you have men that are perfectly fine with women being present, but that seems to be more the norm in the work force then our Church! Just look at the empty spaces in our pews and our seminaries and monasteries… Clearly we cannot treat the Mass the same way that we treat the workplace and the social places in the World: the Mass is incredibly unique and of God and of the Kingdom of Heaven. What we do during the Mass has a different consequence then what we do in the secular places of the work place and social spaces. Instead of trying to ignore this it should be obvious that we need to pay attention!

    I know many will say that this is sexist and wrong and bad, etc etc, but it is also just a plain fact of nature. I have no idea how to “fix” this, but I am sure if our priests and bishops would speak openly about this, talking to men and boys about this common reaction to women being involved with jobs and ministries that were traditionally male, then there might appear some self awareness of the male kind. I can tell you that men often do not articulate this even to themselves, they react and that’s just that and a solution seems impossible. Especially when we tip-toe around Elephants in rooms!

    I watched an interesting video where a Protestant preacher discussed the passages in Scripture regarding women not teaching in the church and women being silent in the church ~ I was surprised by his discussing that we women have so much to do as it is, why burden us with even *more* responsibility? And that God knows exactly how men will react: they will kick back and take it easy and let the women do all of the hard work! That was a very interesting perspective. Sadly I lost several friendships because these folk obviously did not actually watch the video ~ or watch all of it. This is such a pointlessly touchy subject, with too many of us women getting up in arms so fast! Which achieves nothing more then putting up more walls around the root of the problem, leaving us and the Church scratching our heads while we hem and haw about gee, why aren’t men more involved? Well, I am pointing at that elephant here…

    Me, I don’t see how putting women into male roles in the parish has done any good. We end up with men missing in action and only a handful of over-worked and under appreciated ladies (and a few guys) doing all of the work now. It has caused more problems then good, and turned so many men off from the Church. Why fix something if it isn’t broke ~ doing so causes things to break down! Not only that, but now we have this atmosphere of hyper-sensitivity to “things feminine” among so many of our Catholic sisters. So much so that if some of us women show up with feminine attire, like long skirts or a mantilla, we are bullied and harassed and accused of “bringing women back to the dark days of authority!” and other such pointless nonsense. As we see in the World, “feminine” and “femininity” are now seen as dirty things, a handicap that must be overcome, and the masculine set above as superior and something that women must aim for and gain in order to, in a twisted sense, be “equal”. This perverts God’s will and role for men and women ~ female is not less then, nor a handicap, and male is not the superior. I see severe sexism in the idea that women have to become androgynous or masculine in order to be “good enough” ~ and this is taking place as much in our parishes as it is in the secular World outside of our church doors. So how has any of this “participation of the faithful” improved on God’s Church?? We should return to the way parishes were always run and stop with these feel-good social experiments in the Church. Save that for outside of the Mass. The Scriptures and the Church have always given us clearly defined roles, men and women, and there is no need to try and “fix” what has proven to work for nearly 2,000 years ~ until
    “The Spirit” of Vatican II (vs. the actual Council…) struck and caused such unnecessary discontent in the ranks. :-/

Post A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.