The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity

I read this book by Leon Podles some years ago and want to re-read it again after my years in seminary. The book went out of print but is now available FREE in pdf format at the link below.

I think much of what Podles is comlaining about in this book is what bothered me about some of the priests I served with as a seminarian. Some were gay and some were straight but what struck me about both groups was an adversion toward dogma. I remember when Terri Schiavo was dying, I was living in a rectory with a pastor who refused to talk about the case AT ALL. I went at him every which way I could to get at his reasoning—I saw his reticence as a dereliction of duty—and he finally told me was a pastor and too busy to teach people moral theology. I asked him what he would say if a family called him to the hospital with a similar case. He said, “I would tell them, God knows you’re good people and whatever you do is alright with him.” I remember thinking, “If that is true, then what are priests for?”

I think this guy’s biggest problem was not theological–he wasn’t saying the Church’s teachings were wrong–but that he was such a milquetoast, he refused to say anything that might offend anyone. I think that sort of priest is what Podles is talking about when he talks about “feminization” of the Church. I think that’s a real problem.

if the analogy rests on: “priests don’t teach moral theology or apply it because they are wimps, and that is a feminine trait”. then it falls flat before you even begin the argument. Change it to the wimpiness of the Church. Are you aware that, outside of the rare pulpit where hard morality is preached, it is largely women teaching our young, and women whose commitment is total, traditional and uncompromising. And are you aware that it is women who bravely bear the brunt when moral teaching is applied, especially in its most immediate circumstance, those issues surrounding conception, pregnancy and childbirth? and the second most common forum, circumstances surrounding death and end of life care? Women are on the ground in the battle so unless you can prove we are less likely to teach, apply and choose the high moral ground, you had best change your argument.

If you are steering your analysis of the church today to the issue of moral teaching and commitment, my opinion is that where there is wimpiness among priests and those charged with teaching morality, it comes directly from personal sin. The person with a duty to model and teach Christian morality who is afraid to do so is covering up personal sin and seeking to excuse himself or herself. This applies most directly to the priest who refuses to give sound moral guidance where it is most needed, in the confessional. Under the catchword “pastoral” (and men, not women, are usually shepherds) all manner of ill-doing is condoned and abetted.

I agree w/puzzleannie. And I am reading through the book and so far he is complaining that there are too many women attending services and not enough men. Which is fine; it makes sense to say that a better gender balance would be preferable.

but then I see things like this. He is talking about what he perceives as a lack of concern among Protestants that there services are attended by women, overwhelmingly:

Luther, whatever one thinks of his reform, was masculine in his aggressiveness. Bach is one of the most rational of composers in a mathematical-artistic field, muscial composition, that is almost exclusively male. Why would one be astounded if one went to such a service and found three hundred men and only four women?

The musical composition field is “almost exclusively male” b/c in the past, women with musical talent and ability were usually not given the training and education to succeed. That has changed a great deal and now you see many more female composers.

However, to believe that statement, you also have to believe that mathematics and rationality are the domain of men, and perhaps artistic accomplishment also.

I happen to have a degree in physics with a minor in mathematics and background in music, although I have never tried composing. My problems w/the above statement are numerous. It seems to indicate that mathematics and rationality are not for me.

People who say something is extremely unlikely, or not possible (such as females studying mathematics) should get out of the way of those of us who are doing it.

As someone who spent years studying this stuff, I find the above offensive. Mathematics and rationality and musical composition are not the domain of men. They are the domain of anyone who is interested in those fields and is willing to work hard to gain mastery of them. It is true that many times in high school or so, female students pull back and they stop working hard in mathematics, for whatever reason, and after that it becomes very unlikely that they will pursue advanced studies. But then that is true of a lot of male students as well.

If I keep seeing statements like this, I am going to have difficulty getting through much of the book.

I don’t think Podles says anything anywhere in his book that suggests women cannot do physics or compose math. His point about Bach was that if there’s any composer that should appeal to guys, it would be Bach, but even at a Bach recital the women outnumbered men about one hundred to one. His point was not that women had no place there; he was wondering why men (other than clergy) weren’t there.

To some degree psychology does back up his claim: men’s and women’s brains are different, and men are more likely to be mathematical in their reasoning, whether this is the effect of social conditioning or biology (though artistic tendencies I believe to be an ~ even split, or even favoring women).

I believe the author is trying to examine the question of why men pull back from religion (noting that it seems the natural province of women and that men, acting according to their nature, will leave it that way).

Exactly. What makes this all the more curious, is that Judaism was tradiotionally more attractive to men than to women. (I think Islam was too.) But women outnumber men in all Christian churches and have, it seems, for a long, long time. Podles is not upset by the presence of women but by the relative absence of men. He thinks that well-meaning pastors are making a mistake in seeking to make parish life more appealing to women when women already find it more appealing than men do. Many young men only go to church to meet women (-I’m not commending this behavior) and many married men go only because ‘my wife makes me.’ We see this when couples divorce and she keeps going to church but he stops.

How does the a Christian church become more appealing to men? That’s a question worth pondering.

Wild at Heart was another attempt (from a Protestant viewpoint) to answer the same question.

I’ll be posting more as I get through the book, thanks for posting the link!

More academic teaching, less gooey-meaningless-poetry type preaching

More practical advice, less emotional-type advice

Stress competitiveness more, as much as that can be done within a Christian context.

I do think there is a natural inclination for women to take the lead in religion (substantiated by personality type studies). However, the reversal of the in Judaism is one of its most distinguishing features (and into early Christianity and maintained in the hierarchy of the Church).

then perhaps another post giving your true arguement would help

is it women’s fault if men don’t go to Church? that was a problem in my grandparent’s generation, my parents, mine, and still today, so what is the “trend” this author detects?

is a book review on a book by a non-Catholic author a news link per the rules for this forum?

I haven’t had the chance to start reading the book, but I wanted to make a comment.


I married a “Catholic” man who started going to mass with me when we started dating. He would go occasionally after we got married.

After our divorce, he stopped going altogether. I joined choir, and had to bring my kids with me to rehearsal, because they were too young to leave at home by themselves. There were men in the choir. Manly men, and my son’s Boy Scout leader.

After a few rehearsals and Sundays singing, my daughter remarked, “I didn’t know men went to mass.” I was puzzled and said, “Well, don’t you see Mr. So and So, and Mr. So and So, etc.” Her reply was, “I always thought they went because their wives made them go!”

What an eye opener!

We have strong well-formed priests in our parish who are not afraid to speak out against abuses and for Church Teaching. We get seminarians every year for their formation. The seminarians are the most orthodox. They fold their hands properly, receive on the tonque.

I think that has a lot to do with why men and women are equally represented at Sunday mass, daily mass, and parish organizations.

We also have a program called “CRHP” for Christ Renews his Parish. This has resulted in a truly on fire faith community.

Our Confession lines are relatively long, and there are men and women equally in the lines.

While not the most orthodox parish in the area, I would say I haven’t experienced any liturgical abuses. The worst I’ve seen is SOME people holding hands during the “Our Father.”

There is a nun who sits behind me at daily mass who insists on changing every “He” and “His” to GOD. It’s annoying because the 6:30 mass is very quiet and dark, and her voice sticks out like a sore thumb.

My :twocents:

The more the parish and the pastor are in line with orthodoxy, the better attended by men AND women.

May I ask, why the combative attitude?

There is in the present day (and has been for some time, as you note) a divergence between the population in general and the population of the pews. There is little evidence of this in the early Church, in pre-Christian Judaism, and in Islam (one of the few world religions to defy the current trend). Understanding the factor that lead men away from religion in disproportionate numbers may be the extremely useful in bringing them back.

Does qui est ce’s observation that orthodoxy draws men proportionately to the population to the pews and confessional have any relation to this trend? Does that extend to “traditionalism”? Personally I am inclined to believe so, and am reading the book to find out.

The book is rather weighty handling of the subject, dealing with the fluctuating trend across Churches and denominations, economic and political, psychological and environmental factors. And I’m only on the third chapter.

(BTW, if the forum moderators decided this should not be in the news forum, I would request that it be transferred, not closed).

I guess if something is weak or “impotent” it must be feminized huh? I’d be more curious to understand why men associate negative traits with femininity.

If you want to make it about stereotypes, Christianity itself is a feminine religion. It calls for forgiveness, for turning the other cheek, for sharing and helping others, it is against violence, it is against sexual promiscuity/polygamy, it is for sacrifice. Those are all stereotypically female virtues.

A stereotypically masculine religion might embrace violence, sexual promiscuity, a might makes right ethic etc.

JPII wrote this in a letter to priests on hearing confession but the sentiment is appropriate to all teaching … which seems to suffer from just such a sense of misplaced compassion.

"Likewise, a failure to speak the truth because of a misconceived sense of compassion should not be taken for love. We do not have a right to minimize matters of our own accord, even with the best of intentions."

JPII again (Reconciliatio et Paenitentia) on the tendency to warm fuzziness:

*“For example, some are inclined to replace exaggerated attitudes of the past with other exaggerations: From seeing sin everywhere they pass to not recognizing it anywhere; from too much emphasis on the fear of eternal punishment they pass to preaching a love of God that excludes any punishment deserved by sin”

*It does seem that what is meant by the “feminization” of Christianity is precisely the perception that Christianity has no hard edges, that it is little more than Kumbaya and group hugs. I don’t, however, think even this accounts for the loss of so many men. The rest of the problem lies with clergymen who don’t act as if they believe what the Church teaches.


Just the opposite. As Murphy Brown demonstrated, “feminism” has been all about emasculating men. Remember the ad

“I can bring home the bacon
I can fry it in a pan
I don’t need a mann waa waa”

I was brought up on that stuff. Not by my parents who I thought were in La-La Land.

I think “feminization” is about radical feminists who thing being “equal” means acquiring male traits, and males acquiring female traits.

Not God’s plan.:dts:

Your comment has nothing to do with the OP though. The OP is talking about how the Catholic Church has become “feminized” and gives an example of a priest who didn’t have the guts to preach Church teaching to his flock.

i.e. the OP claims that cowardice and weakness = feminized. So this brings me back to why men in general tend to associate negative traits with femininity. Why is it that one of the worst things you can call a man is a woman/girl?

Why not look at that example of the priest and say why has the Church become weak, why use the word “feminized”?

Well, you all know who stood at the foot of the cross. John and several women, so it appears to have been from the get go. I am in my 74th year and can testify that long before Vatican II and the expanded role for women in the Church, the girls/women were always disproportionately represented in those who one might label as strong in their faith. More than a few men felt and probably still feel that being religious means having to control one’s attitudes and behavior to a greater extant than they want to. I still have male friends and acquaintances of my advanced years who think it is cool go gaga over huge, bare breasts. That is just one example of their lack of restraint. In my opinion there are many men who never really grow up. They are stuck in the adolescent paradigm.

:thumbsup:Glad to hear that is your reason, because the book delves much deeper than that. The author, I’m fairly certain, would agree that the women stepped in because the men left. His question is why did the men leave. So far, besides tracing the problem back to the time of St Bernard (1100’s), he is focusing on the Masculine fulfilled in Christ and perceived in Judaism and into Apostolic times (and briefly mentioned the transition from red to white martyrdom not yet reached in his chronological approach).

The author is arguing against the concept of Christianity as a feminine religion, highlighting self-sacrifice as the pinnacle of virility. The zeal of the Apostles, the role of the Father (and therefore of fathers), the priestly office, all this is also part of Christianity and the best part of masculinity.

On the title, both masculine and feminine become impotent in seeking to become the other (in this day and age, quite literally). The author would bemoan a Church or denomination dominated by masculinized women as much as he bemoans the current situation where feminized men rule the roost.

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