Women demand greater say in future of Catholic Church

(CBS News) NORTHBROOK, Ill. -- Their voices are stronger and more assertive now, as women of faith seek a more prominent role in the church they love.

Victoria Fleming
Victoria Fleming
CBS News

Victoria Fleming, the cantor at Our Lady of the Brook Church in Northbrook, Ill., is typical -- and to the point.

Asked if she thinks there should be women priests, she answers, "Yes."

"I think that women are highly capable and able to manage the emotional needs and the more practical needs of an organization," she says. "And I think women would do a great job."

A CBS News-New York Times poll found two-thirds of American Catholics agree with her on women in the priesthood.

The first change Fleming would like to see is the addition of female deacons.

"There's no reason that deacons couldn't be female," she says.

Father Bill Tkachuk
Father Bill Tkachuk
CBS News

A deacon is an ordained cleric a level beneath a priest who can marry and baptize Catholics. The church has been debating whether women can do that job for half a century.

Father Bill Tkachuk is the pastor at St. Nicholas in Evanston, Ill. He acknowledges the vital role of women in his parish.

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Asked if women deserve a greater voice, he pauses before answering, "Yes."

"I understand the tension for a woman today, but I also understand the struggle for the church to say, 'But this is 2,000 years of thinking a certain way, and so is God really asking us to change this? Can we? Do we have the authority to change this?'" he says.

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But Fleming counters: "The doctrine was man-made right? The ministry of Christ was as pure as can be. And ever since Christ left it in the hands of a man -- that's when things started to screw up."

Victoria Fleming and other women we interviewed cited a Vatican investigation of a group that represents American nuns. The church hierarchy said the nuns were too focused on helping the poor while remaining silent on abortion and accused them of "radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith."

"The bishops, the cardinals -- they're the ones in charge," Fleming says. "They're the ones who are making the rules, and like any political structure that has a power structure to it, they're going to be motivated to maintain the status quo."

But she believes the status quo is unacceptable, that new voices are praying for attention and that the church would do well to listen.

  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.