Members of the Young Feminist Network (YFN), a youth-initiated, youth-led international network of young people working for equality in the Roman Catholic Church, will gather in Toronto to challenge gender discrimination during the upcoming World Youth Days. Through their participation in the Challenge the Church activities, YFN will call the Vatican to accountability for its sin of sexism, the hierarchy’s inadequate response to clergy sexual abuse and the church’s ban on women’s ordination.

According to YFN Coordinator, Joy Barnes, “These two issues, clergy sexual abuse and women’s ordination, are forefront in the minds of progressive young Catholics. Dialogue about how both issues have profoundly affected the lives of young people and the future of the church will not be addressed in the official World Youth Day programs.” Barnes went on to say, “The systemic injustice of sexism is overwhelmingly apparent in both the hierarchy’s lack of response to clergy sexual abuse and the Vatican’s recent threats to excommunicate seven Austrian and German women who were ordained as priests on June 29. For these reasons, YFN will be in Toronto to challenge the hierarchy’s decision-making, and to call for an examination of these sinful structures that need immediate reform.”

Many young adult Catholics feel disenfranchised by a church that discriminates against women. Research polls repeatedly conclude that the inferior status of women in the Catholic Church deters young adults’ involvement in church life. In an attempt to address these trends, YFN supports young adults who seek to integrate their faith and feminism by encouraging them to participate in and create their own welcoming Catholic communities.

Barnes remarked, “It is often said that ‘the youth are the future of the church,’ but the Young Feminist Network disagrees. We are the church now and the Catholic Church is loosing us. It is time for the church to utilize our expertise as a radical generation of youth committed to equality and full participation.”

While in Toronto, YFN will participate in the Challenge the Church Alternative World Youth Day activities. On Monday, July 22 YFN members will facilitate a workshop titled “Living Without Fragmentation” focused on the necessity of integrating anti-oppression work within all aspects of the church reform movement. During the remainder of the week, YFN will join with other young adults from around the world to discuss issues that impact our lives, our spirituality, and our church.

Founded in 1995 by young women deeply concerned about the spiritual and religious welfare of women, YFN is an education and advocacy program of the US based Women’s Ordination Conference. Speaking about YFN, Barnes said, “Young Catholics raised fully in the spirit of Vatican II seek to integrate faith in all aspects of our life and our work for the justice and liberation of all people. We must use our unique and particular wisdom to challenge the structures of oppression within the church—institutional, communal, and personal—and do so as part of our own faith inspired by the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.”