One of the biggest issues in Catholicism, and one which is never addressed, is the gender gap in practicing Catholics. While it is true that men in general attend Christian services less than women, the gap in Catholicism is double what it is in protestant congregations. What's even more interesting is that there is no real gender gap in other spiritual traditions--Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, or Judaism. So it's not that men in general are less spiritually inclined than women, and that's probably true for men in the West, it's that men are turned off by the religious expression of Christianity as it's practiced and conceptualized.
Some writers feel this trend is a product of men substituting consumerism and secular pursuits for religious practice. Others see it as an outgrowth of the anti clericalism in Europe coupled with Catholicism's official promotion of the kind of personal piety exemplified by the female mystics and visionaries of the late 1800's. This period also saw a huge upswing in Marian devotions and Pius IX's crusade against modernism and the rise of the European middle class. Writers in this camp see much of what Pio NoNo promulgated as an attempt to shore up male clerical power in the face of a rising population of educated and independent men. Still others see this gap as indicative of the failure of modern Christian denominations to have adequate rites of initiation for male adherents or any kind of message which gives meaning to the core attributes of the masculine side of spirituality. Leon Podles falls in this camp.
What ever one thinks the reasons are, the lack of male participation will insure the steady downward trend in active Catholics. In spite of all the hoopla around young conservative males being the future of the Church, the facts are that the biggest gender gap is seen in these very generations and one of the reasons is because their fathers didn't go to Mass.
This gender gap can't be blamed on Vatican II or the abuse scandal. This has been a steady and predictable arc for over 200 years. This also means it can't be blamed on feminist nuns, or feminism in general. The perception of Catholicism as not being a manly pursuit is the direct product of the all male clergy. They have created the Church that their fellow men have rejected.
I do believe the Vatican is subtly trying to address this gender gap problem (with out ever admitting it) with some recent decisions. One was the attempt to blame the abuse scandal on gays and the subsequent attempt to remove the 'effeminate' gay male from seminaries. Another could be the multiple investigations of the LCWR. Two of Cardinal Levada's stated issues are women's ordination and homosexuality. Can't be having either one of those if the idea is to appeal to masculine men. Time to put those 'feminazis' in their place.
Even some of the proposed changes in the liturgy could fall into this category. It's hardly unusual to read male comments disparaging the 'touchy feely kumbaya' nature of the Novus Ordo or comments concerning the emasculation of Jesus by making of Him some kind of bleeding heart social worker instead of the Divine sacrificial martyr hero of the Tridentine rite.
The trouble is, I doubt any of these steps are going to appreciably effect the gender gap. The problem is much deeper than gays, and the LCWR or the Novus Ordo and goes back much further in the Catholic tradition. It has to do with the fact that the dignity of the ordinary male who did ordinary masculine things like marry and have sex and raise children was purposely relegated to an inferior position as opposed to males who maintained sexual purity and became dedicated religious. The irony of this is that while clerical men gained enormous social status the biggest losers were all other men. I don't think that's what Jesus had in mind, but it's what we have now. '
Addressing this gender issue is one of the places I hope the emerging church can be successful. If it can't address male spirituality in a meaningful way, emerging churches won't have much of a future either.