Eleven-year-old Caroline Pla has been playing football since she was in kindergarten. But two games into her second season with the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO), the young athlete was banned from her team because she was a girl playing a full-contact sport.
With support from her team, though, Pla and her family started an online petition on Change.org asking Pla’s archdiocese to allow girls to play football. The petition gained over 100,000 signatures and national media attention. Now, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has overturned the ban, and Pla can get back on the gridiron.
While lifting the ban has been hailed as a progressive move for the Catholic Church, it’s worth mentioning that, since the Archdiocese of Philadelphia receives federal funding, its programs are covered under Title IX. Thus CYO should have never kicked a girl off one of its football teams to begin with, and was liable for a lawsuit. As it is, Caroline Pla is currently the only female football player out of 46 programs and 2,500 participants in the Philadelphia CYO.
Pla was “screaming, jumping and laughing” when she heard that she would be allowed back on the team, and the athlete will surely continue to hold her own on the field. However, what happens when she ages out of CYO football and perhaps wants to break other barriers put up by the Catholic Church? While reproductive rights are surely the last thing on her mind right now, it’s important to remember that the Church has been barring women from more than just the right to play football. And the new pope, despite being described as being a “breath of fresh air” by some women’s religious groups, is just like in his predecessor in his very conservative views on reproductive rights. Officially, the Catholic Church forbids contraception (Pope Benedict made the Vatican’s first exception to the ban when he said condoms could be justified to prevent the spread of AIDs) and has condemned abortion.
We wish Caroline Pla good luck on the field, and hope that the Catholic Church continues to expand rights for women in all aspects of their lives. Maybe Pla will grow up to want to be a priest! Oh, sorry, that’s still forbidden.