Tensions Over “Feminism,” US Women Religious, and the Contested Reception of Vatican II
In 2013, Pope Francis declared that a Year of Consecrated Life was to be celebrated by the church throughout the world from November 30, 2014, the first Sunday of Advent, until February 2, 2016, designated as the World Day of Consecrated Life. Twice during the early months of this year many Catholics, especially in the United States, breathed a sigh of relief when press conferences in Rome announced the friendly settlement of difficulties between Vatican officials and American women religious after more than five years of very tense relations. These difficulties can be understood as stemming in good measure from differences in how the Second Vatican Council was received by the majority of US sisters in contrast to a smaller number of women religious and many members of the hierarchy. Here, I first describe the tensions and their relation to the council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes). I then discuss some aspects of feminism in relation to Gaudium et Spes, and finally describe some issues that remain to be worked out by the church, whose leaders, both male and female, have demonstrated great virtue in reaching the current atmosphere of respectful dialogue.