Catholic and Feminist: The Surprising History of the American Catholic Feminist Movementby Mary J. Henold
In 1963, as Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique appeared and civil rights activists marched on Washington, a separate but related social movement emerged among American Catholics, says Mary Henold. Thousands of Catholic feministsboth lay women and women religiousmarched, strategized, theologized, and prayed together, building sisterhood and/i>
In 1963, as Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique appeared and civil rights activists marched on Washington, a separate but related social movement emerged among American Catholics, says Mary Henold. Thousands of Catholic feministsboth lay women and women religiousmarched, strategized, theologized, and prayed together, building sisterhood and confronting sexism in the Roman Catholic Church. In the first history of American Catholic feminism, Henold explores the movement from the 1960s through the early 1980s, showing that although Catholic feminists had much in common with their sisters in the larger American feminist movement, Catholic feminism was distinct and had not been simply imported from outside.
Catholic feminism grew from within the church, rooted in women's own experiences of Catholicism and religious practice, Henold argues. She identifies the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), an inspiring but overtly sexist event that enraged and exhilarated Catholic women in equal measure, as a catalyst of the movement within the church. Catholic feminists regularly explained their feminism in terms of their commitment to a gospel mandate for social justice, liberation, and radical equality. They considered feminism to be a Christian principle.
Yet as Catholic feminists confronted sexism in the church and the world, Henold explains, they struggled to integrate the two parts of their self-definition. Both Catholic culture and feminist culture indicated that such a conjunction was unlikely, if not impossible. Henold demonstrates that efforts to reconcile faith and feminism reveal both the complex nature of feminist consciousness and the creative potential of religious feminism.
Henold (history, Roanoke Coll.) has written a splendid history of the American Catholic feminist movement. According to her extensive and well-documented research, this movement was not primarily an importation of a secular feminist movement into American Catholicism-it grew from sexist conditions within the Roman Catholic Church. Its chief catalyst was the Second Vatican Council (1962-65)-Vatican II-which indeed modernized the church but quite visibly excluded women not simply from ordained ministry but also largely from being consulted about matters of canon law, theology, and praxis. From a feminist point of view, the result was a council that failed to follow its own social justice and equality mandates, mandates traceable back to the Gospels themselves. Henold concludes by emphasizing the way the Catholic feminist movement has empowered women to serve in such influential positions as pastoral administrators and theologians and has had a lasting impact on the Roman Catholic Church. Highly recommended for all seminary, academic, and public libraries.
Carolyn M. Craft
- The University of North Carolina Press
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Mary J. Henold is associate professor of history at Roanoke College.
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