Women During and After Vatican II
The Second Vatican Council was a product of its times. In the 1960s, the world experienced a rise in the societal status of women due to the actions of second-wave feminism and the lingering effects of first-wave feminism. Both consciously and unconsciously, Roman Catholic discourse and practice began to enhance its appreciation and understanding of women, their role in the family, and their rising social, political, and economic status. In the early years of the Council, and under the leadership of both John XXIII and Paul VI, the Catholic Church genuinely began to struggle with issues related to women’s participation in Church and society. However, such struggles were largely subverted during the long papacy of John Paul II during which ideologically motivated forces effectively promoted the “feminine genius” over the “feminine mystique” with negative results both for women and the Church. This chapter, therefore, explores the role of women at Vatican II, the impact they had, and church teaching both from and since Vatican II with regard to women, before finally offering some thoughts on the different direction in which the present pontificate is taking discourse about women in contrast to his immediate successors. Pope Francis seems to have sought to transcend the particular “culture war” concerning women that prevailed in the previous two papacies and is transforming the conversation about women, even if some are calling for still more, wider, and significant concrete changes in the church in this regard.