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The Ideas

Sixty years since the Council

 Sessant’anni dal Concilio  DCM-010
04 November 2023

The first session of the Synod on Synodality -at which 54 women had voting rights-, has just concluded in Rome. A second Synod is going to take place in October 2024; exactly sixty years since 23 women entered Vatican Council II. In 1964, there were 10 female religious and 13 laywomen. However, on that occasion, they were auditors without voting rights.

The conciliar mothers, who made their entrance into St Peter’s at the end of September 1964, had a wealth of experience and were convinced believers, yet they knew that none would have the right to speak, nor would they be able to vote. Nevertheless, among themselves they were very active, cohesive and determined not to miss what was an opportunity for all women in the world. After all, if the Council addressed the women’s question only marginally, it is true that it offered new perspectives for “the other half of humankind”.

Adriana Valerio, a historian, theologian and author of the book Madri del Concilio [Mothers of the Council] states, “We know about the authoritative interventions of some of them (e.g., the Australian Rosemary Goldie, the Spanish Pilar Bellosillo and the French Suzanne Guillemin) so that the feminine [question] would not be treated as a subject in and of itself, to isolate it, cage it or exalt it, but that the dignity of the human person and therefore, the primacy of fundamental equality be affirmed that would confer on every baptized person the principle of apostolic co-responsibility”.

This issue of Women Church World commences with reflections on the conciliar mothers and how the position, role and awareness of women in the Church have changed over these sixty intervening years. There has been positive progress, but, over these decades, some setbacks too. For a firsthand testimony, and to explain these issues further, Mercedes Navarro Puerto, a mercedarian nun and biblical scholar, writes here about women religious after the Council.

This month, the reader will find many articles written by those who have received and experienced firsthand the Council’s lessons as faithful, as religious, or in their professional and political lives. In this issue, we hear from Cettina Militello, who was among the first Italian women enrolled to a theological faculty; Nicla Spezzati, one of the first to hold a top position in the Curia; Rosy Bindi, a leader of Catholic Action and a member of parliament in the Republic in Italy .

As an author, Carola Susani recounts the reflections of a Conciliar mother through an imaginary letter to a girl of today. In addition, there is the experience of women’s lay movements, in which Catholics had discovered women’s leadership outside the home and within the Church even before the Council.