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"A Matter of Conversion": American Catholic Feminism in Transition, 1975-1978

Mary J. Henold


This article explores the American Catholic feminist movement in the pivotal transitional years 1975-1978. Catholic feminists used these vital years at mid-decade to denounce Catholic sexism, organize at the grassroots, and furthe rdevelop feminist theology. But perhaps the most significant aspect of these years was the gradual yet certain shift in the movement's perception of its own Catholic feminist identity. If considering feminists' relationship to Catholicism, this shift in identification could be labeled the process of disillusionment; if the question is feminist identification, the process is more aptly called the process of deepening feminist consciousness. This paper will reconsider both aspects of the shift through analysis of a key "moment" in the history of the Catholic feminist movement: the years of hope and crisis surrounding the release of the Declaration prohibiting women's ordination. Catholic feminists' reactions to the document,best described as a hybrid rhetoric of rage and reconciliation coupled with renewed calls for dialogue, contain the seeds of radicalized consciousness that eventually led the movement to distance itself from the institutional church.These responses also suggest, however, the gradual nature of such identity shifts,as well as the fact the movement's initial, dominant impulse was to maintain and strengthen ties to the church, not sunder them.

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