Introduction
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Introduction

In 1996, Carmel McEnroy published a history of the twenty-three women who attended the Second Vatican Council. She called it Guests in Their Own House: Women of Vatican II. The title reveals the ambivalence that McEnroy and many other feminists experience with regard to the event.1 On one hand, Vatican II was the first ecumenical council formally attended by women, marking a significant turning point for women’s roles in the Catholic Church. On the other hand, the female auditors were there as the invited “guests” of the pope. Officially, they were mere observers to the decision making carried out by the male church leadership (although they did find opportunities to voice their perspectives when they could).2 The women were guests in their own house.

Between 2012 and 2015, Catholics around the world celebrated the semi-centennial of Vatican II, and the occasion was marked by gatherings that examined the ongoing impact of the council on Catholic life and theology. One such gathering took place from November 6–7, 2015, at Loyola University Chicago, where theologians, church historians, journalists, ministers, and other participants considered the role of women in Catholicism fifty years after the council. [End Page 87] With a nod to McEnroy’s project, the conference was titled “Still Guests in Our Own House? Women and the Church since Vatican II.”3

Conference organizers posed the following questions to participants: What has and has not changed for women in the Church since the Second Vatican Council? What positions do women have and what roles do they play in the Church today? What is the future for women in the Church? What should be the agenda of engagement for the next half century? As these questions suggest, the importance of Vatican II for Catholic women lay not only in their historic presence at the event itself but also in the myriad ways that council reforms altered women’s everyday experiences in the Church. Its liturgical initiatives increased opportunities for women to participate in Catholic liturgy by serving as eucharistic ministers and lectors. Inspired by the council’s call to renew religious life, many women’s religious congregations revised and revitalized their way of life. A number of Vatican II documents also set in motion the expansion of Catholic theology’s boundaries in ways no one could have predicted. The number of women studying theology quadrupled in the first twenty years following the council.4 Among these women were the foremothers of feminist theology, a fact that has led scholars to identify Vatican II as one of the catalysts for the emergence of the field.5

The focus of this special section is the status of women in American Catholic theology fifty years after Vatican II. These four papers were originally featured on a panel about this subject at the Loyola Chicago conference. Together, they offer a description and critical analysis of women in theology over the course of the last half century. They also identify current challenges facing women in the profession and offer constructive insights for the future. Readers will find that our characterization of the status of women in Catholic theology is no less ambivalent than McElroy’s assessment of women’s roles at the Second Vatican Council.

The section begins with Mary Ann Hinsdale’s essay, which describes the shifting status of women in Catholic theology during the last fifty years. Through a genealogy of women in the field since Vatican II—what Hinsdale [End Page 88] calls the story of the “begats”—Hinsdale concretely depicts the gains of women in the field as well as the enduring inadequacy of their representation. Andrew Prevot continues to explore the history of women in Catholic theology but from a different angle. He examines post–Vatican II scholarship on the historical contributions of women to theology and spirituality prior to the twentieth century. Prevot critiques the gendering of “theology” and “spirituality” in the scholarship and argues that this false binary is a detriment to both Catholic women and the discipline of theology. Susan Abraham brings her experiences in theology to bear on Vatican II’s aspirations for a more global Church. As Western identity...