Fact Sheet of 1980

The Church of 1980 was a Different Church from 2008

  1. Based on the Catholic Directory there were 141,115 Roman Catholic women religious in the United States in 1980. By 1990, there were 111,481 sisters in the United States. (Table XIV, George Stewart, Marvels of Charity)
  2. In 1979, when Pope John Paul II addressed women religious at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. the president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Theresa Kane, R.S.M. represented the hopes of many women religious when she welcomed him.
  3. The decade between 1980–1990, saw women religious in positions of authority as pastoral administrators, consultants to diocesan pastoral councils, members of the parish and diocesan pastoral councils, chancellors of dioceses, superintendents of education, communications directors, directors of parish education, serving in marriage tribunals, etc. There was a deepening spirit of collaboration among women religious and bishops. This spirit was represented in an award given by U.S. Catholic Magazine in 1981 to five Catholic bishops in the U.S. Recipients included Archbishops Raymond Hunthausen and Rembert Weakland: Bishops Charles Buswell, Michael McAuliffe, and William McManus. The award was offered to them for their work in “Furthering the Cause of Women in the Church.”
  4. The Catholic Church of the 1980s was characterized by lay leadership in parish and diocesan pastoral councils who generously accepted additional duties to acknowledge their awareness of “being church.” The spirit of Pope John XXIII found a home in the hearts of bishops who welcomed the gifts of a dedicated laity and used their educational expertise in all areas. Many bishops and laity were spokespersons for the poor, immigrants, and efforts towards peace.
  5. Bishop Michael McAuliffe of Jefferson City, MO chaired the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Women from 1973–1983. Listening sessions on the experience and hopes of women in the church were held in many dioceses throughout the United States. Bishop McAuliffe also testified at his state legislature in support of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1980. A letter is included from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious thanking him for his leadership in promoting justice for women in the Church and society.
  6. Bishop Raymond Lucker of New Ulm, MN formed a residential community with some of his priests and School Sisters of Notre Dame. His spirit lives on in those who knew him.
  7. Bishop Gumbleton of Detroit was a strong voice against U.S. militarism and the arms race. His proclamation of God's Word to and for the poor echoed the “preferential option for the poor” of his brother bishops in Latin America.
  8. In 1982, Joseph Bernardin was named archbishop of Chicago. In 1983, after being named “Cardinal” he called for a “consistent ethic of life” seeing abortion, euthanasia, modern warfare and capital punishment as destructive of the “seamless garment of life.” His efforts at establishing a “Common Ground” for dialogue on major issues as well as his ecumenical and interfaith efforts were seeds of hope for many.
  9. In 1980, Catholic universities and colleges were centers of intellectual debate and the halls of academia were open to diverse opinions. Various expressions of truth were being discussed in ecumenical and interfaith gatherings. The church of Latin America was a prophetic witness to “theology from below” as the Base Communities expressed a “liberation theology,” flowing from reflection on their lived experience. This way of following Christ and taking seriously the words of the New Testament challenged the “theology from above” articulated in most church documents. The vitality and oppression of the church in Latin America was a profound reality as the martyrdom of Archbishop Romero of El Salvador was quickly followed by the murders of Sisters Dorothy Kazel, OSU, Ita Ford, MM, Maura Clarke, MM, and Jean Donovan, a diocesan volunteer from Cleveland.
  10. Organizations of women were challenging the hierarchical church to include women and their experience in decision making, using their gifts in ministry, and living out the call to dialogue and collaborate as articulated in Vatican II.
  11. In many instances, women religious were moving from traditional classroom teaching to prison ministry, parish work, spiritual direction, tribunal work, mission work overseas or within another culture in the U.S. All of this meant that sisters were hearing stories of women who were suffering in marriages characterized by domestic violence, including sexual abuse of their children, etc. Reflecting on the Gospel out of this lived experience, living this “theology from below” often led them to be spokespersons for the poor. Their expression and defense of a “theology from below” often put them in conflict with a “theology from above,” held by many in the hierarchical church.
  12. Rosemary Radford Reuther has been a theologian at Garrett Theological Evangelical Seminary for 25 years. As a signer of the New York Times ad, her views and analysis are significant. She and her husband have three children.
  13. President Reagan and Pope John Paul II were political allies in their fight against communism. This bond was deepened when assassination attempts threatened both of them. Their fear of “liberation theology” on the one hand, and the influence of Opus Dei and the Moral Majority, on the other hand, were also significant in understanding the context of church politics.

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