The Boston Globe has a long article on nuns and note that nuns have been influential in the US giving women a role in society outside of being a mother:

Poignantly, this upheaval and decline also come at a moment when historians and other scholars are taking a fresh look at the role of nuns in American life, and finding that nuns’ contributions to the broad story of America have been, if anything, underappreciated. Nuns have served as the face of ­Catholicism to generations of Americans, and they’ve also been pioneers in health care, education, and social work—fields that may sound decidedly secular today, but whose development in the United States was profoundly shaped by the labor and influence of nuns.

“If you’re a Catholic woman in American society between the early 19th century to the late 1960s, you had far more opportunities within church structures than outside them for education and meaningful work,” said Kathleen Sprows Cummings, a professor of American Studies at Notre Dame, and director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism.

Of course there are now many more opportunities for women and the number of nuns has plummeted. There were two big decisions in the 1960s and 70s where the Catholic Church could have changed to a less patriarchical system and both time they stayed with the old ideas.

The first decision concerned contraception and the newly available pill. A commission was formed to decide if using the pill was acceptable. Despite a majority on the commission voting to allow contraception, Pope Paul VI decided against changing the Church’s stand against contraception.

The second decision had to do with female priests. The Church decided that women could not be ordained as priests (or as a deaconess, although that might change).

Thus, the Church went from being an institution where women had more opportunities to one where they had less. Last year the Church decided to crack down on nuns because they weren’t being obedient enough to the bishops, clearly showing that they were considered subordinate to men.

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