Losing The Habit

British nuns tell the story of the dramatic Vatican reforms 40 years ago that forced them to abandon a life of seclusion and adapt to the modern world.

The Second Vatican Council's Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life in October 1965 may not have dominated the world's news agenda at the time, but it resulted in a revolution. Instead of a flight from the world, women's religious orders found themselves pressured into experimenting with new freedoms in the way they lived and worked. The end result was a 'new religious woman' in a cultural age when women were claiming their voice. But for many, it was a bruising journey: 'I've felt like a chameleon for the past 40 years,' says Sister Dorothy Bell.

We hear the testimonies of four women: Sister Dorothy Bell, June Raymond, Gemma Simmons and Sister Christine Charlesworth talk to Moyra Tourlamain about their initial decisions on entering the church and the subsequent upheaval when the Vatican reassessed its place and image in 20th-century society.

For some, the new encouragement towards freedom and individual decision making was empowering and refreshed their vocation; for others, it felt almost like betrayal. The results are still difficult to gauge. Numbers have dropped significantly, but that was already a trend in the 1960s.

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British nuns tell the story of the dramatic Vatican reforms 40 years ago that forced them to abandon a life of seclusion and adapt to the modern world.

The Second Vatican Council's Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life in October 1965 may not have dominated the world's news agenda at the time, but it resulted in a revolution. Instead of a flight from the world, women's religious orders found themselves pressured into experimenting with new freedoms in the way they lived and worked. The end result was a 'new religious woman' in a cultural age when women were claiming their voice. But for many, it was a bruising journey: 'I've felt like a chameleon for the past 40 years,' says Sister Dorothy Bell.

We hear the testimonies of four women: Sister Dorothy Bell, June Raymond, Gemma Simmons and Sister Christine Charlesworth talk to Moyra Tourlamain about their initial decisions on entering the church and the subsequent upheaval when the Vatican reassessed its place and image in 20th-century society.

For some, the new encouragement towards freedom and individual decision making was empowering and refreshed their vocation; for others, it felt almost like betrayal. The results are still difficult to gauge. Numbers have dropped significantly, but that was already a trend in the 1960s.