Catholic Women Speak for Themselves

Edited by Helen Alvaré

Our Sunday Visitor, 2012

180 pages, $16.95

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According to the opinion pages of The New York Times and the likes of Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke, Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards and Congress’ Nancy Pelosi, there is a war on women taking place in America.

This "war," as described by these heralds of the women’s-rights movement, is supposedly part of a master plan by the Catholic Church to ban birth control and prevent women from having access to mammograms and other health exams.

When the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandated that Catholic institutions provide insurance coverage for contraception and abortifacients to their employees, these women told Congress — and the rest of the country — that this mandated coverage was essential to women’s health, and they claimed to speak unanimously for all women in the country.

Well, they were wrong. In response to the HHS mandate, Helen Alvaré, associate professor of law at George Mason University, teamed up with her friend and neighbor Kim Daniels to write an open letter protesting both the mandate and the claim that those women speak for all women. The letter has now been signed by more than 33,000 women across the country.

On the heels of this response comes Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves, a compilation edited and co-authored by Alvaré. Testimonials from nine Catholic women address pressing questions on faith, marriage, family life, dating and vocation.

While the common thread of the book is the Catholic faith that defines these women, their stories are far from homogenous. Alvaré weaves together narratives of a Washington high-school teacher navigating the dating scene, a nun in New York City who spends her days caring for women who choose life for their children, and a psychologist who combats the false assertion that science has proven same-sex attractions are simply part of some people’s DNA, among others.

Two common themes are developed in these stories. First, there is a general recognition that Church teaching does not intend to limit our freedoms and desires, but, rather, it makes us more fully human and brings us to a fuller understanding of love. Second, the sexual revolution has been dangerously bad for men and women alike. Divorcing sex from children has led to an overall decreased respect for women, their bodies and relationships. Here, however, the book does not simply rely on Scripture or Church teaching, but also offers the most recent evidence from the social sciences.

While mainstream press coverage may continue to favor those who advocate for consequence-free relationships, Breaking Through sets the record straight that these women are not authoritative voices on the matter.

Instead, the women featured in this book provide alternative conceptions of womanhood, relationships, health and freedom that are likely to appeal not simply to Catholic women, but anyone who favors a society in which women are respected and not merely defined by their biological capacities.

We owe our gratitude to Alvaré and her fellow co-authors for "breaking through."

Christopher White

writes from New York.