Women, sex, and the Church


“Women, sex, and the Church” is a collection of essays by North American women writers, edited by Erika Bachiochi and published in 2010 in the United States (Pauline Books and Media). The book deals with anthropological issues of great importance, taken from the perspective of “Catholic feminism” which has been developing in recent decades.

In the introduction, the editor speaks of how she personally had gone beyond the position of radical feminism. She had come to appreciate the position of the Church, especially through the teachings of John Paul II. The essays make for fascinating reading. In the first part, Laura Garcia outlines very clearly the principles of the Church’s teaching, contained principally in Mulieris dignitatem and Familiaris consortio. She described the beauty and effectiveness of the woman/man complementarity. The second part deals with love, sex and reproduction, and it sets out with the topic of abortion. An essay by the editor gives a sharp analysis of the ambiguities and destructive lies, affecting women as well as the children, to be found in the dominant culture. It contrasts with the direction of truth and mercy taken by the Church which is effective and can be followed even in the most difficult cases. The contribution by Cassandra Hough on premarital sex follows the same line. Jennifer Roback Morse deals with Church teaching on marriage, Angela Franks writes on female fertility and contraception, and Katie Elrod and Paul Carpentier write on infertility treatment. Part three deals with the much discussed issues of the position of women in the Church and society. There is an essay by Sara Butler on Church teaching on the priesthood, one by Elizabeth R Schiltz on managing the tensions between women’s private and public callings, and to conclude, Erika Bachiochi writes on the close connection between the Church’s teaching on sexuality and complementarity with social doctrine. Each of the essays demonstrates how the teachings of the Church are an appropriate response to the real needs of women and humanity.

Here I feel it is necessary to stress that the essays are extremely interesting, sometimes surprising, and the total result is really amazing. It is like a mosaic with logical patterns which clearly show the beauty and effectiveness of Christian wisdom that is silhouetted against the dramatic backdrop of the moral and existential confusion of humanity in our times. The Church’s teaching is presented for what it is: not an ideology and not an intellectual construct that claims to direct people’s lives according to abstract and obsolete values. The Church points to the way of life, to the fullness of existence, to the women and men of today, and it does so in a pertinent way. It is certainly not a coincidence that this vision comes mostly from women who come from radical feminism, who have experienced the ideology of the juxtaposition of the sexes and its abstractions, the ideological demands that degenerated into the non-differentiation of “gender” that we can see to be so destructive. Here, Christian anthropology is not shown to be simply a “better vision” that guarantees the perfect integration of body and spirit, a balanced response to the legitimate desires for a family and social engagement. In reality it is presented as a “vision” of humanity, the only real anthropology out there. The other side shows only denial, polemics and sterile dialectics; an abyss between oneself and one’s body, between affectivity and sexuality, between personal structure and social vocation, between desires and fidelity, freedom and the petty limits imposed by a deficient concept of life. This non-anthropology that is so fashionable today is really, in the words of C.S. Lewis, an “abolition of man”. It is now in decline, notwithstanding its violent backlash. The truth is not to be found in the tribunes of the powerful of this world, but in the hearts and choices of so many women. This book, a work by Catholic feminists, fills us with hope.

by Mgr. Antonio Grappone

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