Speaking Out
Catholic women answer Sandra Fluke.

Helen M. Alvaré, author of Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves


‘Women looking for happiness are searching for ways to live that might genuinely deserve the name loving,” Helen M. Alvaré writes in Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves. “But we live in a world,” she continues, “that has regularly adulterated the meaning of the word: loving as taking care of number one; loving as sexual license; loving as doing what is emotionally satisfying; loving as never judging; and loving as avoiding suffering.” The true love we seek, she suggests, “actually allows us to be the person God meant us to be, and . . . reflects the way we would want to be loved ourselves, the way God loves us.” And the Catholic Church, including “families, scholars, holy women and men, priests and lay people,” has been “thinking about these questions for thousands of years,” she offers. “There is a wisdom, there is truth here.”

Breaking Through expresses a movement born of the rising of Sandra Fluke. Democratic women asked, “Where are the women?” when they manipulated a House Government Oversight Hearing on religious freedom into a “war on women.” Well, here they are, in this collection edited by George Mason University law professor Helen Alvaré, which includes works by other lawyers, medical doctors, a religious sister, and teachers. Alvaré talks with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about the book and the petition movement (which first appeared on NRO) that it is an outgrowth of

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: “Let Catholic women speak for themselves,” you implore. Isn’t that what Caroline Kennedy, Kathleen Sebelius, and Sister Simone Campbell were doing at the Democratic convention in Charlotte?

HELEN ALVARÉ: Two points: We are responding to the claim made by Secretary Sebelius and others that the campaign against religious institutions’ being required to provide health insurance that violates their conscience is a campaign against women; she called it a “war.” The Obama administration claims, in short, that the Catholic Church — the leader in the religious-freedom fight here — is waging a war on women. That’s the context for Women Speak for Themselves: that women who take Catholic teaching seriously, as distinguished from the group of women you referred to, will not be told that Catholic teaching and the Church are their enemies.

LOPEZ: What does freedom mean in the life of a Catholic woman living in the United States in 2012?

ALVARÉ: What it has meant to Catholics for centuries: the freedom to grow in love, to enjoy the gifts we have been given qua women, and to give to others from what we have received. This is such a vast concept. But in the current context, a few things need to be said. Freedom is emphatically not what the current administration is calling it and reducing it to: the freedom to steadfastly refuse or destroy a connection with another person, via contraception — which has increased the amount of “nonrelationship” sex among women and men — and with a child, via abortion.

LOPEZ: Can a woman be free if she cannot manage her fertility?

ALVARÉ: Women have been and continue to be able to oversee their own fertility. The administration’s Health and Human Services mandate was a political move, not a health-care move.

LOPEZ: Doesn’t the Catholic Church have a real messaging issue on women and sex? The much-cited statistic that 98 percent of Catholic women use contraception is a shoddy one, but one doesn’t have to look around for too long to suspect Catholics aren’t exactly walking in lockstep with Church teaching on sexual morality.

ALVARÉ: You are correct. But we have the tools to do it right. It is tempting to look back at the last 40 years and wish the Church had always effectively communicated its teaching. But between the Theology of the Body, the theology of marriage, and the legions of Catholic women and men who have come of age learning and experiencing the Church’s teaching on these issues, we are seeing a real hunger and willingness today to speak out.