Women, Sex, and the Church

WOMEN, SEX, AND THE CHURCH, ed. Erika Bachiochi (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2010), 251pp.

In a culture that often views the Catholic Church as patriarchal and misogynistic, Women, Sex, and the Church, edited by Erika Bachiochi, offers a “practical, pro-woman defense” of many of the Church’s most controversial teachings.

This collection of essays comprises a sound work of apologetics.  Bachiochi has expertly selected professional women from the fields of academia, law, and education, who author their chapters with expertise and passion.  Bachiochi explains, “Marshaling sociological, biological, and medical evidence; anecdotal accounts; and personal experience, the women who write in this volume challenge the common misconception that the Church’s teachings are anti-women and anti-sex” (8).  The success of each essay arises not only from the author’s thorough research and defense, but also from her evident love and personal experience of the Church’s wisdom.  Interestingly, many of these women spent years opposing Catholic doctrine before coming to accept its truth.

Philosophy professor Laura Garcia’s lead essay briefly lays a theoretical foundation for Church teaching on issues like abortion, premarital sex, contraception, and marriage—topics treated by various authors in later chapters.  Drawing heavily on John Paul II’s “new feminism,” Garcia explains how the Catholic Church recognizes the inherent dignity of every woman and man, while simultaneously reverencing the differences between the two sexes.  She also considers how secular feminism often misunderstands freedom as an entirely autonomous fulfillment of desire rather than the power to love.  While this essay provides a useful overview, like other chapters in the volume, it may prove challenging for the reader lacking a philosophical background, or familiarity with the issue.

Of particular interest to modern women readers, however, will be Elizabeth Schiltz’s essay, “Dueling vocations: Managing the tensions between our private and public callings.”  In it, the attorney, law-professor, and mother of four considers the challenges that women face in balancing family and professional responsibilities.  Schiltz provides a valuable perspective on this non-doctrinal topic by offering general Catholic principles about work and vocation that the reader can apply on a prudential basis.

While Women, Sex, and the Church is certainly a work of academic excellence, its combination of solid research and personal experience render it accessible to any intelligent reader—particularly the professional woman grappling with these issues.  This work would also serve as a valuable resource for RCIA, or a college course in apologetics.

Kerri Lenartowick, M.A.

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