Catholic women tell how they found freedom in Church teaching

Panel of authors discussing new book Breaking Through  Catholic Women Speak for Themselves Credit Michelle Bauman CNA CNA500x320 US Catholic News 10 16 12 A panel of the authors of the new book "Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves" speaks at the Oct. 16, 2012 book launch in Washington, D.C. | Michelle Bauman-CNA.

A new book written by Catholic women describes personal journeys of discovering that although Church teaching on important issues can be difficult and countercultural, it offers truth, peace and ultimate freedom.

"I'd really like to show the public that there is freedom in the content of what it is we stand for in the first place," said George Mason law professor Helen Alvaré, who is the editor and a co-author of "Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves."

Alvaré joined three of her fellow co-authors for the Oct. 16 book launch at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where she explained that the "the point of the book was to get and keep a dialogue going."

She said that "Breaking Through" was part of a discussion that started when federal government officials suggested that Catholic teaching was "inhospitable to women's freedom."

As the federal contraception mandate sparked discussion over religious freedom and Church teaching on sexuality, Alvaré saw a need for something more than legal action to protect the religious freedom of institutions and individuals.

She wanted to give Catholic women a voice and show the public that there is "real freedom" in the Catholic Church's natural law approach to human sexuality.

"Breaking Through" offered the opportunity to do that. The book recounts the personal stories of nine Catholic women grappling with the demands of their faith and ultimately finding freedom in embracing the Church's teachings.

Since it touches on a range of topics including contraception, materialism and community, Alvaré hopes the book will be a "service" to other women who can relate to the stories and struggles it contains.

Mary Hallan-FioRito, executive assistant to Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, spoke at the book launch from her experience of 25 years working for the Catholic Church, in areas including inner city schools, pro-life efforts, the chancellor's office, and now the cardinal's office.

"My own experience in the Church has been so vastly different from what's being portrayed in the media," she said.

Hallan-FioRito said that she finds it "particularly troubling" in the current political discussion that "so much of what the Church does for women is either belittled or is ignored altogether."

Throughout the course of history, the Catholic Church has been "a consistent voice for the dignity and the equality of all women," she stated.

The Church opened many roles of "authority and influence" to women long before they were open to women in secular society, such as presidents of hospitals and universities, she said. And in many countries, the Church is still "the single largest educator of women."

In her professional life, she added, "the Church understands my vocation as a mother is as important as my vocation as a Church worker."

Kim Daniels, a religious liberty attorney and the director of Catholic Voices USA, emphasized the importance of rebuilding "a rich and rooted everyday culture."

While court cases and legislation are important, she said, there is an ultimate need "to rebuild an idea of culture as a set of shared habits and understandings and affections, rooted in a particular place, giving a particular shape to family, to friendship and to daily living."

Individual women must work to engage the culture in their own daily lives, she said, using their "prudential understanding" in determining how this is best achieved for them.

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"I'm not going to say that every woman should be out tending home and hearth and forsaking the professional world," Daniels said.

However, she observed, much of the important work of building up the culture is done through the families, parishes and friendships, and these are all important ways in which women can contribute to the betterment of society.

Dr. Marie Anderson, medical director of the Tepeyac Family Center in Fairfax, Va., explained that there is a need to break through "the culture's definition of freedom" as the license to do whatever one wants.

Anderson said that she bought into this mindset as a young doctor but only found emptiness.
"I was unhappy. I was restless. I had lost my purpose in life," she said.

In her practice, Anderson saw the "unintended consequences" of a contraceptive mindset that "takes sexual activity as a given, both in and out of marriage." In addition to infertility and sexually transmitted diseases, she saw broken relationships and broken hearts.

"I realized that women were helping to break their own hearts, and that was probably the hardest thing," she said.

This realization that contraception was not fulfilling women changed Anderson's life, and she re-embraced the Catholic faith from which she had fallen away. In doing so, she became free and found peace.

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While the culture thinks that the Catholic Church is outdated, she said, "the Church got it right from the beginning."

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