Laws mandating cooperation with the state’s new sexual orthodoxy are among the leading contemporary threats to the religious freedom of Catholic institutions in the United States. These demand that Catholic schools, health-care providers, or social services cooperate with contraception, cohabitation, abortion, same-sex marriage, or transgender identity and surgeries.
But Catholic institutions’ responses seem thin and uninspiring to many. They are criticized as legalistic, authoritarian, bureaucratic, retrograde and hurtful to women and to persons who identify as LGBTQ. They are even called “un-Christian.” They invite disrespect both for Catholic sexual responsibility norms and for religious freedom generally, not only among lawmakers and judges, but also in the court of public opinion, which includes skeptical Catholics.
The U.S. Constitution protects Catholic institutions’ “autonomy” – their authority over faith and doctrine, internal operations, and the personnel involved in personifying and transmitting the faith. Other constitutional and statutory provisions also safeguard religious freedom, if not always perfectly. Catholic institutions could take far better advantage of all of these existing protections if they communicated, first, how they differ from secular institutions: how their missions emerge from their faith in Jesus Christ, and their efforts both to make his presence felt in the world today, and to display the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God. Second, they need to draw out the link between their teachings on sexual responsibility and love of God and neighbor.
Drawing upon Scripture, tradition, history, theology and empirical evidence, Helen Alvaré frames a more complete, inspiring and appealing response to current laws’ attempts to impose a new sexual orthodoxy upon Catholic institutions. It clarifies the “ecclesial” nature of Catholic schools, hospitals and social services. It summarizes the empirical evidence supporting the link between personnel decisions and mission, and between Catholic sexual responsibility norms and human flourishing. It grounds Catholic sexual responsibility teachings in the same love of God and neighbor that animate the existence, operations, and services of Catholic institutions.