February 2006

The Cost of "Choice": Women Evaluate the Impact of Abortion.  Edited by Erika Bachiochi. Encounter Books. 536 pages. $17.95.

We know the impact of abortion on a baby in the womb -- a painful, violent death. The focus, though, of these essays by women is the destructive impact of abortion on women, physically, psychologically, and spiritually.

Consider the physical effects. Besides the risks of infection, tearing of the cervix, or perforation of the uterus, there is the long-term risk of breast cancer. Dr. Angela Lanfranchi has extensively researched the link between abortion and breast cancer. Breast cancer is the only major cancer that continues to rise, and it is estimated that some 10,000 cases a year result from abortion. Attorney Denise Burke, writing on abortion clinic regulation, explains that abortion clinics usually operate under unsafe and substandard conditions. Regulations are lax and often similar to pre-Roe "back-alley" clinics.

Even if a woman is lucky enough not to be harmed physically, there's a good chance abortion will harm her psychologically. Three decades of abortion abuse support this. Dr. E. Joanne Angelo, psychiatrist and professor at Tufts Medical School, writes that "A tidal wave of sorrow and remorse is building in our time, but has not been recognized until recently." Guilt, depression, and suicidal thoughts are quite common in the aborting woman. Society expects her to "move on" after abortion; as a result, denial or emotional repression may continue for years. The harm can emerge in self-destructive habits, such as alcohol and drug abuse, bingeing and purging, anorexia, and promiscuity.

As a counselor at a pregnancy help center, I have observed that women who have had previous abortions act in one of two ways. If, first, they are in denial and have not mourned the loss of their baby, there is an emotional numbness about them. They are usually abortion-minded when facing another pregnancy. Or, second, if they've faced the horror of their abortion, allowing their emotions to surface, they regret their past "choice" and usually give birth to the baby.

Erika Bachiochi, born after Roe v. Wade, grew up in the culture of "choice." During her college years she came to the truth about abortion and became convinced that it was bad for women, especially poor women. "The thought that we, as a nation, would attempt to solve the problems of the poor by helping them rid themselves of their own children haunted me." I've often noticed, as a counselor, that women who choose abortion have low self-respect and act out of a sense, it seems, of not being good enough to deserve help. Could this result from society's attitude of "getting rid" of problems rather than facing them honestly? Fortunately, pregnancy help centers also see women who welcome help. They speak of being received with love and being given options in their difficult situation. Dorinda C. Bordlee, an attorney, writes about the "law of the gift" and gives examples of legislative initiatives that reach out to women in crisis pregnancies with concrete resources. How sharply this contrasts with Planned Parenthood, which in response to 9/11, offered a one-time free abortion to those carrying the unborn child of a victim of the terrorists.

Each of the 12 authors in this volume offers a helpful analysis of the harmful effects of abortion. Mary Ann Glendon, a professor at Harvard Law School, gives a historic overview of the abortion movement. Elizabeth Schiltz, law professor at St. Thomas Law School, gives her perspective as a mother of a child with Down Syndrome. She reveals the negative attitudes of the medical profession, and society in general, toward disabled children.

Although there is much work to do in the prolife movement, none of these women is daunted by it. They give us hope for the future. Reflecting on these essays, I know, has helped me in my own counseling work.

- Lynn Campbell



Discussion and Arguments on Various Subjects.  By John Henry Cardinal Newman. Introduction and Notes by Gerard Tracey and James Tolhurst. University of Notre Dame Press. 490 pages. $40.

If we Catholics wish to understand ourselves in this first decade of the 21st century, we can do no better than to read Newman as he explained himself in the 19th century. Especially noteworthy in this collection is a series entitled "Holy Scripture in its Relation to the Catholic Creed," written in 1838, seven years before Newman joined the Catholic Church. In the course of his argument, he lays out four different attitudes that the English public have in regard to the notion of faith. First is the (Anglo-) Catholic attitude held by a small minority for which Newman was a spokesman. They accept the Church's authority as supreme in religious matters. Here faith involves acceptance of the living authority of bishops to interpret the Bible. Second is the Protestant attitude, which rejects the Church's living authority and places it in the Bible alone. This is a significant change in the notion of faith because a book, even a sacred one, cannot defend itself against false interpretations. A living authority can. Nevertheless, both Protestant and Catholic interpreters agree that the Bible is the word of God. Third is the attitude of the Latitudinarians, who reject both the Catholic and classic Protestant notions of faith. They substitute reason as the authority for interpreting the Bible, picking out what they think God has revealed and what He hasn't. The practical result is that what God has revealed is sharply disputed, so the believer is pretty much left to his own view of what is "reasonable." Last is the attitude of the unbelievers, who reject all forms of religion in the name of reason.

Newman shows the connection between these various attitudes. If one argues, as the Protestant does, that religious truth is to be found in the Bible alone, then one rejects the Catholic doctrines of Apostolic Succession, the priesthood, and the seven Sacraments. One does, however, hold onto the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the divinity of the Holy Spirit. But Newman points out that if Protestants apply their method of interpreting the Bible consistently, they will have difficulty defending the doctrines they do hold as central to Christianity. The very word "Trinity" is never used in the Bible, nor is the divinity of the Holy Spirit.

Further, there is the historical fact that the book presently called the Bible was finalized in the fourth century when the Church established the canon of Scripture. It was the Church that used her authority to establish what was canonical and what was not. When Protestant thinkers finally recognize this historical fact and its implications, they will have only two choices. They will either stop using the Bible to undermine the authority of the Church and join the Church, or they will undermine the authority of the Bible as the Word of God. They will cease to be Protestants and become Latitudinarians.

The Latitudinarian holds to the appearances but has nothing of the reality of religion. Thus Newman considers the position of the unbeliever to be far more intellectually honest than that of the Latitudinarian. Instead of professing to believe in a God who makes no demands upon the faith of men, the unbeliever does not bother with the notion of God at all.

Newman failed to convince the English Anglican bishops that they must accept the Catholic position that their authority rests upon the teaching that they are the Successors of the Apostles. When Newman finally realized this, he joined the Catholic Church, convinced that she alone would be able to stem the tide of the coming unbelief which he foresaw as overcoming Western civilization.

What does his argument have to do with us Catholics today? It places us between the two poles of either accepting the authority of the Magisterium or proceeding on the path to total unbelief. At present there appears to be a middle position which legitimizes dissent to the Magisterium and sanctions a pick-and-choose Catholicism. This is simply a Catholic version of Latitudinarianism. And history will show that this version of religion will not hold out against the tide of an increasingly militant secular culture. These distinctions made by Newman in the 19th century afford the reader a great deal of insight into what is going on in the Church today.

- Richard Geraghty



Dressing With Dignity.  By Colleen Hammond. TAN Books. 138 pages. $10.

Many parents wait patiently for teenage boys to decide to shower and brush their teeth on their own. We are assured that once they discover girls, all will evolve naturally. With girls, the progression is more complex. Although boys need some guidance, young ladies have a minefield to step through. Looking attractive and, in their eyes, appealing to the opposite sex, often clashes with being modest. If the only blouses to be found are lingerie, and the ever-popular low-cut jeans require bikini waxing, no wonder diligent parents get discouraged. The androgynous look, of course, has its own drawbacks.

So a book on modest, attractive, and feminine attire is necessary. The question is whether this is the one. Although breezy in tone and reflecting the author's years in a "cool business…with street cred," this work often misses the mark. One glaring misstep is the use of the late Princess Diana as a role model. Yes, she was attractive and well groomed. Most of the time she dressed modestly (royals do so when on "official" business), but photographers captured notable exceptions and promptly splayed them across the tabloids. Circumspection doesn't guarantee virtue.

Pointing a finger at Freemasonry is another misstep. Masons have wreaked their share of mayhem, but the Old Testament is full of immodesty long before Masonic intrigues began. Indicting them for the current rage of "hooker chic" is a stretch. Hollywood, rather, leads my list of culprits (think Paris Hilton or Britney Spears) -- followed closely by inattentive or misguided parents.

The best part of the book is the Appendix, which lists websites that sell modest clothing. Hammond also includes references to saints and popes, as well as a note by Cardinal Siri, written as early as 1960, on the dismal effects of women wearing men's clothing. And be sure to read the selection from St. Alphonsus Liguori on the role of "customs." His teaching that new Catholics must modify their tribal dress applies not only to the tropics of his day but to the mall rats of our day.

- Elizabeth C. Hanink



Women in Christ: Toward a New Feminism.  By Michelle M. Schumacher. Eerdmans. 332 pages. $38.

John Paul II, as no other pope in history, was aware of the influence of women on culture. This focus on what he termed the "genius of women" is spread out through his addresses, commentaries on Genesis, and apostolic letters -- most especially in Mulieris Dignitatem, his "Letter to Women," and his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, where he states: "In transforming culture so that it supports life, women occupy a place in thought and action which is unique and decisive. It depends on them to promote a ‘new feminism' which rejects the temptation of imitating models of ‘male domination' in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation."

Women in Christ: Toward a New Feminism answers the Pope's call for a "new feminism." As an anthology it provides many views on what this "new feminism" requires in fidelity to Christian faith and anthropology. All 10 contributors are first-rate scholars; many have made significant contributions in the area of women in the Church, such as Sr. Prudence Allen, Francis Martin, and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese.

Women in Christ provides an excellent critique of the "old feminism" -- that of Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan -- an angry feminism built on radical individualism and self-determination. Fearing that "biology equals destiny," the old feminism is marked by dualism, Gnosticism, and even nihilism.

It is uncanny how a primary theme in almost all of the essays is a concern for relation. In the old feminist quest for autonomy, the relationality between men and women is neglected or denied. The "new feminism," however, requires a true appreciation for the nature of man and woman in their historical, God-given existence that finds completion in communion with one another. Herein is the difference between a life that is "self-gift" rather than "self-focused."

The volume's editor, Michelle M. Schumacher, provides three of the book's essays. In "The Nature of Nature in Feminism, Old and New: From Dualism to Complementary Unity," she recognizes a key dimension of Christ's male gender. Feminists, for instance, dismiss Christ's masculinity as meaningless to the economy of salvation. Some, such as Rosemary Radford Ruether, believe that all signs of redemption are partial. Thus even Jesus does not sum up the fullness of redemption, because as a male he cannot image redeemed femininity, and so feminists must cast about for other symbols of redemption. Schumacher, however, rightly states that Christ, in assuming our nature, assumed "the complementary and communal value (i.e., as sexed and gendered) of this same nature: Christ is not only man (homo) but also male (vir). As such (fully human and fully male), he is ‘naturally' and ‘obediently' oriented to woman as his partner in humanity." In other words, when Christ came as a male, He didn't take on human nature flat and generic, but His masculine sexuality honors the marital order of creation. Christ's Incarnation as a male affirms an essential truth about humanity -- that it is differentiated as male or female.

The authors seek to understand the nature of masculinity and femininity, their complementarity, and a relationality which reveals the truth that the fulfillment of women lies in a covenant in which persons-in-relation know who they are and through which power is shared in the common life-giving vocation of man and woman.

One of few essays from a biblical perspective is Francis Martin's "The New Feminism: Biblical Foundations and Some Lines of Development." The fact that Genesis 1 teaches that God "made man male and female" shows that gender is not irrelevant to human nature. In Genesis 2, God casts Adam into a deep sleep to make his "suitable partner." This sleep-like state is also cast over Abraham when God makes a covenant with him. Thus we see that the creation of the woman for the man is a covenant. And God Himself, like the father of the bride, presents the bride to Adam. Communion is between "likes" who are yet "not alike." The presence of the woman to Adam is a revelation of who both of them are in relation Communion is paradigmatic to the marriage bond. Here two beings create a third reality; a communion of persons which has its fruit in a new life.

It is thinking like this -- creative, well researched -- in which scholars address one of the most troubling challenges of secularism that makes Women in Christ so helpful and significant. This is not to say that the book provides all the answers. For instance, some contributors articulate a common error about the feminine nature of the Church and the role of men in relation to the Church.

A strength of this book lies in the fact that if one author presents an argument still in need of development, well, read on! Another author may yet present a more fully developed theological perspective. With this volume, the "new feminism" that John Paul II believed necessary to overcome the Culture of Death is off to a good start.

- Monica Migliorino Miller



Black as Night: A Fairy Tale Retold.  By Regina Doman. Bethlehem Books . 429 pages. $11.95.

As the title suggests, this novel depicts the clash of good and evil that classic folk tales such as "Snow White" dramatize in the form of an innocent maiden and a malicious witch. Instead of the forest, New York City forms the scene of the action. Instead of the pure Snow White, the kind, gentle Blanche Brier, a young woman uncertain of her future, assumes the role of the heroine. Instead of the prince in search of the beautiful Snow White hidden in the home of the seven dwarves, Arthur Denniston (nicknamed "Bear") -- also confused about his purpose in life -- seeks his beloved Blanche, who is lost in the big city and protected by seven Franciscan brothers. In place of the jealous witch envying Snow White's beauty and goodness, and poisoning the maiden, Elaine Fairston, Arthur's wicked stepmother, plots to euthanize her husband in order to inherit his fortune, to deceive a father into disowning his sons and dispossessing them of their inheritance, and to incriminate an innocent woman for drug possession. The author ingeniously weaves the many threads of this plot into a mystery thriller, a heart-warming love story, and a moral drama ideal for adolescent and adult readers.

The detective story unfolds as drugs are discovered in all the places that Blanche frequents: in her home, in an apartment where she waters plants for an elderly dying man, and in her workplace. Another part of the mystery involves a spy who pursues her throughout the city like a stalker. Another intriguing aspect of the mystery is the question that seems unanswerable: "What could Blanche do to create an enemy?" In this thriller, Blanche finds herself constantly eluding danger and enemies.

The novel also offers a romantic motif. Finding themselves separated because Arthur is traveling in Europe while Blanche works in New York City, the couple marvel at the miracle of their love. The shy, unexceptional Blanche wonders how "she had acquired a rather extraordinary boyfriend," and Arthur also feels the same amazement: "Do you know, I never believed that girls like you still existed either?" Because Blanche has fallen in love with Arthur, she acknowledges his chivalry and nobility, and feels honored by his devotion: "If I wasn't in love with a man, I wouldn't be expecting to be rescued." Like the prince in Grimm's folk tale, Arthur travels everywhere and searches every place to rescue her, eventually finding her in a coma in a hospital struggling to live. Arthur promises, "Blanche, I'm never going to leave you," holds her hand, kisses her, and pledges his heart with the words, "I love you." Like Snow White in Grimm's story, the comatose Blanche awakens: "So dark, and I thought I had died a long time ago, and far away, but then I heard your voice." This part of the story captures the quintessence of chivalric love.

The story also involves the clash of good and evil in the modern Culture of Death. When Blanche visits Mr. Fairston, a dying man who feels alienated from his sons and neglected by his second wife, she finds him a cynical Catholic who has lost his faith and is intent on committing euthanasia. Because of the gentle influence of her charity and mercy, Blanche has dissuaded him from suicide, and provoked the anger of his wife: "Now he's afraid to do it because he thinks you won't approve." Rationalizing that euthanasia is the panacea for her husband's loneliness and suffering, Elaine Fairston mocks the Church's teaching: "Why your church wants to keep people in that state is a mystery to me." Thus, Elaine's resentment of Blanche's compassion for her dying husband and her attraction to death as the solution to human suffering classifies her as the "wicked witch" of the novel.

Throughout the book, Catholic moral idealism combats the insidious forces of evil that prey upon the innocent and the weak. Why does the affluent, worldly, and sophisticated Elaine Fairston hate the shy, guileless, and pure-hearted Blanche in the moral chess game played by the forces of good and evil? Brother Leon explains: "You might think you're just a pawn, but a pawn who reaches the other side of the board might end up becoming a queen."

Regina Doman weaves these three plots masterfully, so that the themes of drug traffic, romantic love, and the Culture of Life culminate in a most suspenseful, moving ending that proves, in Simon Weil's words, that "real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring," while "real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating." While the excitement of the plot never flags, the characters sometimes tend to be flat and one-dimensional, lacking the liveliness, distinctiveness, and colorfulness that would make their individuality striking and memorable -- a small flaw in an otherwise excellent novel.

- Mitchell Kalpakgian





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