I’ve been seeing a lot about FixtheFamily.com, a new website that purports to offer a Catholic vision of family life as a corrective to the alternatives the world has to offer. It’s been making a splash in both Catholic and secular circles, generating spirited conversations on Catholic blogs as well as secular feminist sites like Jezebel.
It is clear to me that the founders of the site have a deep love for the Church and for family life and that they mean to do good. I would like to be able to say I could support the work of FixtheFamily.com. As regular readers know, I have dedicated my life and ministry to promoting the Catholic vision of marriage and family life. Because I believe in the importance of accurately representing the Church’s teachings on marriage and family life, I have taken a degree in theology in addition to my clinical, professional degrees. More importantly, I have theologians, canon lawyers, and clergy, including my own bishop, who serve as advisors to my ministry. In fact, the Pastoral Solutions Institute is officially under the authority of the Bishop of Steubenville and is listed in the Official Catholic Directory as such. I believe this kind of oversight is important for a lay ministry to maintain its integrity as a faithful and authentic Catholic institution.
Unfortunately, it does not appear to me that FixtheFamily.com has any such oversight. As well-intentioned and heartfelt as the site’s founders obviously are, the site is chock-full of errors in Catholic theology, tradition, and logic. Their article, 6 Reasons to NOT Send Your Daughter to College is particularly problematic. Again, I bear the founders no ill will and I do not suggest that they intend to spread error or confusion. Honestly, it is not my habit to go out of my way to criticize other laborers in the field. As I say, I actually appreciate their intentions. But you can’t do a good thing in a bad way and, sadly, that is exactly what is happening on their site, especially in this very problematic article. Because of the press their work is generating, I have deep concerns that they are misleading the public about the very institutions (Catholicism, family life) they state they support.
Education of Women: Catholic Teaching & History
Many of their arguments against providing a college education to young women boil down to the idea that college discourages women from being wives and mothers and/or leads them into sin. First of all, I know of no research to say that this is true–certainly no more true for women than men. More importantly, this assertion flies in the face of the very first principle of Catholic Social Teaching; namely, the right of every human person to life AND education.
As it states in Gaudium et Spes #26, “Therefore, there must be made available to all men* everything necessary for leading a life truly human, such as food, clothing, and shelter; the right to choose a state of life freely and to found a family, the right to education, to employment, to a good reputation, to respect, to appropriate information, to activity in accord with the upright norm of one’s own conscience, to protection of privacy and rightful freedom even in matters religious.”
(*please note, in the context of the document, it is obvious that the document uses “men” in the generic sense of “people.”)
Catholics have always been behind the educational development of all persons, including women, because the more education a person has the more they are able to appreciate all the levels on which life is a gift. While I admit that a college degree is not necessarily the hallmark of a well-educated person, it would be profoundly unjust to deprive a person who was capable of benefitting from such an education because that person was a woman. Even if a woman planned to be a wife and mother, the Church would NEVER claim her college education was wasted. Catholics assert that education is about forming the person, not plying a trade. The Church has always believed, in teaching and practice, that every human person–male or female–has a right to receive as much education as they are capable of taking advantage of. The Church has never supported the notion that women should not be educated as fully as possible. In fact, 1st century Catholics scandalized Roman society with their generous attitudes toward the dignity and education of women.
FixtheFamily: A Catholic Theologian Responds
In addition to these few comments of mine, I would like to point you to a post by Emily Reimer-Barry for a more comprehensive evaluation of FixtheFamily.com’s claims. She is a Catholic theologian at the University of San Diego and Catholic Moral Theology blogger and she offers her thoughtful and sensitive analysis here. Following FixtheFamily.com’s format, Reimer-Barry’s article presents 6 (+2) reasons why the original article about sending young women to college is inconsistent with Catholic teaching contrary to the author’s assertions. Dr. Reimer-Barry’s article is very well-done. She successfully avoids the temptation to “eat our own” that too many Catholics indulge in. Instead, she adopts a pastoral tone that I truly respect. Here’s a sample…
I proceed with the goal of describing which of Mr. Alleman’s claims are theologically inadequate, which parts of his arguments are methodologically unsound, and which conclusions are contrary to Catholic teaching, offensive to women, or both. But before I begin, I want to clearly state that I will not engage in personal attack, and I will not question Mr. Alleman’s intent or motives. I believe him when he says he is a family man. He seems genuinely interested in the Catholic moral tradition. But I believe that he presents a distorted view of feminism and a flawed interpretation of magisterial teachings. Even though my goal is dialogue with Mr. Alleman, it ultimately does not really matter if he reads this. But when I was thinking today about why his website is so dangerous for young women, it occurred to me that many young Catholic readers may stumble upon his website and become confused. Readers may wonder if there is another way to think about gender norms, sexuality, prayer, discernment, and marriage, while remaining in the Church (there is). Readers may wonder if he presents an accurate portrait of feminists (he doesn’t). My goal is the same as his: to reach a wide audience of readers on the internet who would like to know more about the Catholic Church’s teachings on marriage and family life. As he writes on his website, “You don’t have to be rich or have an advanced degree to access or understand them. Just bring a willing spirit, open mind, and willingness to change.” I ask the same. READ MORE….
Correction with Fraternal Affection
I join Dr. Reimer-Barry, not in condemning the Alleman family’s effort, but in encouraging them to check their math, as it were, and present, not an idiosyncratic and incomplete vision of marriage and family life, but the fullness of Catholic teaching both for their good and the good of the Church which we all love and long to serve. It is my hope that comments like mine and Dr. Reimer-Barry’s will help the Allemans fulfill their desire to serve the Church more effectively. I recommend that they take these charitably-intentioned comments to heart and seek appropriate pastoral and theological oversight by placing themselves under the authority and guidance of their local bishop and any theologians he may see fit to appoint to guide them in their efforts. I wish them all the best for the future.