The End of Family Planning?: Renewing the Church's Authoritative Teaching Practice through a Catholic Social Ethic of Care

Christine Elizabeth McCarthy, Fordham University


The thesis of this dissertation is that Catholic teaching on family planning can be strengthened by framing it within a social ethic of care that situates its treatment of family planning in the context of Catholic social teaching, and privileges the experiences of poor and vulnerable girls and women, making their dignity and full-flourishing the central criterion for judging the moral adequacy of its approach. Such a Catholic social ethic of care emphasizes the authority and responsibility of the Church as educator-both in its official, magisterial teaching and in its pastoral practice-and makes connections between family planning, global health, and peacebuilding, in the service of shalom. Catholic social teaching deals broadly and deeply with violent realities on a number of fronts: labor, immigration, racism, war and peacebuilding, to name a few. The category of violence is surprisingly undertreated, however, in issues regarding women's agency in matters of sexual health and family planning. Currently, church teaching treats the matter through a lens of natural law that does not adequately account for contextual challenges to a universal teaching. Because of this, this teaching too often forces women and girls, particularly indigent women and girls, to hold themselves to standards in family planning decision-making that the majority of today's medical professionals would not recommend as the consequences of those decisions will likely place said women in greater physical, psychological, and socioeconomic precarity. Such precarity is heightened in the case of poor HIV-positive women and girls. Their experiences of church teaching and family planning as HIV-positive Catholic women give them unique insight into spaces of Catholic social ethics not sufficiently developed by the present magisterial teaching on family planning. My work uses the experiences of HIV-positive Catholic women in diverse global locations as a basis for carrying forward the Church's tradition of addressing social concerns. I do so with a specific attention to the modern reality of HIV/AIDS relevant to family planning through the frame of a feminist ethic of care that attends to the transcendent reality of the human person.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

McCarthy, Christine Elizabeth, "The End of Family Planning?: Renewing the Church's Authoritative Teaching Practice through a Catholic Social Ethic of Care" (2018). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10814541.