Credo: Helen Alvare

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People,Liz Essley

Alvare, a law professor at George Mason University, is one of the founders of the "Women Speak for Themselves" movement -- a grassroots effort to support religious liberty and oppose government-mandated contraception coverage for religious institutions. She recently edited and co-wrote the book "Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves." She and her family live in Bethesda.

What made you want to write "Breaking Through"?

I joke at press conferences that the book already had most of its shape on the back on Amtrak tickets and in-flight magazines. I could see almost 20 years ago that very insightful and increasingly empirically confirmed Catholic teachings were insufficiently brought to bear on modern dilemmas concerning women. Second, I was privileged through my work to meet hundreds of women who were living out Catholic teaching in their lives and could communicate to other people how this enabled their happiness.

Third, I knew on the really hot-button issues -- for example, sex, marriage, parenting -- there didn't exist the essays that I could hand to people and say, "OK, here's the science, the theology, the lived experience on this issue." These are essays I always wanted but didn't have in one place.

Then this year, the Health and Human Services mandate crystallized my frustration. I felt that this was the right time for a couple of reasons. First, the public's attention was focused on these issues, and it was actually asking about Catholic teachings. Second, I was convinced that the government was increasingly hostile to the very messages that were crucial to women's flourishing. And I thought this was frightening, quite honestly.

What is the most common misperception of Catholic women that you've encountered?

That we come in two flavors: mindless followers of male rules, or brilliant dissenters from centuries of misogynistic doctrines and rules. Some rarely stop even to consider Catholic women as "mindful" recipients of centuries of faith and reasoning which we experience as freeing.

How do you juggle your career with being a wife and mother?

It was less of a choice and more of a call. The way I managed is I put family first, and I try to keep low-maintenance things like house, possessions, clothes, car. I have an older house, and everything is chipped. Anything that could happen to anything I own would not devastate me. I don't have time for that. I set really bright-line rules in terms of time. I was once asked by the White House to be part of the delegation to John Paul II's funeral. But I had an event to go to for my daughter. So I said, "No, I can't go. I have this event." The men from the White House said, "Are you kidding? There will be more of those." And I said, "Well, not to her." I miss things that are exciting, but I feel connected to the domestic life and family by those cutoff points. It's a perfect example of discipline empowering freedom.

At your core, what is one of your defining beliefs?

I would say that Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict got it right when they concluded that progress for the individual and for society is really a matter of figuring out that human lives, human capacities, are gifts to be given.

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Liz Essley

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner