6.3.7 Response to Exercise


Cahill is clearly a strong supporter of the ‘domestic church’ idea, but also sees some problems with it.  According to Cahill, some of its strengths are the following:

  • Seeing family as ‘domestic church’ fosters “prayer and religious catechesis in the home” (p. 85).  It makes the family “a school of deeper humanity” (p. 90, quoting FC).
  • It can promote the “family’s social mission”, i.e. “dedication to the common good”.  This means it can enable families to “rise above egotistical familism” (p. 85).
  • Going beyond this, Christian families are, quoting John Paul II, to make “a preferential option for the poor and disadvantaged” (p. 90).
  • More concretely, the ‘domestic church’ metaphor points to Christian families being “responsible for just distribution of material and social wealth, not limited to almsgiving but demanding structural change” (p. 85).  It therefore gives authority for ordinary families to be involved in working for a just society, rather than leaving this to “traditional power holders” (p. 95).
  • It presents a vision of family as “a sphere of relative gender equity” (p. 85).  She quotes FC #22: the “equal dignity and responsibility” of women and men is “realized in a unique manner in that reciprocal self-giving by each one to the other and by both to the children which is proper to marriage and the family”.
  • Finally, the ‘domestic church’ metaphor enables us to see the family as “specially graced to nourish communities in which persons are recognized and valued in themselves” (p. 94).

Yet Cahill also sees some weaknesses in seeing family as ‘domestic church’:

  • She brings out that the emphasis in John Paul II’s teaching on the complementarity of men and women is open to being (mis)read in a way that is “at odds with the education of girls and the vocational expectations of adult women that most modern societies take for granted”, and so tends towards confining women in “nurturing, maternal” roles (p. 92).
  • More specifically, the ‘domestic church’ metaphor implicitly qualifies the affirmation of the equality of men and women in family life because the Church does not accept this equality in its own structures – women cannot be priests (p. 93).  In other words, if the ‘domestic church’ is a version of the Church, there is a danger that women will be excluded from leadership.
  • She says that these criticisms might explain “why the domestic church metaphor has not met wide acclaim among laity in the North American church” (p. 93).
  • Referring to Ernie Cortes, a community organizer, Cahill asks whether the combination of the ‘domestic church’ idea with an emphasis that women’s roles are in the family actually produces a disincentive against families participating in such wider work for justice as Cortes is engaged in.  Note that here Cahill’s objection is not to the domestic church metaphor itself, but only to the way that overemphasis on women as mothers might form, in effect, a blockage to its full potential being realized.


Which of these several strengths and weaknesses did you identify?  Do you think I have represented what Cahill says accurately?  Perhaps you came up with some I missed out.

In Unit 8 of the module we shall look at what CST says about issues of justice for women (8.3.3).  We shall return then to this question of whether John Paul II’s emphasis on the equality of women and men stands in tension with his similarly strong insistence on their complementarity.



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