Catholic Social Thought and United States Family Law: Models of Interaction


During the past two decades, a group of scholars have demonstrated how family law and religion, particularly Catholic Social Thought (“CST”), can work together for good ends. This project to encourage the interrelationship of CST and family law is a difficult but necessary endeavor in the United States today given the complexity and foundational importance of the legal questions that have emerged as a consequence of changing behaviors concerning sex, marriage and parenting. These include terribly basic questions about the legal significance, if any, of an individual’s sex, the relationship between sex and parenting, the relative social weight of adults’ desires versus children’s needs, and the relationship between marriage and the public good. Both private and public actors have begun turning to religion to help answer these questions, but there are also many objections to this interdisciplinary project, the most likely of which are 1) anthropological pessimism and the irrationality of religion, 2) Catholic sexism, 3) the irrelevance of religion to the future, and 4) the exclusion of moral norms from the legal arena. These objections, however, are not well-founded. To overcome these objections, this article provides a roadmap of the four existing models for the interrelationship of CST and family law. The first employs empirical data to illustrate and/or confirm a CST insight regarding norms for various family relationships. The second identifies an insight or norm held in common by CST and a secular source for family lawmaking, as a foundation for a particular family law. The third offers an insight from CST toward the project of addressing a particularly thorny family law dilemma. And the fourth explores the implications of the correlation between religiosity as a personal trait and good outcomes for families.