Communion or Suspicion: Which Way for Woman and Man?

31 Pages Posted: 19 Sep 2010

See all articles by Helen M. Alvare

Helen M. Alvare

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty


Authoritative and prolific teachings of the Roman Catholic Church have proposed a model for intimate heterosexual relationships between men and women which might be called the “communion and mutual service model.” This model is grounded in an anthropology of both sexes based upon humanity’s creation in a Trinitarian God’s image and likeness. It consequently understands man and woman as radically equal, and inherently social. It also views sexual differences as oriented to interpersonal communion. In this view, however, heterosexual relations suffer a hereditary brokenness as a consequence of original sin; each sex manifests this differently and in relation to the other. The Church proposes finally that Christ’s life, death, and resurrection show humanity the way of triumph over broken love. For intimate heterosexual pairs, that way requires “finding oneself by losing oneself.”

A competing model, the “suspicion model” of intimate heterosexual relations - reacting to past or ongoing situations of oppression, discrimination, or even violence against women – neglects attention to the equality of males, despairs of securing male commitment to spouses or children, and often seeks a strict equality of functional outcomes for both sexes.

Family law in the United States is currently grappling with questions that engage the anthropological issues raised by both models, including but not limited to: marriage stabilization efforts, divorce law reform, same-sex marriage and fatherhood initiatives. This paper sets forth the elements of the communion and mutual service and the suspicion models of male-female relationships. It describes and compares secular models of intimate heterosexual relationships currently proposed by scholars of law and/or religion, which models overlap with the communion and mutual service model. Finally, it considers how the communion and mutual service model might correct and illuminate the suspicion model while supporting particular directions in a variety of controverted laws affecting heterosexual, intimate relationships.

Keywords: Benedict XVI, cohabitation, Deus Caritas Est, divorce, ethics, homosexual, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Katherine Shaw Spaht, Linda C. McClain, Margaret F. Brinig, Michael Waldstein, Mulieris Dignitatem, original sin, out-of-wedlock childbearing, Pope John Paul II, World Conference on Women

Suggested Citation

Alvare, Helen M., Communion or Suspicion: Which Way for Woman and Man?. Ave Maria Law Review, Vol. 8, No. 1, Fall 2009, George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 10-47, Available at SSRN:

Helen M. Alvare (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty ( email )

3301 Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22201
United States

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