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Descriptions of Books by William E. May in Print

Marriage: The Rock on Which the Family is Built

2nd edition 2009

The 2nd edition of Marriage: The Rock on Which the Family Is Built (Ignatius Press, 2009; the first ed. was published in 1995) begins with an Introduction to the Second Edition, which summarizes and updates relevant socio-economic studies that had been included in the introductory part of Chapter One of the 1st ed. It includes completely new chapters, one (Chapter six) on Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body, the other (Chapter Seven) the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI on marriage and family. Chapter One, on marrriage as person-affirming, love-enabling, life-giving, and saving reality, has been revised in order to develop arguments given in the 1st edition and to integrate material from the "theology of the body." Chapter Two, on marriage and the complementarity of man and woman, has been revised to show its compatibility with major ideas of the "theology of the body," and Chapter Three, on Humanae Vitae has been deepened and developed by integrating the thought of John Paul II. Chapter Four, on Church teaching and the laboratory reproduction of human beings, has not been revised, but Chapter Five on the family as domestic church is organized more theologically and shows how this idea is rooted in the teaching of Vatican Council II. The new edition is thus substantially larger than the first, brings up to date the socio-economic and theological studies relevant to marriage and family, and offers readers an overview of John Paul II's famous "theology of the body" and our present Holy Father's teaching on marriage and family.

November 2009

Standing with Peter: Reflections of a Lay Moral Theologian on God’s Loving Providence. Bethune, S.C.: Requiem Press, 2006, 92 pp.

In these reflections May takes us from his early family life, his early years in the seminary, the illness that precluded his ordination, his first career as an editor of Catholic books, his marriage and family life with his wife Patricia and their 7 children, the cataclysmic events of 1968, especially those surrounding Humanae Vitae, his second career as professor of moral theology at The Catholic University of America and the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, his work with the International Theological Commission with then Cardinal Ratzinger. Russell Shaw, a noted Catholic journalist, writes:

Dr. William E. May for many years has been one of the most important moral theologians. He is also a man who has served the Church and her people long and well. Standing with Peter is a fascinating memoir of a lifetime of scholarship in action—a warmly human account told with Dr. May’s famous gusto, integrity, and passionate commitment to the truth. It is a joy!

An Introduction to Moral Theology. 2nd edition. Huntington: IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2003, 314 pp.

This work offers a clear, complete, and convincing examination and explanation of Catholic moral theology. Here one finds not only what the Church teaches but also why she is obligated to do so and why this teaching is true. This updated and substantively revised edition of a work first published in 1991 and in 1993 expanded to include a thorough discussion of the teaching of the Catechism of the Church and John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor includes an excellent section on the biblical foundations of moral theology, virtue, natural law and moral absolutes, a devastating critique of proportionalism, and a magnificent portrait of the Christian moral life as a vocation to sanctity and whose whose magna carta is the Sermon on the Mount and its Beatitudes.

Among the reviews this work has received is the following:

What I like about Dr. May's books is that he takes his readers into contemporary discussions of Moral Theology, giving you a clear and succinct overview of the discussion, the salient points of disagreement, as well as his own view of the matter. This introduction covers all the main areas of Moral Theology (conscience, natural law, freedom, sin...) but rather than just presenting the basics of these discussions in the traditional way as do many other introductions, Dr. May covers them with an eye toward the contemporary discussions. The other thing I like is Dr. May's weaving in the works of the Magisterium into his presentation. His chapter on Veritatis Splendor is excellent! This is a must read! I found it especially helpful (and refreshing) after reading a more standard/traditional introduction to Moral Theology” (W. Mark Smilie).



Catholic Bioethics and the Gift of Human Life. 2nd edition. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Press, 2008, 382 pp.

This thoroughly revised edition of a book first published in 2000 contains eight chapters: 1. Church Teaching on the Major Issues in Bioethics; 2. Making True Moral Judgments and Good Moral Choices; 3. Generating Human Life and New Reproductive Technologies; 4. Contraception and Respect for Human Life; 5. Abortion and Human Life; 6. Experimentation on  Human Subjects; 7. Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide, and Care of the Dying; and 8. Defining Death and Organ Donation. Among some of the specific issues taken up, including some still open to legitimate debate by theologians loyal to the magisterium, are the “adoption” of frozen and abandoned embryos, the proper way to cope with ectopic pregnancies, gamete intrafallopian tube transfer (GIFT), and the validity of the neurological criteria based on the functioning of the entire brain to determine whether a person has died.

Edward Furton, editor of National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly declared:

In this revision of his already classic text, William E. May shows us once again the wisdom of the Catholic Church’s moral tradition in its application to contemporary bioethics. Illuminating and engaging—and with the attention to nuance that marks all of May’s work.



Catholic Sexual Ethics: A Summary, Explanation, and Defense. 3rd edition. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2011, 352 pp.

The first edition of this work appeared in 1984; an expanded version of the 1st edition was published in 1996. A second edition was published in 1998. This third edition was prepared by May and includes 9 chapters and a “Pastoral Conclusion.” The chapters are: 1. The Church’s Teaching on Sex; 2. The Biblical Teaching on Sex; 3. Sex in the Catholic Tradition; 4. Patterns of Thinking in Moral Theology; 5. Conscience: Its Meaning, Formation, and Relationship to Church Authority; 6. Chastity, Christian Marriage, and Virginity; 7. Chastity and the “Obligations” (Love-Based Demands of Married Persons);  8. Chastity and the “Obligations” (Love-based Demands of Unmarried Persons). Pastoral Conclusion.

In his “Foreword” to this 3rd edition, His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl declares:

In this volume, we find a reasoned, calm, clear and well thought out response to the questions how shall I live, what are the moral norms that should guide my life, how should I best see the ethics of human sexuality.  William E. May, who revised the chapters of the third edition, offers the fruit of more than three decades of reflection on the teaching of Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI on the gift of human sexuality and the noble purpose of marriage….Years ago, I had the privilege of reviewing the first edition of Catholic Sexual Ethics in 1985.   I rejoiced when the 1998 second edition appeared.  This third edition builds upon the established reputation of this book.  This edition of Catholic Sexual Ethics will be a valuable text for pastors, parents, catechists and students who seek an ever deeper appreciation for the gift of the Church’s moral teaching and the knowledge and confidence to articulate its truth in family life, formation programs and pastoral ministry.”

Scott Sullivan, reviewing the 2nd edition, wrote as follows:

Dr. May provides a coherent introduction into the ethical issues surrounding sexuality as taught by the Catholic Church - both from the standpoint of Natural Law and John Paul II's personalistic philosophy. Faithful to the teaching of the Magisterium, May critiques revisionist views such as ‘consequentialism’ and ‘proportionlism’ that have curiously only arisen since Pope Paul VI's issuing of Humanae Vitae. May supplements his argument with copious citations of Church documents. Highly recommended for a Catechist or anyone interested in what the Church truly teaches on sexual issues, May has a knack for relating difficult philosophical issues to the layperson without prior training.

Copyright ©; William E. May 2011

Version: 29th September 2011

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