Statement by Mercy Sister Margaret A. Farley: In response to the Vatican’s “Notification” concerning ‘Just Love’

Jun. 04, 2012

I have received the official Notification from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, published in Rome, June 4, 2012. By it, I understand that my book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, has been judged to contain positions that are not in conformity with the hierarchical teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

I appreciate the efforts made by the Congregation and its consultants, over several years, to evaluate positions articulated in that book, and I do not dispute the judgment that some of the positions contained within it are not in accord with current official Catholic teaching. In the end, I can only clarify that the book was not intended to be an expression of current official Catholic teaching, nor was it aimed specifically against this teaching. It is of a different genre altogether.

Through its historical explorations of general and particular Christian sexual ethical principles, and its consideration of similar principles across many religious traditions, this book offers contemporary interpretations of traditional meanings for the human body, gender, and sexuality. It aims to take account of both traditional and present-day scientific, philosophical, theological, and biblical resources. It takes seriously, also, human experience in the realm of sexuality–experience that can be either affirmative or negative, constructive or destructive.

Ultimately, in this book I propose a framework for sexual ethics that uses criteria of justice in evaluating true and faithful sexual relationships and activities. In doing so, I offer not only ideals for human sexual relations, but also some absolute requirements.

Growing out of my work as a professor of Christian Ethics at Yale University Divinity School, this book was designed to help people, especially Christians but also others, to think through their questions about human sexuality. It suggests the importance of moving from what frequently functions as a taboo morality to a morality and sexual ethics based on the discernment of what counts as wise, truthful, and recognizably just loves.

Although my responses to some particular sexual ethical questions do depart from some traditional Christian responses, I have tried to show that they nonetheless reflect a deep coherence with the central aims and insights of these theological and moral traditions. Whether through interpretation of biblical texts, or through an attempt to understand “concrete reality” (an approach at the heart of “natural law”), the fact that Christians (and others) have achieved new knowledge and deeper understanding of human embodiment and sexuality seems to require that we at least examine the possibility of development in sexual ethics. This is what my book, Just Love, is about.

Again, I appreciate the work that the members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith have done. I only regret that in reporting my positions on select “Specific Problems” in sexual ethics, the Notification does not also consider my arguments for these positions. Nor does it render my positions in terms of the complex theoretical and practical contexts to which they are a response. Hence, I fear the Notification–while clear in its conclusions–misrepresents (perhaps unwittingly) the aims of my work and the nature of it as a proposal that might be in service of, not against, the church and its faithful people.

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10 Responses to Statement by Mercy Sister Margaret A. Farley: In response to the Vatican’s “Notification” concerning ‘Just Love’

  1. Trisagion says:

    Disingenuous tripe.

  2. Bob Buckner says:

    Sister Margaret Farley,
    Though I have yet to read your book I have many misgivings about what my Cathoic Church says regarding sexuality. Our sexuality is a gift, no matter whether we are single, married, heterosexual, homosexual, transgender. Our sexuality is the gift we are in “love” It is so important. Personally I believe the church needs to rethink much of its dogma and teachings about sexuality. I believe decades from now things will be different but for now I live my life as I must. I hope to read your book in the next months as I have the time.
    Blessings, Bob

  3. JessicaHof says:

    In other words, I know better than the Church, but hope one day it will come to share the great wisdom I have to offer!

  4. JabbaPapa says:

    The sheer hypocrisy that she displays is gob-smacking.

  5. Maybe it is naive of me but I tend to regard courage and morality as extremely close in quality- even interchangeable. If an act (of love etc etc) is courageous and responsible then there is something intrinsically moral about it. Insofar as this religious sister has courageously evaluated all her experience (and is not being trendy, simplistic, arrogant or contemptuous of the difficulties of this moral field) then the book deserves careful consideration (even if one can then disagree with it).
    Similarly, if a deeply moral writer like Proudhon were to offer his life’s work to humanity (a profoundly examined disagreement with God and the Church!), and the Church did not seek to value this ‘prodigal son’ and to even cherish him for the difficulties of a reconciliation, it would lose something by underestimating the glory of such a possible reconciliation.

  6. IMHO this loss of the gift of faith which may transform a mere intellectual conclusion into a conviction in harmony with Christian doctrine seems to affect professional theologians more than most. Pride and carelessness prevents seeing where thought is leading: modernist conclusions to unsound theology which were bound to be condemned – as soon as anyone bothered to look at them. Eventually, the mind is completely out of sympathy with Catholic teaching.

    I guess St. Paul was right: Only the operation of faith works.

  7. JabbaPapa says:

    This is relativism in action, shieldsheafson…

    It posits the non-existence of such absolute goods and ills, vices and virtues, as the Catholic Faith teaches, and God provides — and instead it imagines that goods and ills are circumstancial, and dependent on one’s own individual relationship to this and that.

    It’s the essence of modernism, it’s extremely seductive, and we are constantly bombarded with thoughts, opinions, and attitudes that are based on these notions.

    Very many Catholics are intimately convinced of the “truth” of relativism, see if you can spot the implicit self-contradiction here BTW, without realising its incompatibility with divine Revelation.

  8. Dear Jabba

    I agree: If these professional theologians (in particular), especially those whose job it is to explain Catholic theology to people outside the Church, would ask themselves the question; Can I trust the Catholic Church as the final repository of revealed Truth? – they might not get themselves into such a pickle. If they don’t, it makes no difference what they believe (or disbelieve).

    Belloc’s -The Path to Rome on “the nature of Belief”: “Of its nature it (belief) breeds a reaction and an indifference. Those who believe nothing but only think and judge cannot understand this. Of its nature it struggles with us. And we, when our youth is full on us, invariably reject it and set out in the sunlight content with natural things. Then for a long time we are like men who follow down the cleft of a mountain and the peaks are hidden from us and forgotten. It takes years to reach the dry plain, and then we look back and see our home. What is it, do you think, that causes the return? I think it is the problem of living; for every day, every experience of evil, demands a solution. That solution is provided by the memory of the great scheme
    which at last we remember. Our childhood pierces through again… “

  9. kathleen says:

    What a beautiful metaphorical analysis Shieldsheafson….. the awakening of the Prodigal Son’s awareness of his ‘lost treasure’!

    Our childhood pierces through again…”
    For that to be possible it proves the importance of a ‘good sowing of seed’; IOW, a good basic teaching of the Faith with the necessary living it out in prayer, practice and piety during those early days.

  10. toadspittle says:

    “Those who believe nothing but only think and judge cannot understand this.”

    It seems to me that if you believe nothing, you have no measure for judging anything.
    And how can you think about anything, if you don’t believe anything? Who, in any case, believes nothing?
    A meaningless sentence.
    Might almost be GKC.
    The front end.

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