Monday, June 4, 2012

"Just Love"'s not enough for the CDF

UPDATE 6/6/2012: "Just Love" is now at No. 15 on Amazon's best seller list and is showing as "temporarily out of stock". Immediately following the notification from the CDF two days ago, the book rose from No. 142,982 to No. 21 as supporters of Sr. Farley rushed to buy copies of her work. Sales have continued to rise ever since...

Hans K√ľng, Edward Schillebeeckx, Jon Sobrino, Leonardo Boff, Roger Haight...Perhaps we can read it as a sign of progress that a prominent woman theologian, Dr. Margaret Farley, has now joined the rarified club of those whose work has merited the attention of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Today, the CDF issued a notification to Dr. Farley, professor emerita of Christian ethics at Yale Divinity School, regarding her latest book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics (New York: Continuum, 2006), for which she won the 2008 Grawemeyer Award in Religion.

Dr. Farley, who is also a nun with the Religious Sisters of Mercy, has published seven books. In addition to the disputed text, she is the author of Personal Commitments: Beginning, Keeping, Changing (Harper, 1986) and Compassionate Respect (Paulist, 2002). She is a co-author of A Metaphysics of Being and God (Prentice-Hall,1966), and co-editor of Embodiment, Morality, and Medicine (Kluwer, 1995), Readings in Moral Theology, No. 9: Feminist Ethics and the Catholic Moral Tradition (Paulist, 1996) and Liberating Eschatology: Essays in Honor of Letty M. Russell (Westminster/John Knox, 1999).

During her career, Dr. Farley has served as president of both the Society of Christian Ethics and the Catholic Theological Society of America, from which she received the prestigious John Courtney Murray award in 1992, and was co-director for eight years of the Yale University Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics. Last, but not least, Dr. Farley co-founded a project that paired her order with congregations of women religious in Africa to combat HIV/AIDS on that continent. The project, All Africa Conference: Sister To Sister, "brings together women religious so that they may address the crisis of HIV and AIDS by listening to, learning from and empowering one another to collaborate in strategies for prevention and care in response to the pandemic."

The notification about Just Love is quite harsh in tone. Sr. Farley, the CDF says, "does not present a correct understanding of the role of the Church’s Magisterium as the teaching authority of the Bishops united with the Successor of Peter, which guides the Church’s ever deeper understanding of the Word of God as found in Holy Scripture and handed on faithfully in the Church’s living tradition." And it goes on: "In addressing various moral issues, Sr. Farley either ignores the constant teaching of the Magisterium or, where it is occasionally mentioned, treats it as one opinion among others. Such an attitude is in no way justified, even within the ecumenical perspective that she wishes to promote. Sr. Farley also manifests a defective understanding of the objective nature of the natural moral law, choosing instead to argue on the basis of conclusions selected from certain philosophical currents or from her own understanding of 'contemporary experience'." And the CDF concludes that "this approach is not consistent with authentic Catholic theology."

The notification then goes on to a point by point critique of Dr. Farley's positions on masturbation, homosexual acts, homosexual unions, the indissolubility of marriage and the problem of divorce and remarriage, which it finds to be "in direct contradiction with Catholic teaching in the field of sexual morality."

The CDF concludes that Just Love "cannot be used as a valid expression of Catholic teaching, either in counseling and formation, or in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue," to which Dr. Farley has responded 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." She says that her 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." She said that by failing to include her responses to its specific criticisms in the final notification, the CDF has misrepresented the aims and nature of her book.

The notification immediately prompted a volley of statements of support from Dr. Farley's colleagues in academia as well as from her fellow sisters. Sr. Patricia McDermott, RSM, president of Sr. Farley's order, issued a statement calling Sr. Farley "a highly respected and valued member of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas" and expressing regret over the notification. She said that "Sister Margaret's reputation as scholar, ethicist, educator and spiritual guide has enlivened the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas and enriched the entire Church...Sister Margaret is an extraordinary teacher and pastoral minister who is deeply committed to the Gospel and the following of Jesus Christ. For more than 50 years, Margaret has given her life in exceptional scholarship and remarkable pastoral service to those who are most in need."

Dr. Harold Attridge, Dean of Yale Divinity School, called his colleague "a revered figure at Yale Divinity School. She has inspired generations of students, both men and women, to take seriously the task of theological ethics, by examining the logic of our moral judgments in the light of scripture, tradition, and human experience. Her work on sexual ethics, Just Love, is an award-winning example of that enterprise, recognized by Christians of many traditions as a thoughtful attempt to wrestle with some of the most divisive social issues of our time."

To conclude, we encourage you -- as we always do in these cases -- to show your support for our sister Dr. Margaret Farley and your opposition to Vatican censorship by buying and reading Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics. Read it, and you will come to understand why Lisa Sowle Cahill, who reviewed Just Love for America magazine in 2006, wrote that the book is "an important message in a time in which sexual abuse and violence are rampant, and the Catholic Church has failed to protect children from sexual exploitation, while campaigning against the unions that many gays and lesbians view as essential expressions of their identities. It is just as important a message for a culture, like ours, that often reduces sexual morality to freedom and enjoyment, and regards commitment as an ideal or a luxury..."

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