Catholic Culture Overview
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Vatican issues warning on book by prominent American nun

June 04, 2012

The Vatican has issued a warning that a book by a prominent American nun puts forward positions that are “in direct contradiction with Catholic teaching in the field of sexual morality.”

A June 3 statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) cautioned that Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, by Sister Margaret Farley, RSM, “contained erroneous propositions, the dissemination of which risks grave harm to the faithful."

The CDF said that the book by Sister Farley—a professor at Yale Divinity School and former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America—“is not in conformity with the teaching of the Church. Consequently it cannot be used as a valid expression of Catholic teaching, either in counselling and formation, or in ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue."

"Among the many errors and ambiguities of this book are its positions on masturbation, homosexual acts, homosexual unions, the indissolubility of marriage and the problem of divorce and remarriage,” the CDF announced. The Vatican “notification” disclosed that the CDF had contacted Sister Farley in 2010 to raise concerns about Just Love. After further study, a panel of experts sent the author a list of problematical statements that required corrections. Her response “did not adequately clarify the grave problems contained in her book,” and so the CDF proceeded to issue the warning about her work.

The CDF faulted Sister Farley for treating the teaching of the Church as one opinion among many to be considered, and said that her work betrayed “a defective understanding of the objective nature of the natural moral law.”

Among a number of problems with Sister Farley’s work, the CDF highlighted her views “that same-sex relationships and activities can be justified,” and that “a marriage commitment is subject to release.” In these and other points, the Vatican observed, her argument directly clashes with the established teaching of the Catholic Church.

In a statement issued in response to the Vatican “notification,” Sister Farley complained that the CDF, in its critique, “misrepresents misrepresents (perhaps unwittingly) the aims of my work.” She said that her book was not intended to present “current official Catholic teaching.” (The use of the adjective “current” seemed deliberately intended to suggest that the Church’s might could change.) She argued that although her positions “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."

In her press release Sister Farley also claimed that the CDF document “fails to specifically address her positions on issues such as homosexuality, divorce, marriage, and masturbation.” But in fact the “notification” specifically addresses each one of those issues as it is treated in Sister Farley’s book.

The CDF warning is not the first public confrontation between Sister Farley and the Vatican. In 1984 she was one of the women religious who faced disciplinary action after signing an advertisement in the New York Times that said Catholics could legitimately support legal abortion. Sister Farley has said that she never retracted her position on that point.


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  • Posted by: demark8616 - Jun. 07, 2012 3:19 AM ET USA

    "Looking back over the centuries, Newman noted the importance the laity had... and his earlier studies of the Arian crisis and St. Athanasius had already planted firmly in his mind the indisputable fact that the laity not only might be but actually had been the champions and preservers of the orthodox Faith in the dark days of the fourth century when Arianism was apparently set to triumph" Newman and the Laity by Paul Chavasse

  • Posted by: demark8616 - Jun. 07, 2012 3:04 AM ET USA

    How long indeed! It is disappointing that the Church authorities do not protect the sheep properly and timeously. The consolation is I believe, that it is the laity that so often come to the rescue of the Church throughout the maybe, that is our function and duty?

  • Posted by: sparch - Jun. 05, 2012 10:14 AM ET USA

    Does the author submit their writing to the bishops for reveiw and approval or do the bishops search and reveiw on their own. If the author (or the publisher) submits to the bishops for reveiw, I do not understand her response unless it was submitted for the express purpose of stirring controversy. If the author did not submit, what is the problem. She is so far out of line with Catholic teaching and knows it. The good sister is just looking for some pub. How long must we suffer these indolents?

  • Posted by: demark8616 - Jun. 05, 2012 4:40 AM ET USA

    "Scandal" in the true sense of the word! Worthy of the 'millstone' as cautioned by Our Lord Himself to those who disobediently lead others into sin. In the link,"Response to Vatican's Notification.."the following is noteworthy: In recognition of Just Love, Farley was awarded the 2008 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion, given "to honor and publicize annually creative and constructive insights into the relationship between human beings and the divine, and ways in which this relationship may inspire or empower human beings to attain wholeness, integrity or meaning, either individually or in community."

  • Posted by: JimKcda - Jun. 05, 2012 12:44 AM ET USA

    When will our Church leaders begin to recognize the damage these “wolves in sheep's clothing” do if allowed to remain "in the Church" even after their errors are so well known and for so long? This "nun" should have been ejected in 1984 when her blatant errors became well known. Do our leaders (Bishops, Superiors, etc.) really known what "leadership" means? They must take the steps necessary to protect the organization that has been entrusted to them! This nun and her religious order are a joke.

  • Posted by: normnuke - Jun. 04, 2012 10:20 PM ET USA

    It is disheartening that so very many nuns of my age--those of the VaticanII wave--seem to be of the same rebelious ilk as Sr. Farley. Perhaps it is also notable that as BenedictXVI's reign draws near its close he seems ready to use the broom where reason has proved useless.