Today the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a five-page “Notification Regarding the Book ‘Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics’ by Sister Margaret A. Farley R.S.M.,” in which it states, “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. … 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 notification, signed by Cardinal William Levada, states that Sr. Farley’s book “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.”
Sr. Margaret Farley is a member of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas and Gilbert L. Stark Professor of Christian Ethics at Yale Divinity School.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote to Sr. Farley in 2010 enclosing a preliminary evaluation of her book and indicating the doctrinal problems it contained, however her answer failed to clarify those issues in a satisfactory manner. The Congregation therefore proceeded to examine the volume following the procedure for “examination in cases of urgency”. In June 2011 a commission of experts confirmed that the “book contained erroneous propositions, the dissemination of which risks grave harm to the faithful”. Sr. Farley was sent a list of the erroneous propositions and invited to correct them, but her response “did not adequately clarify the grave problems contained in her book” and the Congregation decided to proceed with the publication of this Notification…
“Sr. Farley writes: ‘Masturbation… usually does not raise any moral questions at all’. … This statement does not conform to Catholic teaching: “Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action. …”
“Sr. Farley writes: ‘My own view … is that same-sex relationships and activities can be justified according to the same sexual ethic as heterosexual relationships and activities’. … This opinion is not acceptable. The Catholic Church, in fact, distinguishes between persons with homosexual tendencies and homosexual acts. Concerning persons with homosexual tendencies, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “they must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” . Concerning homosexual acts, however, the Catechism affirms: “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved”
Sr. Farley released a statement in response to the CDF notification, which can be read in full here. In it, she states:
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.
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.
Sr. Patricia McDermott, R.S.M., president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas and Sr. Farley’s religious superior, also released a statement today in response to the CDF notification:
Sister Margaret Farley, RSM is a highly respected and valued member of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.
I know that I speak for our membership in expressing our profound regret that a Notification has been issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith regarding her book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics.
The process initiated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has been lengthy, arduous and extremely difficult. I am deeply saddened that Sister Margaret has had to engage in this process for more than three years and that the Congregation has rendered this Notification concerning the significant pastoral and ethical thinking that are represented in her book, “Just Love.”