The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has sharply criticized Just Love, an award-winning book on sexual ethics by Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley, a prominent Catholic theologian at Yale University.
“Among the many errors and ambiguities in this book are its positions on masturbation, homosexual acts, homosexual unions, the indissolubility of marriage and the problem of divorce and remarriage,” the congregation’s five-page “Notification” said.
In those areas, it said, the author’s position “contradicts” or “is opposed to” or “does not conform to” church teaching.
Some people wait for Oprah to tell them what to read. I depend on our good bishops. They have the concern of my eternal soul at heart and want to ensure that I will not read anything that might sully my pure and ignorant lay mind. So, if the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) warns me of a book, I scoot right on over to Amazon to see if it’s available. This is how Elizabeth Johnson’s Quest for the Living God popped into my online shopping cart last year.
This morning, I snagged the last copy of Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics on amazon.ca. As with most books that get a highly publicized CDF seal of unapproval, it will probably sell like hot-cakes.
Online Catholic new-sites were hopping with the news of Sr. Margaret Farley’s censure today. The usual voices on discussion boards were present, yelling yay or nay to the CDF for their work. Few, I believe, actually read the book. I haven’t. Jamie L. Manson, one of my favorite writers at NCR, provided a wonderful back-grounder on Sr. Farley and her work. Jamie was her student and research assistant at the Yale Divinity, so knows of whom she speaks.
NCR has also provided a summary of the book. Frankly, Sr. Farley had me at the title, Just Love. She attempts to explore difficult issues around sexuality through a justice lens, using the traditional notion of justice as “to render to each his or her due,” taking that to mean “persons and groups of persons ought to be affirmed according to their concrete reality, actual and potential.”
The seven norms Farley gives for a framework of Christian sexual action are
- Do no unjust harm
- Free consent
- Social justice
Sr. Farley, herself, admits that her book departs from orthodox Catholic thinking regarding sexuality. And, she is honest about this. But her work is that of a theologian, and not a catechist. A catechist is meant to ‘echo’ the doctrine and teachings of the Church. A theologian explores them, and seeks how they can speak to women and men of today. Admittedly, mistakes may be made along the way; as with any research. But there is also the possibility for discovering new ways of thinking and understanding.
Many are saddened at what seems to be another example of ecclesial bullying of theologians. The irony of it being yet another religious woman during the tensions surrounding the crack-down on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has been apparent to many. But, perhaps it will send more enquiring minds to check out what the fuss is all about. That is what this enquiring mind is going to do.
And a boost in book sales might give Sr. Farley the support she needs for the fight ahead.