the acquiescence of silence

During some very dark days in our parish and in our diocese, my head rolled with those of many others. We suffered under an authoritative bishop whose destructive actions reflected a dysfunctional leadership style. Our pastor was one of his minions. When I locked horns with him, life became intolerable for me and my family. We had to leave.

Friends in the parish sympathized with us, and offered many a listening ear. They also shared their own hurts and frustrations, filling us in on the continuing saga of dysfunction after we left. We also had priest friends in the diocese who were struggling with the situation. They were supportive and compassionate to us, but did nothing. The faithful dutifully went about their tasks, while silence hung like a big, stinky elephant in the room. No one stood up for us or anyone else who had been black-listed. We felt deserted by the community, and the dysfunction continued.

The reason behind the silence was fear. The result of the silence was an enabling of the destructive behavior of priest and bishop. It didn’t change until the bishop retired, dying soon after. Yet, many of the hurts remain. Many who left at the time have not returned.

Today, silence has been broken in a public and courageous manner by two groups in the USA. Seven provinces of Franciscan brothers and priests have published a letter of support for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in wake of their Vatican rebuke.

We believe that your willingness to reflect on many of the questions faced by contemporary society is an expression of your determination to be faithful to the Gospel, the Church, the invitation from Vatican II and your own religious charisms. We remain thankful for and edified by your courage to engage in such reflection despite the ever-present risk of misunderstanding.

The second show of support came from the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA) for Sr. Margaret Farley. Her book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics was censured by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The community of theologians not only supported her and her work, but wanted to clarify the distinction between the role of catechists and theologians. They recognize the importance of taking a stand now to ensure that future theologians will be given the necessary academic freedom to address hard issues without fear of reprisal.

Such an understanding of the nature of theology inappropriately conflates the distinctive tasks of catechesis and theology. With regard to the subject matter of Professor Farley’s book, it is simply a matter of fact that faithful Catholics in every corner of the Church are raising ethical questions like those Professor Farley has addressed. In raising and exploring such questions with her customary sensitivity and judiciousness, Professor Farley has invited us to engage the Catholic tradition seriously and thoughtfully.

We speak often of courageously standing up to injustice in the world. We need to show the same courage in standing up to injustices in our church. And, yes, it takes courage. But silence is too easily interpreted as acquiescence. And acquiescence enables the injustice to continue.


Vatican criticizes US theologian’s book on sexual ethics | National Catholic Reporter

Sr. Margaret Farley

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.

(From Vatican criticizes US theologian’s book on sexual ethics | National Catholic Reporter.)

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 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
  • Mutuality
  • Equality
  • Commitment
  • Fruitfulness
  • 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.