Professor Sister Margaret Farley is a professor at Yale University Divinity School and a Catholic nun. She teaches Christian Ethics, along other courses in religion, at Yale, who wrote Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics.
When she wrote her book on Christian sexual ethics, she did not intend the book to cover only Catholic ethics, but the Vatican appears to think she should only cover Catholic ethics concerning sex. The Vatican sent her notice, apparently more than once, that she did not comply with Catholic doctrines when writing about sex and recommend all other theologians write, teach, and study "moral theology" in full accord with Catholic doctrine.
With this Notification, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith expresses profound regret that a member of an Institute of Consecrated Life, Sr. Margaret A. Farley, R.S.M., affirms positions that are in direct contradiction with Catholic teaching in the field of sexual morality. The Congregation warns the faithful that her book Just Love. A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics is not in conformity with the teaching of the Church. Consequently it cannot be used as a valid expression of Catholic teaching, either in counseling and formation, or in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. Furthermore the Congregation wishes to encourage theologians to pursue the task of studying and teaching moral theology in full concord with the principles of Catholic doctrine.
The Vatican made specific notes about her book concerning masturbation, homosexuality, marriage, and divorce, as they criticized it, saying that her understanding of Catholic theology is defective. Because she is a member of the Sisters of Mercy, her views will do "grave harm" to the faith, continuing the inquisition on nuns.
According to Huffington Post, the Vatican said that to her in 2006 too, but apparently she ignored it. The Huffington Post also made note that Farley did not identify herself as a member of the Sisters of Mercy on her book or in her response to the Vatican and the latest "notification" comes during a time that the Vatican "imposed martial law" on the LCWR.
The Farley critique, signed by the American head of the congregation, Cardinal William Levada, comes amid the Vatican's recent crackdown on the largest umbrella group of American sisters. The Vatican last month essentially imposed martial law on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, accusing it of undermining church teaching and imposing certain "radical feminist themes" that were incompatible with Catholicism.
In the case of masturbation, the Vatican pulled a statement out of her book and declared, "This statement does not conform to Catholic teaching." They added, "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."
Concerning homosexuality, they pull out another statement, which she declared as her opinion, and again declare, "This opinion is not acceptable."
The Vatican continues to pull a sentence or more out of Farley's book and criticizing it similarly with continued references to the Magisterium. They stated that her opinions and views are not acceptable, contradictory, and in opposition to the Magisterium, insisting on conformity.
According to Common Wealth Magazine, Farley "is quite clear to point out when her own opinion differs from magisterial teaching, and so it is hard to see why her book should be singled out. She makes careful use of the phrases "my own view" or "my own position" on matters of disagreement with official Catholic teaching. She's not the only prominent theologian to do so."
Jamie L. Manson, of the NCR, said, "It has become abundantly clear that, particularly in matters related to the pelvic zone, the hierarchy is not interesting in exploring questions or engaging in dialogue. That's a loss for the hierarchy, who would benefit greatly from a close reading of Farley's framework for sexual ethics. But their loss is the Catholic laity's gain, particularly those who have not yet been exposed to Farley's work." Manson continued to give praises to Farley and her book, as she criticizes the Vatican and their notification to Farley.
Others in Academia appear on Farley's side, as they make statements supporting her and her book, as they react to the Vatican's move against her. Sister Pat McDermott, head of the Sisters of Mercy, also supports Sister Farley and her book.
Farley gives her response on Yale's website, stating that she received the Vatican's notification on June 4, 2012. She informed the Vatican that she does not dispute their "judgment" of her book and stated that the book "was not intended to be an expression of current official Catholic teaching, nor was it aimed specifically against this teaching," adding that the book is a different genre.
Through its historical explorations of general and particular Christian sexual ethical principles, and its consideration of similar principles across many religious traditions, this book offers contemporary interpretations of traditional meanings for the human body, gender, and sexuality. It aims to take account of both traditional and present-day scientific, philosophical, theological, and biblical resources. It takes seriously, also, human experience in the realm of sexuality- experience that can be either affirmative or negative, constructive or destructive. Ultimately, in this book I propose a framework for sexual ethics that uses criteria of justice in evaluating true and faithful sexual relationships and activities. In doing so, I offer not only ideals for human sexual relations, but also some absolute requirements.
She added that she designed her book to get people to think through their questions concerning sexuality. She wrote it to get people to move beyond taboo morality to a morality based on "discernment of what counts as wise, truthful, and recognizably just loves", whether through the Bible or through an effort to understand "concrete reality" and "natural law".
She then closed her statement by politely telling the Vatican she does not care what they say, because it is her book, her opinion, her position, and her arguments, which are not against anyone. She also told the Vatican, their notification also misrepresents the aims of her book.
I only regret that in reporting my positions on select "Specific Problems" in sexual ethics, the Notification does not also consider my arguments for these positions. Nor does it render my positions in terms of the complex theoretical and practical contexts to which they are a response. Hence, I fear the Notification– while clear in its conclusions– misrepresents (perhaps unwittingly) the aims of my work and the nature of it as a proposal that might be in service of, not against, the church and its faithful people.