Home / News / The Vatican inquisition of nuns continues as it criticizes Margaret Farley and her book for not adhering to Catholic doctrine concerning sex
The Vatican inquisition of nuns continues as it criticizes Margaret Farley and her book for not adhering to Catholic doctrine concerning sex

The Vatican inquisition of nuns continues as it criticizes Margaret Farley and her book for not adhering to Catholic doctrine concerning sex

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.

About Mriana

Mriana is a humanist and the author of "A Source of Misery", who grew up in the Church of God, Anderson Indiana. After she became an adult, she joined the Episcopal Church, but later left the Church and became a humanist. She has two grown sons and raises cats. Mriana raised her sons in the Episcopal Church, but in their teen years, they left the Church and she soon followed. One of her sons became a "Tao Buddhist" and the other a None, creating his own world view. She enjoys writing, reading, science, philosophy, psychology, and other subjects. Mriana is also an animal lover, who cares for their welfare as living beings, who are part of the earth. She is a huge Star Trek fan in a little body.
  • Not to sound like Bro. Sam, but…  God damn!  I feel like I'm in the book Golden Compass!

    • Deborah_B

       I loved the Golden Compass!  Too bad they were unable to produce the sequels.

      At the rate the Catholic Church is going, my guess is that more and more younger people in the industrialized nations will have nothing to do with it.  This could be why the church is trying to impose its "religious liberty" via legislation — With the sex scandals, financial corruption, and recent shift for fundamentalism, it's hard to imagine the church thriving for much longer.

      • I loved it too.  There is a whole series of Golden Compass books, but yes, I wish they could have made a sequel to the movie too.

        I think that is why it is doing these things too.  They want to regain power and control, but I believe it will backfire on them.  They are trying to blame the more liberal nuns for the decline in Catholics, but in reality it is these archaic choke hold rules they impose on people.  That's my opinion at least.

  • The pedophile perverts at the Vatican said what?

  • Rob S

    If you don't like club rules, either change the rules or get out of the club.  It ain't rocket science and there is no club standing between God and the individual.  "Well Lord, I was a Catholic just before that car crash… that's got to count for something, right?  Ten points maybe?"


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  • This is so wrong and I also read in reddit that there are people fighting this sin and I am not guilty of this one but I don't know if my husband is. Ah ha , best to just read the bible to him and pray together. Resist the devil and he will flee. from you.

    • What sin are you talking about?

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  • Eweber3538

    The Sister Farley has a obligation to follow Catholic teachings.  She can join the church of the What's Happinin' Now if she wishes.  but just like every other Catholic, if she teaches heresy she is likely to be criticized.  Pelosi, all the Kennedys, Biden etc are constantly criticized by practicing Catholics for their support of abortion and homosexual marriage.As for people leaving the Catholic Church because of her rigid teachings, whole diocese of Episcopalians  are converting to the 2000 year old Church founded by Christ. At 1.2 billion and growing, the Catholic Church must continue to teach the truth.  Just for the record, there are approx 65,000 different Christian religions. Each of them has a slightly different take on the Bible, but since the Catholic Church is responsible for painstakingly safeguarding its contents since the Canon of Scripture was determined by the Church, I suggest at least some rspect. I suggest that all Christians remember that the first 50 popes were murdered for their beliefs, that St Ignatius of Antioch was martyred in 107AD for saying Mass, that 60,000 Catholic martyrs were killed during the Dometian persecutions, that in 732, Charles De Tours stopped the Muslim attack on Europe, that 800 years later the Catholic Church won the greatest naval battle in 2000 years know as the Battle of Lepanto when an inferior Christian fleet destroyed a powerful Muslim fleet.  Each Catholic sailor donned Rosary Beads and prayed to Our Lady before the battle.

    You may criticize and even hate the Catholic Church if you wish (as demonstrated by some entries), but never remain ignorant of Catholic History.  It is truly the hstory that lead to our great Western Civilization.

    • From what I gather, she is following the teachings of the Catholic Church as assigned to her.  The poor was her assignment and no one told her to do anything else.

      I don't think whole Episcopal Dioceses are converting to the RCC, in fact, I know they aren't.  Not sure where you get your information, but it's not accurate.  Personally, I like the Episcopal Church and I'd probably go back again if I believed the fantasy.

      What I don't get is, where did you read any criticism of the RCC in that report?  I have respect for the penguins, if they are truly helping the poor that is, and some I was friends with in the Episcopal Church. Yes, the Episcopal Church has penguins running around too and they took my teasing well, in part because they knew I was teasing them.  From what I've read of Sister Farley and the others, I can respect them and what they are doing, esp for the poor.  If you noticed, I slipped in her title in the very first sentence, even though she didn't use it.

      However, if you want to see criticism…

      As a side note, I also have respect for the retired Episcopal Bishop Fr John Shelby Spong, Fr. Tom Harpur, and Fr Gene Robinson, only to name a few.  I also happen to know the teachings of the Episcopal/Anglican Church very well- both the liberal and the conservative branches.  I also happen to know Catholic history too AND that the king, centuries ago, wanted a divorce instead of beheading his umpteenth wife, so… since the pedophile pope didn't want to grant him that divorce, he asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to form the English [Catholic] Church, otherwise known as the Anglican Church and thank goodness too, because I probably would have had to behead my ex-husbands and we all know how that goes in this modern age.  My divorces were granted and IF I so chose, I can marry again [in the Church], if I want or since the State gave me my divorces, I can marry in the whoever I want in the Secular world.

      The Catholics for Choice are really smart and very well educated people.  You could learn a lot from them, as well as the Anglican Church.  Medical science is great, esp since we have the ability to keep from overpopulating the earth.  We've already been fruitful and multiplied.  We don't need to continue doing it and if the Catholic Church wants to keep people in the Dark Ages and women chained the house, as well as rape children, then it's a good thing that people are leaving the Catholic Church.

      If things get too rough and Sister Farley continues to believe, she can always convert to the Episcopal Church and be a nun there.  Seems a better option for her, IMO.  Then again, if the Catholic Church ordained women, then maybe that would cut down on the child rape.

      You wanted criticism, there you go, you got it, my article did not criticize.  It just stated the facts, but Pope Darth Vader knows where he can stick his misogyny, as far as I am concerned.

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