One of the most respected Catholic theologians in the United States has been severely critiqued by the Vatican for one her most recent books. Margaret A. Farley, RSM, who teaches moral theology at Yale Divinity School, and has served as a mentor for generations of Catholic theologians, has been critiqued for her book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, published in 2006. Sister Margaret has served as past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, and was also awarded (among her many awards) her peers' highest honor, the John Courtney Murray, SJ, Award. The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has condemned her book for its presentation of several topics: "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," read the CDF's Notification.
The Vatican's Notification read, in part: "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 full text of the Notification from the CDF is here.
Sister Margaret responded to the Notification in a statement released to NCR. "Although my responses to some particular sexual ethical questions do depart from some traditional Christian responses, I have tried to show that they nonetheless reflect a deep coherence with the central aims and insights of these theological and moral traditions. Whether through interpretation of biblical texts, or through an attempt to understand 'concrete reality' (an approach at the heart of 'natural law'), the fact that Christians (and others) have achieved new knowledge and deeper understanding of human embodiment and sexuality seems to require that we at least examine the possibility of development in sexual ethics. This is what my book, Just Love, is about."
In reviewing the book for America in 2006, the Boston College moral theologian Lisa Sowle Cahill wrote, "This long-awaited work by America’s leading Catholic feminist theological ethicist, Margaret A. Farley, is the product of years of experience, reflection, scholarship and wisdom. Just Love is decisively shaped by Farley’s longstanding interests in the sexual equality of women and men, and of gay and straight couples; and, more recently, in advocacy for people affected by AIDS, especially women in Africa. Just Love’s thesis is that justice is central to sexual morality, especially justice in the sense of respect for the real identity and needs of the other....As a theologian, Farley gives us a social ethic of sex that incorporates both the biblical 'option for the poor' and the orientation of Catholic social thought to the universal common good. As a feminist, she reminds Catholics that their tradition should make its global option for women more consistent, more explicit and more effective, especially in the areas of sex, motherhood, marriage and family."
Margaret Farley is an immensely well respected theologian and scholar, and is a revered mentor for many Catholic theologians. It would be difficult to overstate her influence in the field of sexual ethics, or the esteem in which she is held by her colleagues. With this stinging critique, the Vatican has again signaled its concern about theologians writing about sexual morality. This Notification will certainly sadden Sister Margaret's many colleagues, her generations of students, and those many Catholics who have profited by her decades of reflection on the faith. It will also, inevitably, raise strong emotions among those who already feel buffeted by the Vatican's Apostolic Visitation of Catholic sisters in the US, and its intervention into the LCWR