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James Martin, S.J.June 04, 2012

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

NCR also has an extensive list of reactions from prominent Catholic theologians here.  And Michael Peppard provides an analysis of the CDF Notification on Dotcommonweal. 

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Beth Cioffoletti
11 years 6 months ago
I was astounded, reading the Vatican's specific problems with Sr. Farley's teaching.  They first cite masturbation, saying that while Sr. Farley teaches that masturbation should not be moral issue, the Vatican counters that the Church firmly maintains that masturbation is an instrinsically and gravely disordered action.

Hmmm.  This is even before we get to the teachings on homosexuality, marriage and divorce.  It sounds to me like the very sexual nature of our beings is being called "wrong".

It is one thing to be chaste, and quite another to deny the primal energy of our unconscious. 

If we are ever to grow into fully human beings, all of that dark, sexual, and mostly unconscious energy has to be accepted and integrated into our knowing of who we are.  Refraububg from masturbation may not prevent this growth and integration, but forbidding it will almost certainly suppress it.
Beth Cioffoletti
11 years 6 months ago
sorry, typo in comment above:

"Refraububg" should be "Refraining."
Robert Killoren
11 years 6 months ago
Using the heart of love and the brains that Jesus has given us, how can we as a Church simply toss out Sister's exploration of sexual ethics? The Vatican is exercising this take it or leave it attitude on more and more topics. And it always is centered on sexuality. Natural Law? I realize that is a highly technical study but the essence is that the way God made the universe can instruct our thoughts on morality and existence itself. Natural law may be immutable, but how do we know that the Church has really interpreted it rightly in the past? There is an abundance of examples where the Church has had to reconsider its stance on the natural way of things. On things that we cannot know without the Church, like the incarnation, resurrection, and Trinity, then to a great extent we have to rest on revelation and tradition. (I think even in this area, through theological study and exploration, we can find deeper understanding of God and fine-tune our beliefs.) But there has been no revelation regarding masturbation, homosexuality, premarital sex, or even what constitutes a sacramental marriage between to people in the eyes of God, otherwise how could be condone annulments? Scriptures have erroneously been applied on these topics but separating revelation from human prejudices (pre-judgments) of the culture and traditions in biblical times especially within the Jewish culture. What is unnatural about masturbation? Rather isn't it a most natural thing? Our understanding is changing about homosexuality is changing as well. I believe we now know that it is not a conscious choice, that it is not genetic or learned, that it is not something that an individual can change, and that it has been around for as long as humans have. It is rooted in the very identity of a person, it is who that person is. And it cannot be defined by what genitals a person has. Otherwise what do we do with individuals who have both male and female parts. Finally everything that I have learned about God and Jesus' teachings emphasize one thing - love. I'm not sure that anyone in the Vatican really knows what that means beyond some idealistic concept that exists in their fantasy world. The love Jesus taught is based in the real world and comes out of human beings living together day after day. If we stop searching for what that love means how can we be following Jesus' words? What the Church is asking us to do is stop the search in matters of sexuality, morality, human identity, human relationships.
Lisa Fullam
11 years 6 months ago
Margaret Farley is a deeply respected scholar who has devoted her career to pursuing questions of pastoral as well as academic importance. Just Love is notable for its consideration of the under-appreciated question of justice as it pertains to questions of sexual ethics. It’s a marvelous work.
What the CDF seems to have done (again!–this was key to the attack on Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler’s work The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology as well,) is to assume that any deviation from current magisterial teaching on sexuality MUST be in error. The effect of this approach is to regard teachings that are nowhere in magisterial teaching defined as irreformable as de facto irreformable. But magisterial teaching on sexual issues does, in fact, change. It does so in part as a result of careful and faithful scholarship like Farley’s.
Further, this kind of notification creates the impression that theological argumentation informed by the best available human knowledge–theological, scientific, artistic, experiential–is irrelevant to magisterial teaching. It implies that questions once settled, and argued in light of now-obsolete understandings of the human person, are settled forever. Thomas Aquinas spins in his grave.
Craig McKee
11 years 6 months ago
What a sad way for the Vatican to commemorate the 23rd anniversary of the BEIJING MASSACRE in Tiananmen Square, June 4, 1989.

Thank you, Sister, for imagining a world of sexual ethics where the words
are not used to CONDEMN real, live HUMAN relationships.

Memo to CDF:
Your charge that Sister Farley ''either ignores the constant teaching of the Magisterium or, where it is occasionally mentioned, treats it as ONE OPINION AMONG OTHERS'' is more of a self-fulfilling prophecy on your part than an accurate appraisal of her work in the ecumenical forum. In the even wider marketplace of global ideas, the Roman Catholic Church's newfound fundamentalism masquerading as a so-called ''New Evangelization'' will ultimately be found wanting not for its lack of rational content or pastoral context, but for its NEGATIVE gyne-pological point de depart.
Adrienne Krock
11 years 6 months ago
Two comments:

1- Published in 2006 and they're just NOW getting around to commenting on it 6 years later?? 6 YEARS?? If they're looking for PR to make it look like they're creating a war against women religious, they're doing a really good job. If they're not, they need a new PR team.

2- I very much appreciated the following observation from http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/?p=19254 -

''Who gets to say what? Sr. Farley’s book is quite clear to point out when her own opinion differs from magisterial teaching, ...
She’s not the only prominent theologian to do so. Pope Benedict XVI — writing under his scholarly name, Joseph Ratzinger — has published two books on Jesus of Nazareth. In the introductory pages and throughout the text, he makes clear that he speaks in these pages as an individual scholar ...
By his favorable quotations of the noncanonical Gospel of Thomas or his questioning of the historical veracity of Matthew’s Passion Narrative, will faithful Christians be led astray?''


11 years 6 months ago
Expect an Amazon.com bump-up for another book censured or criticized by the hierarchy.
I will put it on my "wish list."
Thomas Farrell
11 years 6 months ago
Just recently the CDF issued its critique of the LCWR, which Pope Benedict XVI had approved in January 2011.

Now the CDF, presumably with Pope Benedict's approval, has issued its critique of Sister Margaret Farley's book JUST LOVE.

It kind of looks like that Vatican has declared war of women religious.
Matthew Keppel
11 years 6 months ago
I would like to state that I have not read Sr. Foley's book, nor do I really intend to read it. Not out of spite do I say this, but merely to preface what I am about to say. 

The censure of the book by the CDF is within their duty if the above stated topics are true. The Catholic Church does not want people to stand on street corners with the Catholic logo on their chest teaching theology that is not their own. This is just simple fact. It's not a matter of opinion on what the Church teaches about sexual morality. Each of the topics in question in this book (as it would seem to me) are covered in the Catechism. This action is simply the CDF maintaining consistency in social teaching. I can only assume that an action like this is why Benedict and his predecessor, Bl. John Paul II, placed these men AND women in their positions in the CDF. 

In terms of what the CDF and the Catachism calls "disordered" is not to be confused with the connotation of what the modern psychologists mean by disordered. This word is to be taken at face value. Masturbation, homosexual behavior, contraception (which I assume falls under the preferention option for the poor), and premarital sex are out of the Natural Law because they do not lend toward procreation. Not that all sexual actions need to end in procreation, but the openness for the life of a child needs to be there. 

I also do not believe this or any recent actions of the Vatican to be an affront on women religious, as many seem to be unaffected by the recent visitations by the Church officials. It seems that this is the Church finally taking interest in the goings on of the American Church rather than just the goings on of the Old World. 

This was merely my observations and attempt to bring a balance to what has been an overwhelmingly negative opinion on this matter.
John Harrison
11 years 6 months ago
I am grateful that the Vatican has finally begun the process of exercising some responsible fraternal correction for theologians who believe it their role to distort and disabuse the Church's teachings on human sexuality.  It is certainly regrettable that these corrections have to be vetted in public, but that process was chosen by Sr. Farley's public scandal for the teachings in this book.

I am also not the least surprised that the comments above attack with particular puzzlement the Vatican's critic of her permissive teaching on the subject of masterbation.  If a Cathoic cannot understand this basic tennent of human sexuality - that our sexual fecundity is intended as Gift, and not as a self-centered pleasure principle - then indeed you will not understand the integrated teaching on human sexuality that the Church provides.  Once you disintegrate the sexual powers of humanity to mere pleasure and self-fulfillment, then all other aspects of the human person will eventually be degraded by that same utilitarian filter; and we will no longer be considered as being made "...in the Image and Likeness of God."
William Bradford
11 years 6 months ago
Yes, Diane. And meanwhile, Cardinal Law, who fled my beloved Boston to avoid prosecution for hiding pedophile priests, was protected by the Vatican for nine years, and is now leading the charge against American sisters. The Vatican has ceded the moral high ground and is nothing but hollow, cranky bones. This pontiff, nor his minions, represent the teachings of the Church. They are wolves in sheep's clothing.

And I'm with Craig. It too SIX YEARS to read Sister Farley's book?

'But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, ''Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites?''' (Mat. 22)
Vince Killoran
11 years 6 months ago
At this rate Catholic colleges and universities should just close up shop and be replaced with CCD classes for adults.  No more intellectual work, no more search for clairification, the testing of knowledge, or creation of new knowledge. No more putting doctrine under intellectual scrutiny. I guess we don't need context or to consider dissenting notions that might help to strenghen our faith. Forget about exploring the outer bounds of acceptable doctine and the use of natural reason.  No more ideas.
Tim O'Leary
11 years 6 months ago
Who exactly is the side that is preoccupied with sex? Who decided to write a book about sex? Who wants to legitimize anal sex? Or every possible activity, no matter how dangerous to health and heart and soul. It is the liberal theologians in the West that are trying in every possible way to curry favor with their non-Catholic peers. All the CDF is trying to do is maintain a reasonable amount of truth in advertising. If one has the views of Sr. Farley, like Hans Kung and Charles Curren in the past, they should be clearly labeled not-Catholic. They should not teach Catholic courses. There are plenty of non-Catholic posts for them to spread their opinions.
david power
11 years 6 months ago

I respect what you write and how you write it but you do not seem to consider ever that maybe the hierarchy could be wrong.
Those who bash the CDF are on the other extreme in that they never allow that they may have a point.
It is like the OK Corral here.
I read and re-read Love and Responsibility for a few years until I realized it is complete nonsense . I am dubious to the morality or immorality of any sexual act.
I agree with the first couple of posters that the Nile is more than just a river in Egypt.If you walk through Rome you will see everywhere the shifty eyes of clerics ,they resemble tightrope artists in the fearful look of one not wanting to fall into the abyss.Trust me Jesus is looking for a little more.
It is interesting also to see how people pour all of their moral stakes into some categories and not into others.The Nuns are being hauled over the coals for just this.Some would have us believe that there is no moral line when it comes to sex and that if you don't back socialized medicine you are going to Hell and others the opposite. I think that only those who have never had sex like Wojtyla or sister Farley want to jam it with notions like Justice (backlash ahead!).They should leave love and sex to the experts.   
Richard Lender
11 years 6 months ago
The Episcopal Church has embraced every sexual ethic that Sr. Farley is advocating - and more besides.

And on current trends, its numbers are declining so rapidly that at current rates of shrinkage it will cease to exist within twenty six years.

Is it not worth asking why denominations that have most aggressively embraced more libertine sexual ethics are in something close to demographic freefall, splintering repeatedly? Why should we believe that the Catholic Church would be any different?  

Yet these questions continue to be ignored or confronted among progressives of the sort that appear to constitute Fr. Martin's cheering section here and elsewhere.   
Frank Gibbons
11 years 6 months ago
Sister Margaret Farley was a signatory of the Catholics for Free Choice ad that was placed in the NY times on October 7, 1984. The second paragraph of that ad reads -
“Statements of recent Popes and of the Catholic hierarchy have condemned the direct termination of pre-natal life as morally wrong in all instances. There is the mistaken belief in American society that this is the only legitimate Catholic position. In fact, a diversity of opinions regarding abortion exists among committed Catholics.”
Congress just shot down a proposal that would have made it illegal to terminate "pre-natal" life based on sex selection. I doubt Sister Margaret's voice will raise her voice against this outrage.  For that matter, Commonweal and America have been silent as well.  
Robert Killoren
11 years 6 months ago
Mr Gibbons, the Trent Franks bill tried to make it the responsibility of MDs to determine if a particular abortion was being done for sex selection purposes and punish them if they don't. How would a doctor determine that? Franks' proposal was a non-starter and he knew it. It was nothing more than a publicity stunt. That is why no one raised a voice... Even the USCCB passed on that one. So it makes no sense to turn it into some kind of litmus test.
Tim O'Leary
11 years 6 months ago
David #17
I think you are right that the argument of many liberals is that there is no ''morality or immorality of any sexual act.'' Such a stance is certainly needed to justify homosexuality. That is not compatible with the words of Jesus or Christianity. 

Richard #18
You are correct that this amoral teaching leads to denominational decrease and death. It has been said that Sr. Farley was a creative writer but I think all her concepts had been said before by Episcopalians and Unitarians. 

Frank #19
I did not know that Sr. Farley advocated abortion. I do not think (I hope) Fr. Martin knew that, or he wouldn't have made the defense above.
William Lindsey
11 years 6 months ago
Vince, you say, ''At this rate Catholic colleges and universities should just close up shop and be replaced with CCD classes for adults.''

But surely CCD classes would be dangerous, too.

Wouldn't it be better to implant in all Catholic heads at the moment of baptism a chip that contains all Catholic answers to . . . everything?  And then have people repeat and repeat those answers?

Teaching poses dangers in and of itself.  All those vexing questions that may come along, the struggle to understand, interpret, and internalize.

Far better, it seems to me, to follow the implanted-chip and rote-repetition route to a consolidated and imposed-from-above notion of Catholic identity, and to offset the dangers posed by teachers, classes, teaching, classes, and texts.
Anne Chapman
11 years 6 months ago
#21 - ''Far better, it seems to me, to follow the implanted-chip and rote-repetition route to a consolidated and imposed-from-above notion of Catholic identity, and to offset the dangers posed by teachers, classes, teaching, classes, and texts.''

Yes - all activities that promote actual thinking should be banned from the Catholic world - this includes independent reading (anything without an imprimatur. Perhaps they should revive the Index of Forbidden Books), questioning, studying, attending lectures or discussions that feature or include non-Catholics and also anything from Catholics who think outside the catechism box. 

It seems that God was all wrong in creating human beings with minds and consciences.  The male celibates in Rome believe that only they should think. The church expects perpetual children, who neither think independently nor question, but simply say ''Yes, Father. If you say so.''

#19:  Please cite gospel passages where JESUS addressed homosexuality (not Paul, not Leviticus etc - JESUS in the gospels)?  Please also cite passages where he condemns birth control?  And while you're at it, where does JESUS discuss masturbation? Please use only JESUS's own words and do not repeat the convoluted teachings of ''natural law'' that is based on the thinking of ancient pagan philosophers.

Why do so many conservative Catholics get so upset about private sexual behavior that hurts nobody (masturbation, committed homosexual relationships, etc) but are so totally unconcerned about the proven reality that hundreds of bishops (and the current and previous popes) protected child molesters and rapists who sodomized and molested tens of thousands of young people, devastating many to the point that they later committed suicide? The bishops could have stopped the crime sprees and chose not to. The pope could have demanded resignations from bishops who enabled sexual criminals but he has chosen instead to reward  them.

 If the conservative Catholics were even 10% as concerned about priest rapists and their systematic protection by the hierarchy of this church as they are about private sexual behavior between consenting adults, the stench of hypocrisy might not be quite so obvious when they begin ranting about masturbation or committed homosexual couples who express their love physically. Real abuse of sex - including the rape of the young  by priests and enabled by bishops seems not concern the conservative Catholics at all. 
david power
11 years 6 months ago
Anne ,

Did you mean previous Pope or Popes?
I have never read about Montini or Roncalli actively covering up for pedophiles like Wojtyla. Even the situation with Fr Fitzgerald and his advice to the Vatican was never really shown to have gone to the Pope's desk.  
Leonard Villa
11 years 6 months ago
Respected by whom? Others who reject Catholic moral teaching? This is a matter of integrity. Don't hold yourself out to be a Catholic moral theologian let alone a religious if you reject Catholic teaching. That is dishonest. A theologian is a servant of the truth not its arbiter. This book is simply a surrender to tbe reigning Zeitgeist and an attempt to subvert the Church from within. 
Patricia Bergeron
11 years 6 months ago
Wait. If Sr. Farley's book calls for an approach to sexuality that is based on respect, equality, and commitment, how can the rapid conservatives accuse her of an "anything goes" attitude towards sex?

Speaking of commitment, I have married gay friends who have been together far longer than many heterosexual couples whose unions were sanctified in the church.
Anne Chapman
11 years 6 months ago
Tim O'Leary
11 years 5 months ago
William #21
I once met a paranoid schizophrenic who thought the CIA had inserted computer chips inside our brains to control our thoughts. I hope you are all right?
Anne #22
You are correct that St. Paul was most explicit in decrying same-sex fornication (Romans 1:24-27 - ''Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires...''), but that is because he was evangelizing in pagan cities like Rome, where the Jewish Law was not followed. The Jewish Law was not disputed among the Jews. But Jesus said several things that shed light on his position. When he said divorce was unacceptable, he described God’s definition of marriage from the beginning of creation as forever (no divorce) and between one man and one woman (Mark 10:5-9). He spoke out against fornication and adultery (Mk 7:21, Mt 15:19, and “go, sin no more” John 8:11) and used the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah as a warning on judgment of other cities who reject the Gospel. 

On the Law in the Torah (includes Leviticus), Jesus was most explicit in His Sermon on the Mount, when he said “Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matt 5:19). That's a pretty stern warning to the whole Church! The Church also has the obligation of pointing out when the teaching is being distorted and when certain moral or doctrinal opinions are non-Catholic. This is what it did in this situation with Sr. Farley.

As regards pedophilia (sodomy of minors) in the Church, it is an awful sin and a crime, and the priests (and even many more lay Catholics) who have committed such a crime should have the book thrown at them. And any priest or bishop, or psychologist or doctor who knowingly put children in danger should also be harshly dealt with. But defamation of innocent priests and bishops is also a crime, and appears to be the major preoccupation in some liberal Catholic quarters.

Of course, I am sure you agree that killing is worse than pedophilia, the ultimate child abuse, so don’t forget the millions of Catholic women who have aborted innocent children, or the doctors that did the killing. And I found out today that Sr. Farley gave her name to a 1984 ad put out by “Catholics for Choice”, a group dedicated to the ultimate child abuse. Was she endorsing abortion or just providing cover (protector?) for those that do? What took the CDF so long to address this scandal (defined by Fr. Martin recently as a stumbling block) ?http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Catholic_Statement_on_Pluralism_and_Abortion
John Harrison
11 years 5 months ago
@Michcael #23 - Your descriptions of Church teachings that have "changed" are a fine example of the distortion of history to create straw-man arguments. 

If there is one thing MOST consistent about the Catholic Church's teachings on human sexuality, it has been that you cannot separate the dual intrinsic meanings of the marital act from each other.  The Church, most recently with the leadership of Blessed John Paul II, has seen a flowering of understanding of the depth and power of the unitive meanings of the marital act.  It is a consequence of the Church's continued focus on bringing to the "modern" soul a deeper undstanding of what it means to be made "...in the Image and Likeness of God." 

 of doctrine is the constant work of the Holy Spirit, working through the Church, to provide guidance and illumination to the souls of the faithful.
Vince Killoran
11 years 5 months ago
"has seen a flowering of understanding of the depth and power of the unitive meanings of the marital act"

"Flowering": sounds like change over time.
Anne Chapman
11 years 5 months ago
Timothy (#30), you did not answer my questions - I asked you in post #22 to provide statements on masturbation, homosexuality, and birth control from JESUS himself, as reported in the gospels - I specifically asked that you NOT include statements from Paul, or Leviticus, the church's interpretation of ''natural law'' based on pagan philosphers in ancient Greece, or any words other than Jesus's own words.

 You have failed to do this, instead relying on secondary sources and inferences and interpretations.  Perhaps you can explain why you have failed to answer in the way requested?

Regarding the church's failure to not punish in any way (much less ''harshly'') there is ample evidence out there that many bishops hid the crimes of priest child molesters. Unless you have been living somewhere totally cut off from modern sources of communication for the last decade, it is difficult to believe that you are unaware of it. Avoiding direct answers to specific questions and also trying to steer a discussion in another direction by raising red herrings and strawmen and totally irrelevant side issues is often a clear signal that someone is attempting to duck the real issues being discussed.

You can take a short-cut to all the information that is out there (a mountain of it) about the hierarchy and Rome's enabling of child rape and molesting by its priests by going to bishopaccountability.org for links to original source material.  It is clear that the pope has not only protected bishops who protected priests, he has rewarded several of them, with Law and Levada being among the most prominent.  There is a great deal of information out there demonstrating that protecting priest molesters/rapists was the preferred course of action in Rome. This is extensively documented in the US and in Europe, especially in Ireland, where a great deal of documentation is available to read should you care enough to take the time. Reading the grand jury reports of the protection of priest/rapists in Philadelphia can turn your stomach, literally, but you should do it. Reading Cardinal Law's warm and grateful letter to a man (Geoghan) whom the cardinal finally retired for ''health'' reasons is sickening. ''Yours has been an effective life of ministry, sadly impaired by illness. On behalf of those you have served well, and in my own name,I would like to thank you. I understand yours is a painful situation. The Passion we share canv indeed seem unbearable and unrelenting... God bless you, Jack.'' [http://www.bishop-accountability.org/docs/boston/geoghan/doc_list.htm]  Comparing ''Jack's'' ''suffering with that of Christ? Is that not a form of blasphemy, Timothy? Geoghan molested more than 130 kids after being transferred from parish to parish to parish, without the diocese ever warning either the new pastor or the parish that this man was sick and should be turned over to the police.  bishopaccountability.org is a treasure trove of documentation of how bishops protected pedophiles and yet were never punished by Rome. Read it - that is if you care about the truth - about the reality of the roots of the ''scandal'' or sex abuse and its protection at the highest levels in the church.  Or would you rather just simply raise a few more red herrings and strawmen to divert attention?
Elizabeth Kilroy
11 years 5 months ago
Anne (33), regarding your first request-surely you do understand that Roman Catholics draw on more than ''Jesus' exact words'' in regard to Scripture (as do all Christian traditions that I know of)-that reading a text calls for interpretation, and that all Biblical scholars engage in same?  Asking someone to provide ''Jesus' own words'' about masturbation, et al., is about as effective as asking for ''Jesus' own words'' about the abolition of slavery, equality of women of men, and care for the environment.  Perhaps we should not interpret the Gospels in light of these issues, either?

The ''red herring'' is being provided by you, Anne.  The issue is this book, and teaching on sexuality, and whether the CDF was correct in saying that this book  ''cannot be used as a valid expression of Catholic teaching, either in counseling and formation, or in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.''  The sister herself says essentially the same thing-it's not consistent with Catholic teaching.  So, what, precisely, in the problem?  If a sister wrote a book that said, ''you know what? We really should never help the poor-in fact we should euthanize them!'', and the CDF said the same thing it does here, I think we'd all get it.  The vitriol I'm seeing on this page about the CDF saddens me because it shows how very far we've strayed from church teaching about human sexuality-personally, I appreciate the clarity of the CDF, as well as their careful consideration and lack of rush to judgment. And the book referenced only makes me feel more strongly that the recent concern about the LCWR is entirely justified.
Anne Chapman
11 years 5 months ago
#34, It was Mr. O'Leary who first brought Jesus into the discussion. As we all know, Jesus never discussed homosexuality, nor masturbation, nor birth control - among other things.  We all know that Leviticus is used very selectively in ''proof texting''   as are the writings of Paul himself and those letters attributed to Paul but most likely not written by him.  The church's dependence on and interpretation of ''natural law'' needs rethinking, as does much else it teaches. With many of its teachings rooted in the ideas and misunderstandings and cultural prejudices of ancient times (Jerome, Augustine,  Aquinas, Aristotle among others), the church has a moral responsibility not to simply look back uncritically but to be open to re-examining its ''traditional'' ''truths.''  Otherwise, it doesn't really seek ''Truth'', it seeks only to hold on to the past.

As far as Sr. Farley's book goes - she is not writing for the church - as an official spokesperson. She does not teach at a Catholic university. She is a scholar, an academic and it is her responsibility to ask questions and raise issues. She has specifically stated that her book does NOT represent official Catholic teaching - it seems that this is made clear to anyone reading it, and the book is not targeted to the mass market anyway - to those who have absolutely no knowledge of Catholic church teachings. Ratzinger  said something similar about one of his own books - that it represents his personal opinion, his personal musings and questions, and is not official Catholic teaching. She is a theologian as is Ratzinger - one commentator, Paul Lakeland, director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University, ''called Farley a “careful and caring” theologian, and said “it is the vocation of Catholic theologians and ethicists to work on the boundaries” of current doctrine.''  Another article about the book makes this point -''Some Catholic theologians said the Vatican censure pushed the question of what is the role of a theologian. Is it to be something akin to a lawyer for the pope, coming up with ever-better arguments in line with church leaders? Or an independent Catholic, holding oneself responsible to the tradition, but to call for revisions if they seem necessary?''

The article also notes that the Vatican itself has now ensured that far more people will be exposed to Sr. Farley's ideas than would have been had they not once again chosen to try to suppress thought  - the book rose in the Amazon sales rankings from 142,982 to #16 overall and #1 in ''theology''.  This kind of thought suppression is a red flag - these men are so afraid of individuals thinking for themselves, asking questions, pursuing ideas. Why the fear?  It's worth thinking about.

''If a sister wrote a book that said, 'you know what? We really should never help the poor-in fact we should euthanize them!', and the CDF said the same thing it does here, I think we'd all get it. ''

Your choice of words understates what you are saying - going way out into left field to try to tie together a book that discusses private sexual morality with murder (euthanizing the poor is killing the poor) simply illustrates how far some who defend the CDF are willing to go to divert the discussion from the actual issues under discussion. Thus sabotaging real discussion.

Comparing a program to deliberately kill poor people (as Hitler killed Jews AND gay people, without a peep from Rome about the evil being done) to rethinking the morality of private sexual behavior by adults that hurts nobody, much less deliberately causes their deaths, is a strawman. This is the same kind of diversion Mr. O'Leary is so prone to.  If you don't see that there are vastly different moral questions related to mass murder of the poor and masturbation, perhaps you should read Sister's book.
Michael Barberi
11 years 5 months ago
John #31:

No pope, bishop or theologian ever mentioned or wrote about an "inseparable connection between two meanings of the marital act" before 1960 (e.g., Wojtyla's 1960 Love and Responsibility (L&R) was the first), nor was there any evidence of such a suggestion in the PBCC documents (1964-1966).  This principle (HV, 12) was a novum and therefore it was nota constant teaching of the Church. As such, this principle cannot fall under the second objects of infallibility.

The conclusion of the 1980 Synod on the Family was highly misleading when John Paul II proclaimed that all the bishops were in harmony that Humanae Vitae was correct. If you check the historical evidence, many bishops argued strenuously for a modification based on many reasons, however, JP II would have no part of it and ignored the arguments of many bishops. A review of Wojtyla's  L&R and his Krakow Memorandum sent to Paul VI before he issued the encyclical HV, was his own words. 

Check your history and theology. 

As for the many teachings and doctrines that have been reformed, that is the point. History has demonstated that our "understanding of the truth" is progressive, not with respect to the fundamentals of our faith, but on some moral issues.
Elizabeth Kilroy
11 years 5 months ago

1. As you demand answers to your questions, I'd like one too:  should we abandon all theological viewpoints not rooted in Jesus' exact words?  Yes, or no?

2.  Analogies need not match in all parts to be accurate.  Indeed, though, some forms of birth control are murderous (e.g., the mini-Pill), and pretending sexual morality in entirely private can have deadly results, so my analogy is much more accurate than you're willing to credit.

3.  Your statement that Rome did nothing during the Holocaust shows your willingness to lie to advance an argument and refusal to argue in good faith-how unfortunate. If you're interested in why you're wrong, I'd be happy to provide you with information about the heroic actions of Pope Pius XII.  Hint:  there's a reason why the Rabbi of Rome, when he converted to Catholicism, took Pius' real name as his own baptismal one.

Lots of herrings, little meat.  Perhaps you need to read a little history, and some science books while you're at it?

Michael Barberi
11 years 5 months ago
Image and symbolism has a place in moral theology. John Paul II used philosophical anthropology and symoblism to proclaim, as a moral absolute, "God's procreatived plan"....the natural rhythms of the body. He believed tha love between spouses is like Christ's love for his Church. 

Christ’s love for His Church is a perfect love in all of its aspects: unconditional, trustful, totally self-giving, profoundly fruitful, one and inseparable, universal and unchanging, merciful, benevolent, enlightening, guarding, ruling and guiding. However, it is metaphoric speculation that spouses that do not adhere to this perfect love are not practicing true marital love, as symbolized in coitus, by a total self-giving and openness to procreation under all circumstances, and in every act of coitus. Wojtyla had a moral imagination, but “imagination enables theology to resist the constant temptation towards absolutizing….and if we are to accept the priority of symbol over intellect, then theology has an important role to play in ensuring that the image does not become the only word, or the last word. 

No one truly knows God’s procreative plan and the inseparability principle, as mentioned, was not a constant teaching of the Church but a novum. One could easily argue that the underlying presumptions and philosophies of the Inseparability Principle and God’s Design are too much of a moral certitude. They leave no room for the multidimensiality of conjugal love, marriage and procreation in the practice of responsible parenthood.  

Consider the Church’s answer to the common case of a young woman who has 3 children and is told that another pregnancy will be life threatening. She cannot take the pill or be sterilized because she is told that this is immoral. In this case, the hierarchy of values seems to be turned upside down. The decision to use the prudent and safest method to prevent conception and safeguard her life is less important and morally irrelevant in comparison to a decision to use risky PC to ensure that every marital act has a procreative meaning. Furthermore, the Church’s answer to this moral dilemma, namely, “the heroic virtue of PC or celibacy” seems like stoic insensibility and highly irresponsible in contrast to preserving the life of a young mother of 3 children. 
Tom Maher
11 years 5 months ago
The Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite write in defense of Sister Margaret Farley and her book in the Wahington Post of June 5, 2012 "The Vatican has once again sharply critiicized a nun, this time for writing on sexual ethics."  She then give plenty of free advice to the Church from her astounding outside perspective and interpretations of what the Church is or should be. For example "The question really is whether, finally, the Vatican even belongs to the Catholic Church as it is emerging in this dynamic time. "  She may have hit the nail on the head.  It does seem that the nuns are saying "We do not need any stinking Vatican"  Thistlethwaite beleives that Vatican II effectively abolished any leadership in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is just one big community of baptized individuals without any need for leadership such as the Vatican.  This is the source of sympathy for Sister Farley's very independent views on sexual morality. 

This is the problem.  The Church even after Vatican II needs and does have centralized authority and leadership that does look after things it deems important such as doctrinal integrity and authenticity. Otherwise we would have imaginative but contradictory ideas all the time confusing everyone about what Catholic faith and morals are.
Tim O'Leary
11 years 5 months ago
Anne #35
I think you misinterpreted my reference to Jesus in #19. I was referring to the first sentence, on David's quote in #17 (re sexual immorality). My point was that Jesus firmly taught a sexual morality. But, I agree with Elizabeth (#34) that there are many sins and crimes that Jesus never mentioned (I still think my post at #30 gets to the position of Jesus). Only a fundy (and a peculiar fundy at that) would limit Christian teaching to the words of Jesus, and not his followers, who wrote the Gospels and the Letters.

As to your drive-by-hit on Pius XII (not exactly on message here), you might look at this site for a quick summary of contemporary quotes praising the Pope for his courage and efforts at saving the 860,000 in Italy. http://users.binary.net/polycarp/piusxii.html. It might give you pause to believe what you read on those attacking the Church today. Of course, none of these quotes are from Jesus either, so they may not suffice as evidence for you.

Michael ##36 & 38
Surely, you are not saying that contraception was only thought to be immoral in 1960? You know all sides of the Reformation believed it thus, even if the analogies change. And it was St. Paul who first came up with the analogy of married love as that between Christ and His Church. The Pope was following the Apostle to the Gentiles.
John Harrison
11 years 5 months ago
Michael @#36.  You appear to infer that the lastest growth in understanding of human sexuality - particularly from JPII - is somehow novel, and as such, provides some example of hypocrisy toward the censure of Sr. Farley, since she purports to ''expand'' the Church's ''understanding'' of human sexuality.  It is a conclusion based on a notion that Sr. Farley's writings are equal in weight and content to papal teaching - an amusing concept, to be sure.

I've never really understood the ''ah-ha'' stance many critics of the Church seem to take when they ''discover'' a development of doctrine and decide to call it a ''change'' in doctrine.  A full reading of Casti Conubii reveals that, in as much as Pius XI could explain for his day, he began to open up a fuller explanation of the ''other'' element of the marital union - the unitive meaning that Paul VI enumerated - that is clearly designed by God to be the ''glue'' or bond of Marriage.  Not finding the exact same language in a document from 1930 is not a surprise - indeed it would be ridiculous to expect the language to be the SAME as what Paul VI used for Humanae Vitate, or John Paul II used for the Theology of the Body.

Your issue, like most critics in this area, is not with the teaching per se, but with the authority of the Church to teach in this area.  That is, you appear to be very much of the more humanist mindset whereby we decide what our sexual powers mean for ourselves, and the Church has no business in pronouncing on matters sexual.

In reality, if the Church is to be believed as a ''Truth-telling thing'', then this area of human experience is perhaps the MOST important area of her teaching.
Michael Barberi
11 years 5 months ago

I was referring to HV, 12 the inseparability prinicple. See my response to John below for more information.


I never said or implied that Sr. Farley's theory is equal or superior to JP II. You tend to read into comments far more than what is said especially comments from those who disagree with a Church teaching. You never give any creditabiity to serious theologians and informed laypersons that their disagreement with some sexual ethical teachings, such as Humanae Vitae (HV), can be based on legitimate philosophical and theological arguments. You want to make the entire argument about "authority".

Paul VI's HV, especially the most important inseparability prinicple, was a novum. No pope, theologian, or bishop ever proposed as a moral prinicple an inseparability principle before 1960. It was Wojtyla's thinking in his 1960 book Love and Responsibility that was formulated in the early to mid 1950s when he was professor of moral theology and social ethics at the Catholic University of Lubin. HV, 12 changed the focus from the ends of marriage to the ends of a marial act. This was never a constant teaching of the Church, and it was Paul VI who used this "constant teaching of the Church argument" to reject the Majority Report. Talk about a contradition in principle...you have it here.

A full reading of Casti Cannubii must be put into its context if you want to draw conclusions. Up until that time, contraception was about coitus interruptus and the condom. It was based on Augustine's notion of human sexuality. From ancient times to about the 15th century, coitus interruptus was considered quasi-homicide based on erroneous biology about the male seed and procreation. The female's only contribution was her vessel. Casti Connubii did not address the rhythm method and this method was disputed as a "manipulation" by many bishops and theologians for then next 20 years. It was only after WW II and the explosion of births that many Catholics wanted a more effective means of birth regulation that pressured Pius XII in 1951 to approve the rhythm method. 

Cast Cannubbi (CC) did not "break new ground" and start the thinking about the two meanings of the marital act and its inseparable connection. Far from it. Pius XI was talking about the "ends of marriage", not the "ends of a marital act". Give me the section and quotations to support your rethoric. You also assert the inseparability principle and Periodic Continence as the only licit means of birth regulation is God's procreative plan. Give me a break. CC never implied such an assertion. It was Paul VI (e.g., Wojtyla) that called it God's plan. It was based on philosophical anthopology and symbolism. It was speculation and yet it was proposed as a moral absolute. That is the problem. It was "too much of a moral certitude" and did not give sufficient justice to the multidimensionality of marriage, love and procreation.

This blog is not meant to argue in detail about HV or authority. I wanted to point out that the Church needs to be open to new thinking (such as Sr. Farley's book), not to blindly accept it, but to reflect on it in a spirit of striving to understand the truth. As mentioned, history has taught us that our understanding of truth is progressive, not the fundamentals of our faith, but on certain moral issues. You want everyone to think that disagreement is all about authority and ill conceived notions of truth and morals. This issue is much more complex than your rhetoric.

Informed Catholics that disagree with a Church teaching are not "picking and choosing the teachings that suite their individiual and personal relationships" as you imply. Neither are they all dismissing authority. Most Catholics give respect to Church teachings, but disagree for good reasons. They are not all invincibly ignorant, adhere to a theology of individualism and relativism, or are the victims of the evils of the secular world.
11 years 6 months ago
This book was published in 2006. Why has the Vatican let this apparent evil/heresy/whatever float free for six years? Were the Inquisitors out to one of those long Roman lunches?
Jerry Slevin
11 years 6 months ago
Some of the comments here assume you can accept at face value and in good faith statements from the Vatican. The clear revelations from the now ending Philly criminal trial of Cardinal Rigali's former top aide indicate that this is an unacceptable assumption.

For more on the Vatican's approach. please read, "Philadelphia Criminal Trial Has Now Fully Exposed Catholic Leadership Worldwide", accessible at:

Patricia Bergeron
11 years 6 months ago
Of course I meant ''rabid'' conservatives, not ''rapid.'' Although come to think of it, these people are often quite ''rapid'' when it comes to casting the first stone. 
Vince Killoran
11 years 5 months ago
John writes that "you appear to be very much of the more humanist mindset whereby we decide what our sexual powers mean for ourselves, and the Church has no business in pronouncing on matters sexual."

I think you've missed the point by reducing everything to "you guys just want to do your own thing." In fact, the relationship is much more complicated.  For starters, you've left out two fundamental aspects of Catholic faith formation, i.e., freedom of conscience and sensus fidelium. It's not the "authority" to teach; rather, it's the reception of the teachings that is at issue.

On another matter, I don't see  you point that "in as much as Pius XI could explain for his day, he began to open up a fuller explanation of the 'other' element of the marital union" as providing compelling proof to refute Michael's point.
Tim O'Leary
11 years 5 months ago
Michael #43
It seems that the advent of widespread chemical contraceptives changed dramatically the secular understanding of marital acts (as most feminists claim), so that the new situation would require more explicit definition of the inseparability of the procreative and unitive purposes, even though it could have been implicit or even unstated before. The Trinity doctrine became more defined over centuries to address heresies, although the doctrine was implicit from the beginning in the words of Jesus. This has also happened with the advent of genetic testing and ultrasound, which makes possible the new horror of aborting children for the sole reason of their sex or race or disability (the radical feminists have made the womb the most dangerous place in the life of a girl, and 90% of Down’s fetuses are now aborted!).

John Harrison (#41) is right about Casti Connubii, in my opinion. Here are some quotes you asked for in #43:
   CC 56 declared that the Anglicans (Lambeth Conference) were “openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition” in what was then a very narrow and limited approval of contraception (as even the Anglicans, completely unprotected by the gift of infallibility, were unaware that they had in fact opened the floodgates, that led to today’s epidemics of extramarital sex, infidelity, divorce, abortion, birth dearth, venereal disease, AIDS, etc… ).
   CC 45 reiterates that “The primary end of marriage is the procreation and the education of children.” But, the encyclical also (some say it was the first time mentioned in a papal document, breaking new ground) recognized the secondary, unitive moral purpose of the act of intercourse, not just marriage. See the next quote.
   CC 59 “Nor are those considered as acting against nature who in the married state use their right in the proper manner although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth. For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved.”

This seems to be a clear connection of the procreative and unitive purposes (45 & 59 together). But, maybe honest minds can differ. In any case, as there was continued debate (and political and social pressure), Pope Paul VI, chose to be more explicit in Humanae Vitae (HV 12), declaring the inseparability of the unitive and procreative purposes of each marital act.

Irrespective of where he got the idea (from the saintly genius, Wojtyla, or the French Jesuit in the “Minority Report” of the Birth Control Commission, etc., or the Holy Spirit), isn’t that how divine inspiration is supposed to work – the Magisterium makes the final call after listening to all sides, taking everything into account, and after much prayer and searching. It is not by a democratic vote, nor by an aristocratic intelligentsia. Many Church teachings have been resisted for many decades or longer by sizable and even majority numbers (e.g. Gnosticism, Pelagianism, Arianism). But HV is now settled Catholic teaching, through several papacies, in several encyclicals, and in the Catechism.
Michael Barberi
11 years 5 months ago

First, let me say that your response is much appreciated since it is factual (but a misunderstanding) and not so divisive in tone. This is the type of civil dialogue that brings forward new ideas, educates and enlightens. I encourage more of it.

There are several issues you raised that I disagree with and below are my reasons.

1. The pill introduced a dilemma into the tradition because it was not interfering in the marital act per se. It was temporarily suspending ovulation. Tradition changed over the centuries in terms of the "ends of marriage" but not contraception. However, the root of contraception is the Onan Story (Genesis 38) and this is controversial, but I will not belabor this point. The issue about coitus interruptus was grounded in erroneous biology. The male seed was thought to contain all the elements of a potential human being. The only contribution of the female was her vessel. Thus, coitus interruptus was considered quasi-homicide from ancient times until the 15th-16th century.

When rubber was vulcanized and condoms became widely available around 1850, this was condemned for the same reasons that coitus interruptus was. The male seed had to be deposited in its proper place for procreation. This lasted until the 1930s when science discovered more information about the fertility-infertility nexus, and the rhythm method was introduced. 

2. Casti Cannubii (CC) was written for 3 reasons, the Angilical pronouncement, a call for revision of the teaching in the German Catholic periodical Hochland in June, 1930; and a growing uneasiness among Roman theologians that in practice priests were not enforcing the teaching.

CC45 reinterated Augustine's teaching where the only licit reason for sexual intercourse in marriage was procreation. The so-called secondary "end of marriage" was mutual aid between the spouses, as in love, but moderate pleasure was also permitted (tolerated). Pius XI never mentioned an end of a marital act, or for that matter two ends and their inseparability. Nor was there any writings after CC that implied such a "turn". In fact, rhythm was never mentioned because it was a dilberate act to manipulate the fertility-infertility nexus to ensure that procreation was impossible in the act of sexual intercourse in marriage. It was sharply debated for the next 20 years.

CC59 talks about natural law and the inviolability of natural ends. It was only recently that many tradition-minded theologians agreed that Aquinas never believed that violating a natual end or consequence of an act was forbidden and immoral. If you want to read an explication of this, try William F. Murphy's "Forty Years Later: Arguments in Support of Humanae Vitae in Light of Veritatis Spendor, Josephium Journal of Theology 14 (2007). Bill is a friend of mine, and one of my mentors, but we disagree over much of HV.

3. It took Pius XII to pronounce in 1951 that rhythm was permissible. Then came Vatican II and it changed the definition of the "ends of marriage" by declaring that love and procreation were the ends of marriage but did not mention (dilberately) that there were primary and secondary ends. Thus, we now had two ends of "marriage" that were equal. 

4. HV turned the entire discussion of marriage and procreation from the historical tradition. Now the doctrine of marriage was not about ends of marriage pe se, but on the ends of the marital act. HV 12, not only was a novum compared to "tradition" but it was also declared to be "Divine Law". Thus HV 12, the inseparable connection, and HV 13, faithfulness to God's Design were linked. However, it was not until JP II's Theology of the Body that someone was able to explain how this was possible. JP II, followed his life long philosopy, expressed in 1960 book Love and Responsibility. In the TOB he used philosophical anthropology and symbolism to define God's procreative plan, manifested in the language and grammar of the body, in its infertility-fertility nexus.

As Christopher West said..."The body and only the body is capable of making visible what is invisible; the spiritual and the divine….sexual union, procreation and moral choosing are intimately linked with man’s creation in the image of God…. As such, conjugal love symbolizes the love between Christ and His Church and ‘spouses as one body in some way participate in the divine exchange of trinitarian life and love." His love is one and inseparable, so the marial act must be one and inseparable. Additionally, the licit means to birth regulation was to follow the natural rhytms of the body. 

The problem with this is that symbolism is a weak moral theory and no one knows God's procreative plan. Hence, to declare HV 12 and HV 13 as moral absolutes without remainder is too much of a moral certitude. It does not do justice to the multidimensionality of love, marriage, and procreation in a healthy relationship. The other problem is that these moral absolutes cause moral dilemma and profound suffering to millions of Catholics. The young married woman with 3 children whose life is threatend by another pregnancy is a perfect example of a teaching gone wrong. 

5. As for the so-called consequences of contraception, there has not been one respected and widely accepted scientific study that concluded that contraception leads to: divorse, abortion, spousal abuse and out-of-wedlock children. There is a profound difference between a correlation and a cause and the Church likes to make this argument. Unfortunately, it is not convincing and highly misleading.

There is nothing wrong with PC as a birth control method. If God is pleased with spouses who have children and want no more for good reasons (Pius XII), it is possible that God may not be offended if these same spouses do something to prevent conception during sexual intercours, provided that they would accept a child born by accident into their family with unconditional love? Is this not what PC couples do?

Tim, I do appreciate our dialogue but I hope you can see that there are legitimate philosophical and theological arguments that cause most theologians and informed layperson to disagree with a Church teaching. We can disaree and remain faithful Catholics.
Michael Barberi
11 years 6 months ago
The saddest consequence of the condemnation of Sr. Margaret Farely's book, Just Love, is that it represents another large stone in the insurmountable wall the Vatican has been building against those that disagree with the Church's teachings on sexual ethics. There can be no debate, dialogue, argument or reasoning that Rome will remotely consider that challenges its thinking. Rome has declared "war' on anyone and every group of laypersons, theologians or clergy that disagree with magisterial teachings on sex. 

There is some truth in many scholarly works, and in the Church teachings on sexual ethics. The problematic has always been "moral absolutes" without remainder. This closes off progress in science, philosophy, socialology, theology, and anthropology. The good news is that the truth eventually turns the tide in the formation of new doctrines or modifications of old ones. The bad news is that this re-thinking takes decades and even centuries. Witness the issues of slavery, usury, freedom of religion, the torture of heritics, the ends of marriage, capital punishment and the many teachings about sex.....sex was only for procreation, sex during pregnancy was a mortal sin, sex during menstrual periods was forbidden and sex had only one licit position (Noonan). 
Tim O'Leary
11 years 5 months ago
Michael #44
While we might differ on how HV became the doctrine of the Church, I think it is very hard to deny that contraception had nothing to do with the ills but only the 'benefits'' of the sexual revolution. But rather than rehash my arguments in #43, I leave you with a link to a new book by Mary Eberstadt: Adam and Eve after the Pill - Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution. You can get a preview here. http://www.ignatius.com/Products/AEAP-H/adam-and-eve-after-the-pill.aspx.
Michael Barberi
11 years 5 months ago

I never said the pill or contraception had nothing to do with the sexual revolution. The sexual revolution happened not because of the pill. The pill may have made the unintended consequences of sexual promiscurity more secure (avoiding unwanted pregnancies), but the pill was not a "cause" of the many ills of modernity the Church likes to argue about.

There are good and bad things that culture brings about, and this exists now and has happened throughout the centuries. Culture is but one of many factors that influence one's behavior.

Thanks for the reference to the new book. However, I have read two excellent books on culture already: "Culture and The Thomist Tradition" by Tracey Rowland; and "Morality: An Anthropological Perspective" by Jarrett Zigon. 

There is always some truth in well researched and written books on morality, culture, or for that matter Humanae Vitae. It is when we try to draw conclusions from symbolism, correlations or inferences about social, cultural, political, pyschiatric, philosophical anthropology, et al., and make the leap to "moral absolutes without remainder" is when we have problems. Too much of a moral certitude is the issue, not about the fundamentals of our faith, but relative to some moral norms (e.g., the negative injunction against artificial means of regulating fertility) the Catholic Church also proclaims to be Divine law.

Think about the "culture of the Catholic Church" and how this culture has profoundly influenced the formulation of papal encyclcals. We often forget that John Paul II was influenced by 1930s-1950s Poland, Nazism, Communism, 19th Century Polish Romanticism and the misery and suffering he experienced around him. His work was also profoundly influenced by Dr. Wanda Poltawska, a psychiatrist, and victim and survivor of the Ravenbrunch concentration camp medical experiments. Her theories about contraception, that Western experts called "harmful misinformation" was accepted by Karol Wojtyla as valid. This lead to his 1960 book "Love and Responsibiity" and to HV 12, the inseparability principle. If you really want to understand how CULTURE influences people, like Wojtyla-John Paull II, read "Wojtyla's Women: How They Shaped the Life of John Paul II and Changed the Catholic Church. Also, read Wanda Poltawska's book, Diary of a Friendship, or an article about it on the internet.

You cannot take one view of culture and say Ah Ha, we have proved our point. The subject we have been discussing is complex and multi-dimentional.  

My point, if I may repeat it, is that there are legitimate philosophical and theological reasoned-arguments that have caused most theologians and informed laypersons to disagree about certain Church teachings (e.g., Humanae Vitae). We can disagree and remain faithful Catholics. 
Michael Barberi
11 years 5 months ago

Below is one criticism, albeit a solid one, about the book you referenced.

"I did have two criticisms/suggestions though. First, I wish that the author had done more to actually make the case that contraception is bad, pornography is bad, and so on. Usually the author would just make the claim and then footnote the studies. I think that in order to change the mind of anyone who disagreed with her thesis, she would do well by including some actual data in the book itself."

In my experience, when an author has solid statistical information, or conclusions from a respected and widely accepted scientific study, the book explicitly highlights this type of critical information in the text in order to make the case. If such critical information is not in the text but only footnoted and hidden in an article or book where the author neve mentions such data, the evidence is usually superficial and controversial.

I have researched the subject "does contraception cause...divorse, abortion, etc". There has not been a single widely accepted scientific study that has concluded that contraception causes any of these issues.  I rest my case.
Tim O'Leary
11 years 5 months ago
Michael #47
You may be resting your case, but to say there is no connection between the severing of procreation from the normal sexual act (as happened with chemical contraception) and the deterioration in sexual mores and religious faithfulness is just not credible. I don't think you are going to get a double-blinded randomized controlled trial on this but the strong correlations between the introduction of the Pill and the negative trends in society are very strong, about as good as one gets in this type of social science.  Here is another very good article on the subject, filled with lots of data (Bitter-Pill by Timothy Reichert, an economist). http://www.firstthings.com/article/2010/04/bitter-pill 
Michael Barberi
11 years 5 months ago

Kindly stop attributing things to me that I never said or implied. I never said that there was no correlation between the increase in contraception and the increase in other phenomenon in our modern culture. For example, the increase in contraceptive use correlates with the increase in spousal abuse. You can draw conclusions from a correlation (as the author of the article you sent me does) but this does not mean that those conclusions are correct. The "cause" of spousal abuse is the psychiatric problems of the abuser, financial problems, alcohol and drug abuse. Contraception correlates with spousal abuse, but it is NOT A CAUSE OF IT.

The article you sent me is laughable. This guy uses economic analysis and correlations, plus "theories" to demonstrate that contraceptive use is a bad thing. However, he makes no statement about "cause" versus "correlation". This article does not prove that contraception causes the ills of society as he "implies". It would not pass the limit test of any respectable and widely accepted scientific association, society or journal that scientists hold as their source of best practices or valid evidence they can rely on in the course of their professional work.

I particuliarly laughed at the assertion the author made that females now demand a safe out in terms of marriage. Most people that get married today, as in the past, expect the marriage to last. This does not mean that couples don't have doubts, or that they are naive that their marriage will be a lifetime of happiness and will not result in divorse. The marriage and divorse laws of many states make it easy for people to divorse for almost any reason. Abortion is legal and getting an abortion is also easy. Family, religious and social values influence people's perceptions of right and wrong, good and evil, responsiblity etc. Culture is a most complex issue and I agree that our culture with its liberal attitudes about sex, divorse and abortion are problems. Nevertheless, contraception does not cause divorse or abortion.

Instead of sending me an article from First Things, that was written with a tradition-minded bias that represents the controversial conclusions of one-personsend me a study or article from any respected scientific journal that asserts these so-called truths. Until you do, I rest my case.

Michael Barberi
11 years 5 months ago

Below are the 2008 US Abortion Statistics. Note that:

1. 1.2 million abortions were performed; 90% were unintended pregnancies
2. 84.2% were unmarried
3. 28% were Catholic
4. 54% used contraception methods
    > of these, 76% were "inconsistent" pill users, and 49% were "inconsistent" condom users
    > 13% were "consistent" pill users and 14 % were "consistent" condom users 
5. 46% did not use contraception methods
5. Reasons for abortion (multiple, thus does not total to 100%)
    > 75% said interference with work, school or other responsibiilies
    > 75% said could not afford another child
    > 50% said don't want to be a single parent, or have problems with husband or partner

Tim, IMO is clear from these statistics that contraception use may correlate with abortion, but it is far from being a cause of it. Only 13-14% of those 54% of abortions were performed by people who used the pill or condom "consistently". The others (76% or 49% of the 54%, respectively) who used contraception methods were "inconsistent users". Hence, about 7% of all abortions were performed by women who used contraception methods "consistently".

Clearly, 46% of all abortions were performed by women who did not use any contraceptive methods and only 16% of all abortions were performed by married women. Given these statistics, including the reasons given for having an abortion, it is hard to imagine how any respected scientific study would conclude that contraception causes abortion...especially by responsible Catholic married couples!!!

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