Pope Francis Re-Affirms Vatican Censure of American Nuns

April 15, 2013

LCWRPope Francis has re-affirmed the Vatican’s censure against the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which had been investigated by the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith under the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI.

The Australian newspaper reports:

“Pope Francis has backed a doctrinal report drawn up under his predecessor Benedict XVI that accuses the largest group of nuns in the United States of holding “radical feminist” views, the Vatican says.

“The new Pope has ‘reaffirmed the findings of the assessment and the program of reform’ for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which represents around 45,000 US nuns and is known for its social work, the Vatican said.

“The statement said the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ludwig Mueller, met with representatives of the LCWR in the Vatican on Monday in an attempt to smooth over differences.”

The National Catholic Reporter has a full story which gives the background of the case and more details about this latest development.

As we reported last year, the investigation focused on three topics:  support for women’s ordination, support for LGBT issues, and questioning whether salvation exists outside the church.   As far as LGBT issues goes, support for New Ways Ministry was specifically identified as a problem in the “Notification” document that was issued last April.

LCWR today issued the following statement in response to this news:

“On April 15, 2013 Sister Florence Deacon, OSF, LCWR president; Sister Carol Zinn, SSJ, LCWR president-elect; and Sister Janet Mock, CSJ, LCWR executive director; met with Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF); Archbishop Luis Ladaria, secretary of CDF; and other members of the CDF dicastery. Archbishop J. Peter Sartain was also present.

“The LCWR officers reviewed the activities of this past year since receiving the report of CDF’s doctrinal assessment of LCWR in April 2012.

“In his opening remarks, Archbishop Müller informed the group the he had met with Pope Francis who ‘reaffirmed the findings of the assessment and the program of reform for this Conference of Major Superiors.’ “

“The conversation was open and frank. We pray that these conversations may bear fruit for the good of the Church.”

Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle had been appointed by the Vatican to oversee LCWR’s activities, but because of negotiations during the past year, no such oversight had begun.

New Ways Ministry asks you to join us in prayer for women religious in the United States and for the LCWR which is the national association for the leaders of women’s communities. We pray in gratitude for their service and witness, and we pray that they will be allowed to continue their ministry unimpeded.

A list of Bondings 2.0 blog posts about the history of the LCWR case can be found by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Irish Priest Receives Support from Near and Far in His Vatican Struggle

January 23, 2013

 

 

Fr. Tony Flannery

Fr. Tony Flannery

Three days ago, we reported the case of Fr. Tony Flannery, a priest in Ireland who said he will refuse to be silenced by the Vatican on a variety of issues in the Church, including homosexuality.  We applauded his spirit of courage and fortitude.

Since then,  Fr. Flannery has held a press conference, published an op-ed in The Irish Times, and has received support from his Redemptorist community and from Irish and Austrian priests.

An Irish Times news story of the press conference reported the scope of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) investiagation of the priest:

“Fr. Flannery told a press conference in Dublin yesterday he had been threatened with excommunication by the CDF for refusing to recant his more liberal views on church teachings concerning women priests, contraception and homosexuality.”

According to the BBC.comat the press conference, Fr. Flannery stated that signing the loyalty pledge that the Vatican has asked for would violate his conscience:

” ‘It would mean that I was saying that I accept the teaching on contraception, which I have been on record for a long time saying that I thought Humanae Vitae (official Catholic teaching on procreation) was a big mistake,’ Fr Flannery told the media.

“He claimed that accepting the pledge would also mean that he ‘fully accepted all the teaching on homosexuality’ including the church’s use of what he called ‘some of the awfully unfortunate phrases – like disordered state and intrinsic evil.’ “

A press release from Fr. Flannery’s press conference contained this reflection from the priest:

“The choice facing him, he stated at a press briefing today, Sunday 20th January, was between deciding between Rome and his conscience.

“ ‘I must also question if the threats are a means, not just of terrifying me into submission, but of sending a message to any other priest expressing views at variance with those of the Roman Curia,’ he added. ‘Submitting to these threats would be a betrayal of my ministry, my fellow priests and the Catholic people who want change.’

“Fr. Flannery said that because he believes he is being subjected to unfair treatment, he has taken legal advice under Canon and Civil law to help him defend his rights as a member of the Church and as an Irish citizen.”

In the op-ed in The Irish TimesFr. Flannery gives a summary of the development of his ministry, the need for discussion in the church, the difficult proceedings with the Vatican, and concludes with a statement of resolve:

“There are people who will say I should leave the Catholic Church and join another Christian church – one more suitable to my stance. Being a Catholic is central to my personal identity. I have tried to preach the gospel. No matter what sanctions the Vatican imposes on me I will continue, in whatever way I can, to try to bring about reform in the church and to make it again a place where all who want to follow Christ will be welcome. He made friends with the outcasts of society, and I will do whatever I can in my own small way to oppose the current Vatican trend of creating a church of condemnation rather than one of compassion.”

A 66-year old member of the Redemptorist community, Fr. Flannery received strong support in a statement from his brothers in faith.  The BBC report noted:

“In a statement, the Irish Redemptorist order said it was ‘deeply saddened by the breakdown in communication’ between its priest and the CDF.

“It described Fr. Flannery as ‘highly regarded and respected by many in Ireland’ and added that there was a ‘very lively spirit of debate and dialogue’ within the order.

“The statement said that although it did not accept the priest’s views on all matters, it understood and supported his efforts to listen to and articulate the views of people he met during the course of his ministry.

” ‘It is of immense regret that some structures or processes of dialogue have not yet been found in the Church which have a greater capacity to engage with challenging voices from among God’s people, while respecting the key responsibility and central role of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,’ the statement said.”

Priestly support came, too, from the members of the Association of Catholic Priests, an Irish organization that Fr. Flannery helped to found.  The Association’s statement, in part, read:

“The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) affirms in the strongest possible terms our confidence in and solidarity with Fr Tony Flannery as he strives to clear his name and we wish to protest against unjust treatment he has received from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The ACP supports Fr. Flannery in his efforts to resist the undermining of his integrity as an individual, a priest and a member of the Redemptorist Order.

“The effort to depict him as ‘disloyal’ and ‘dissident’ is unwarranted and unfair, but also extremely ill-advised in the present pastoral context in Ireland.

“The ACP is disturbed by the procedures evident in this case: the unwillingness to deal directly with the accused person; the injunction to secrecy; the presumption of guilt; the lack of due process. They suggest a callousness and even brutality that is in sharp contrast to the compassion of Jesus Christ.”

And he has even received support from Austrian priests who are working towards the same goals as he.  The Irish Times reported:

“Also at yesterday’s press conference was Fr. Helmut Schuller of the Austrian Priests’ Initiative. He was ‘very surprised they [CDF] came down on Tony and on Ireland.’ He criticised the ‘lack of basic rights and respect for personal conscience’ in the church.”

We continue to praise Fr. Flannery and to pray that his example will inspire other priests and other Catholics to follow their consciences as forthrightly as he has.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 


LCWR President Offers “Fresh Air” on Vatican Challenge to Nuns

July 22, 2012

 

 

The Vatican’s critique of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the association of the heads of Catholic nuns’ communities in the United States, focused on the organization’s approach to three issues:  openness to women’s ordination, whether salvation exists outside the Church, and support for LGBT issues generally (with support for New Ways Ministry noted particularly).

Sister Pat Farrell, OSF

The LCWR’s annual assembly will be coming up in the second week of August.  In advance of that meeting and to discuss the Vatican’s challenge, Sister Pat Farrell, OSF, the current President of LCWR, sat down this week for interview on WHYY’s popular syndicated radio talk show, Fresh Air. A report on the interview, along with excerpted passages, is available on the website of Vermont Public Radio.  The report notes:

“. . .the nuns said the Vatican’s doctrinal assessment of the group was based on ‘unsubstantiated accusations’ and may ‘compromise the ability of female nuns to ‘fulfill their mission.’

” ‘I would say the mandate is more critical of positions we haven’t taken than those we have taken,’ says Sister Pat Farrell, the president of the Leadership Conference. ‘As I read that document, the concern is the issues we tend to be more silent about when the bishops are speaking out very clearly about some things. There are issues about which we think there’s a need for a genuine dialogue, and there doesn’t seem to be a climate of that in the church right now.’

“Farrell tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross that the leadership organization is currently gathering the perspectives of all of its members in preparation for its national assembly in August.

” ‘We’re hoping to come out of that assembly with a much clearer direction about [the Vatican's decision], and that’s when the national board and presidency can proceed,’ she says.

“Among the options on the table, she says, are fully complying with the mandate, not complying with the mandate or seeing if the Vatican will negotiate with them.”

” ‘In my mind, [I want] to see if we can somehow, in a spirited, nonviolent strategizing, look for maybe a third way that refuses to define the mandate and the issues in such black and white terms,’ she says.”

Included among the excerpts on the website are the following three sections:

On questioning doctrine within the Catholic Church

“The question is, ‘Can you be Catholic and have a questioning mind?’ That’s what we’re asking. … I think one of our deepest hopes is that in the way we manage the balancing beam in the position we’re in, if we can make any headways in helping to create a safe and respectful environment where church leaders along with rank-and-file members can raise questions openly and search for truth freely, with very complex and swiftly changing issues in our day, that would be our hope. But the climate is not there. And this mandate coming from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith putting us in a position of being under the control of certain bishops, that is not a dialogue. If anything, it appears to be shutting down dialogue.”

On their options

“We’re not talking about the risk of excommunication or leaving the church. That’s not our intent. We’re talking about the Vatican’s dealing with a national organization, not with specific religious congregations or individual religious. The one and only underlying option for us is to respond with integrity with however we proceed. That is our absolute bottom line in this. Some of the options would be to just comply with the mandate that’s been given to us. Or to say we can’t comply with this and see what the Vatican does with that. Or to remove ourselves and form a separate organization.”

On the criticism from the Vatican regarding human sexuality

“We have been, in good faith, raising concerns about some of the church’s teachings on sexuality. The problem being that the teaching and interpretation of the faith can’t remain static and really needs to be reformulated, rethought in light of the world we live in. And new questions and new realities [need to be addressed] as they arise. And if those issues become points of conflict, it’s because Women Religious stand in very close proximity to people at the margins, to people with very painful, difficult situations in their lives. That is our gift to the church. Our gift to the church is to be with those who have been made poorer, with those on the margins. Questions there are much less black and white because human realities are much less black and white. That’s where we spend our days.”

Other excerpts on the website cover the following topics: roles in the church, women’s ordination, the Vatican’s phrase “radical feminist themes, and abortion.

Previous Bondings 2.0 posts (selected) on the LCWR controversy:

April 18, 2012: Vatican Action Against U.S. Nuns; New Ways Ministry’s Response

April 19, 2012: Sister Joan Chittister & Sister Simone Campbell Respond to Vatican Action Against U.S. Nuns

April 21, 2012: Support for U.S. Nuns Spreads Quickly Among Catholics and Others

April 22, 2012: Comments on LCWR Action from National Catholic LGBT Organizations

May 11, 2012: Sister Jeannine, Cardinal Ratzinger, New Ways Ministry, and Solidarity with LCWR

June 1, 2012: LCWR Responds to the Vatican with a Vision of Equality, Hope, and Dialogue

June 12, 2012: Report on LCWR Meeting With the CDF at the Vatican

June 21, 2012: Support the Sisters by Re-Directing Peter’s Pence Donations

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

Support for U.S. Nuns Spreads Quickly Among Catholics and Others

 


College Theology Society Board Supports Sister Margaret Farley

July 3, 2012

Sister Margaret Farley, RSM

The board of the College Theology Society (CTS) has issued a statement in support of Sister Margaret Farley in the face of the Vatican’s recent censure of her bookJust Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics.  The CTS statement also calls on bishops for further dialogue with theologians on the issues of that Farley case raises about theological research and discussion.

In June, Sister Farley was cited in a Notification from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for holding positions on various sexual matters, including same-sex relationships, which differ from the magisterium.

The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) reports that the  statement of  the board of CTS, the second-largest association of Catholic theologians in the U.S., notes that while Farley’s ideas are

” ‘different from those currently taught by the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church,’ theologians ‘communicate their findings not only to members within the Church but also to many others seeking to live justly in the pluralistic societies in which they live’ .”

” ‘In committing themselves to the theological task of faith seeking understanding, theologians frequently pose difficult questions in light of the lived experiences of the people of God,’ the statement continues.

“The statement also notes that ‘among the most challenging aspects of exploring such questions’ are ‘the deep divisions which plague not only our society but also our Church.’ “

” ‘To heal the divisions in our polarized Church, we urgently encourage Catholic bishops and theologians to improve the ways in which they communicate with each other, and to collaborate in developing better structures and more transparent procedures to discuss theological differences in a more just and respectful manner,’ the statement concludes.

” ‘We, the Board Members of the CTS, have identified this important task as a priority in the coming year and look forward to discerning constructive ways forward.’ “

You can read the full statement, along with the names of the 12 signatories on the CTS website.

The NCR story notes that the CTS statement is the second one from an association of U.S. Catholic theologians in support of Sister Farley:

“On June 7, the board of the other membership society for theologians, the 1,500-member Catholic Theological Society of America, released a statement supporting Farley, saying the board was ‘especially concerned’ that the Vatican’s criticism of the theologian presents a limiting understanding of the role of Catholic theology.

“The statement was later endorsed by the society’s entire membership at its annual meeting June 8 in St. Louis.

“The statement said the Vatican’s move regarding Farley’s book ‘risks giving the impression that there can be no constructive role in the life of the Church for works of theology’ that attempt to:

  1. ‘give voice to the experience and concerns of ordinary believers’;
  2. ‘raise questions about the persuasiveness of certain official Catholic positions’; or
  3. ‘offer alternative theological frameworks as potentially helpful contributions to the authentic development of doctrine.’

” ‘Such an understanding of the nature of theology inappropriately conflates the distinctive tasks of catechesis and theology,’ that statement continues.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Sister Jeannine Gramick Featured in Nine Short Videos on “The Daily Beast”

June 20, 2012

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Andrew Sullivan’s blog, The Dish, housed at The DailyBeast.com is running a series of nine short videos with Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, on a variety of questions concerning LGBT issues, Catholic church and U.S. politics, and the LCWR crisis and American nuns.   The videos are running every day from June 18-24, and then two more on June 30 and July1.  The video for the day is posted at 12 noon, Eastern Time.

So far, two of nine questions for Sister Jeannine have been posted there.  You can view the video by clicking on each of these two questions:

What do you consider to be the most powerful scriptural basis for LGBT equal rights?

Do you think civil marriage should be available for gay and lesbian couples?

The blog offers the following short bio of Sister Jeannine:

“Sister Jeannine Gramick is a Roman Catholic religious sister and a co-founder of the activist organization New Ways Ministry, a Catholic social justice center working for justice and reconciliation of lesbian and gay people with the institutional Catholic Church. After a review of her public activities on behalf of the Church that concluded in a finding of grave doctrinal error, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) declared in 1999 that she should no longer be engaged in pastoral work with lesbian and gay persons. In 2000, her congregation, in an attempt to thwart further conflict with the Vatican, commanded her not to speak publicly about homosexuality. She responded by saying, ‘I choose not to collaborate in my own oppression by restricting a basic human right [to speak]. To me this is a matter of conscience.’ “

As always is the case when listening to Sister Jeannine, you should find the video interviews informative, respectful, forthright, and inspiring.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Report on LCWR Meeting With the CDF at the Vatican

June 12, 2012

Sister Pat Farrell

The president and executive director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) met with a Vatican official and an American archbishop in Rome this week to see if they could resolve differences in perspectives that resulted from the Vatican’s demand that the leadership group reform itself.  The nuns’ support of LGBT issues, including New Ways Ministry particularly, were part of the Vatican’s critique of the organization.

Sister Pat Farrell, president, and Sister Janet Mock, executive director, met with Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), and Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle, who was appointed to direct the LCWR’s reform.

Sister Janet Mock

According to LCWR’s statement after the meeting, the nuns stated that they were able to communicate their message:

“ ‘It was an open meeting and we were able to directly express our concerns to Cardinal Levada and Archbishop Sartain,’ said Sister Pat Farrell.”

The National Catholic Reporter article on the meeting quotes from the Vatican’s statement, which seems to indicate that Rome has not backed down on any of its original demands:

Archbishop Peter Sartain

“According to canon law, the Vatican said, the LCWR ‘is constituted by and remains under the supreme direction of the Holy See in order to promote common efforts” and cooperation.

” ‘The purpose of the doctrinal assessment is to assist the LCWR in this important mission by promoting a vision of ecclesial communion founded on faith in Jesus Christ and the teachings of the church as faithfully taught through the ages under the guidance of the magisterium,’  the Vatican said.”

Cardinal William Levada

The NCR article quotes Sister Farrell as saying:

“We are grateful for the opportunity for open dialogue, and now we will return to our members to see about the next step.”

The meeting comes after almost a month of discussion and commentary on the issue, as well as an outpouring of support for the nuns from Catholics across the U.S.

Last week, the first religious community of men, the Franciscan in the U.S., issued a statement of support for the sisters. In an open letter to the nuns, the Franciscans said:

“We write. . . as a public sign of our solidarity with you as you endure this very difficult moment.  We are privileged to share with you the journey of religious life.  Like you, we strive in all that we do to build up the People of God. . . .

“. . .your gift to the Church is not only one of service, but also one of courageous discernment.  The late 20th century and the beginning of this century have been times of great social, political and cultural upheaval and change.  Such contextual changes require us, as faithful members of the Church, to pose questions that at first may appear to be controversial or even unfaithful, but in fact are asked precisely so that we might live authentically the charisms we have received, even as we respond to the “signs of the times.”  This is the charge that we as religious have received through the “Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life” from the Second Vatican Council and subsequent statements of the Church on religious life.  We believe that your willingness to reflect on many of the questions faced by contemporary society is an expression of your determination to be faithful to the Gospel, the Church, the invitation from Vatican II and your own religious charisms.  We remain thankful for and edified by your courage to engage in such reflection despite the ever-present risk of misunderstanding.

St. Francis

“Moreover, we are concerned that the tone and direction set forth in the Doctrinal Assessment of LCWR are excessive, given the evidence raised.  The efforts of LCWR to facilitate honest and faithful dialogue on critical issues of our times must not result in a level of ecclesial oversight that could, in effect, quash all further discernment.  Further, questioning your adherence to Church teaching by your “remaining silent” on certain ethical issues seems to us a charge that could be leveled against many groups in the Church, and fails to appreciate both the larger cultural context and the particular parameters of expertise within which we all operate.  Finally, when there appears to be honest disagreement on the application of moral principles to public policy, it is not equivalent to questioning the authority of the Church’s magisterium.  Although the Catholic moral tradition speaks of agreement regarding moral principles, it also – from the Middle Ages through today – speaks of appropriate disagreement regarding specific application of these principles.”

Sister Simone Campbell

One of LCWR’s greatest supporters has been Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, the executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby.  In an article in Canada’s National Post, Sister Campbell identifies what she sees as the biggest difference between the Vatican and U.S. nuns:

“It’s a clash of monarchy versus democracy. It’s not about faith. It’s culture.”

But her analysis doesn’t stop there.  She also points out some other important differences which may be causing the rift:

“We’re a bit more vibrant than the European folks. . .

“I don’t know anything the bishops are saying is true. I don’t think we’re radical feminists. We now have advanced degrees, often more education than the bishops have, which makes the bishops nervous.

“What irks the bishops is that ordinary people look to Catholic sisters for their moral perspectives and find us credible teachers. We understand the complexity of life. When you can live in the Vatican without engaging in real people in pastoral settings it’s way easier to be black and white.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Support for Sister Margaret Farley Continues to Flood In

June 5, 2012

Sister Margaret Farley, RSM

Yesterday’s news that the Vatican has censured Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, the groundbreaking theological work of Sister Margaret Farley, RSM, a retired professor at Yale Divinity School, has evoked numerous responses in support of this theologian.

Grant Gallicho

Perhaps the most telling response came in a tweet from Commonweal magazine’s Grant Gallicho, who posted the following message on Twitter yesterday:

“And now the Vatican-condemned book by Sr. Margaret Farley has reached 138 on Amazon’s bestseller list. Up from 147,982 just a few hours ago.”

According to another one of his tweets, the book eventually reached the #21 position.

 

The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) carried an article about the confidential letter (which they received from several anonymous sources) that Sister Patricia McDermott, President of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, sent out to Mercy nuns.  The text of the letter is compassionately supportive of Sister Farley.  NCR reports:

Sister Patricia McDermott, RSM

“Acknowledging that many will be ‘deeply saddened’ by Monday’s announcement of the Vatican’s criticism of Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley, the head of the global Mercy order has asked her sisters for their ‘careful and compassionate accompanying’ of those discouraged by the move.

” ‘I am sure that some of you will be angered and frustrated by this news and I totally understand your feelings and thoughts,’ writes Sr. Patricia McDermott, the president of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, in a letter addressed to all Mercy sisters and lay associates.

” ‘I have no doubt that many in our Church — including theologians, ethicists, pastoral ministers and concerned laity — will also be distressed with the public statement by [the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.]

” ‘I ask for your careful and compassionate accompanying of Margaret during this time as well as for those who will be saddened and discouraged by this announcement.’ “

Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL

Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, co-founder of New Ways Ministry and someone personally familiar with Vatican censure, offered this response to the news:

“The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) may have determined that Sister Margaret Farley’s book, Just Love, is a source of confusion to the Catholic faithful, but my 40 years of pastoral experience in working with lesbian and gay Catholics and their families contradicts this judgment. This book and Sister Margaret’s other writings and presentations have brought common sense and balance to a world in which sexuality is treated either too casually or too rigorously. Farley’s work has put sex in the human context of relationship, instead of hedonism or narrow functionalism.

“What a pity that Vatican II did not complete its work of reform of the Roman curia. The CDF could serve the Church as an international body that would draw together the world’s leading theologians to discuss pressing social and ethical issues. How tragic that its power is being wasted and abused.”

Jamie Manson

NCR columnist Jamie Manson, who served as Sister Farley’s research assistant for two years at Yale, has published an essay which gives an excellent and thorough explication of the theologian’s method and positions in Just Love.  For those interested in learning more about Sister Farley’s thought, this piece is an excellent introduction.  Manson concludes with the statements:

“It is tragic that the bishops cannot accept the spirit in which Margaret Farley wrote Just Love. The book addresses moral questions that affect not only all members of the faithful, but the ethical dilemmas that affect members of the hierarchy themselves.

“If members of the CDF had the courage to read book with an open, honest understanding of their own human reality, they might recognize that Farley’s intention was not sow seeds of dissent, but to offer the fruits of love and justice to those seeking a fuller integration of their bodies and spirits.”

Equally Blessed, a coalition of faithful Catholics who support justice and equality for LGBT people (comprised of Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry) issued the following statement:

“We are saddened, but not surprised that the Roman Catholic hierarchy has found fault with the valuable work of yet another female theologian.

“The Vatican’s legalistic parsing of Sister Margaret Farley’s work will only enhance her well-deserved reputation as a gifted scholar. Rome’s attempt to steer Catholics away from Just Love will serve instead as a recommendation for all those who seek a sexual ethic rooted in justice and mutuality, rather than in platitudes and abstractions.  The positions Sr. Margaret articulates resonates with many Catholics, who seek to live out the values of our faith in the context of real life.

“We applaud particularly Sister Margaret’s understanding that “same-sex relationships and activities can be justified according to the same sexual ethic as heterosexual relationships.” As always, when differing with the hierarchy she makes it clear that this is purely her personal opinion. Yet the scholarly care with which she reaches it will be persuasive to Catholic readers who do not believe the Vatican’s claim that intellectual inquiry is unnecessary because the truth is what the Vatican says it is.

“We are hopeful that Sister Margaret’s strong body of work will inspire and encourage other Catholic theologians to continue this kind of research.”

Michael Peppard

In a blog post on the dotCommonweal blog, Michael Peppard, a professor of early Christianity, offers a good chronology of the investigation of Sister Farley’s work and also a critique of the Vatican’s comments on it.  His conclusion:

“If even the Pope — whose every word and move is watched globally — is permitted to step out of his office and write as a spiritual seeker and theologian, what about a woman religious with a Ph.D. and forty years’ experience in the classroom? The Pope draws from contemporary philosophical currents (historical criticism derived from an Enlightenment consciousness) and contemporary experience (of anti-Semitism and its horrific effects) in the course of his presentation of Jesus. Just as with the Pope’s books on Jesus, attentive readers of Sr. Farley’s book on ethics know that she clearly states when she is speaking her own opinion about the principles of just relationships. It’s hard to imagine how Catholic readers would be in danger of mistaking her assessments for those of the Catechism. And after over forty years as a professor at a prominent seminary, Sr. Farley knows that she is not giving the faithful questions that they don’t already have.  The faithful know what the Catechism says, and if we don’t, it’s easy to find out.  But the faithful also have close, personal experiences with faithful Christians who, for example: divorced a spouse because the relationship was unjust and causing grave harm; or lived in a relationship of vastly unequal power and wanted to end it but couldn’t; or were raised from childhood to be men or women of stalwart faith and morality by their faithful parents, who happened to be of the same sex. Sr. Farley’s book results from years of study and witness to the questions raised by men and women who tried to live their Christian lives with faithfulness and righteousness.”

James Martin, SJ

On America magazine’s In All Things blog, Fr. James Martin, SJ, writes the following praise of Sister Farley in his most recent post:

“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”

These recent statements supporting Sister Farley join the chorus of theologians who responded yesterday as the news broke.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Vatican Censures Sister Margaret Farley’s Theology of Sexuality

June 4, 2012

Sister Margaret Farley, RSM

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has issued a Notification which claims that the book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, by Sister Margaret Farley, RSM, professor emerita at Yale Divinity School, contains “erroneous propositions.”  In particular the CDF notes that her positions on masturbation, homosexual relations, same-sex unions, and divorce and re-marriage are not consistent with official Catholic teaching. (You can read the full text of the Notification here.)

In her response to these charges, Sister Farley has stated:

“I appreciate the efforts made by the Congregation and its consultants, over several years, to evaluate positions articulated in that book, and I do not dispute the judgment that some of the positions contained within it are not in accord with current official Catholic teaching.  In the end, I can only clarify that the book was not intended to be an expression of current official Catholic teaching, nor was it aimed specifically against this teaching.  It is of a different genre altogether.”

(You can read the full text of her response here.)

She explains her book’s genesis and general outline:

“Growing out of my work as a professor of Christian Ethics at Yale University Divinity School, this book was designed to help people, especially Christians but also others, to think through their questions about human sexuality.  It suggests the importance of moving from what frequently functions as a taboo morality to a morality and sexual ethics based on the discernment of what counts as wise, truthful, and recognizably just loves.  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. “

Additionally, she highlights a general problem with the CDF’s critique, which shows how incomplete and unpersuasive their statement is:

“Again, I appreciate the work that the members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith have done.  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.”

The National Catholic Reporter is carrying the following news article on this story:

Vatican criticizes US theologian’s book on sexual ethics

Theologian’s book a wide-ranging study

New Ways Ministry stands solidly behind Sister Margaret Farley’, whose combination of intelligence, compassion, and eloquence have been a gift to the Catholic Church and to all Christians who, with sincere hearts, are trying to understand the great gift of sexuality with which God has graced humanity.  Her book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, lays out a religious framework which mixes the best of our faith tradition with the most moral and humane forms of information that come from contemporary sources, including the lived experience of people.

Sister Farley’s vision is one that makes no distinction between heterosexual and homosexual relationships, noting that what is morally good for one group should be applied equally to the other.  Moral emphasis in her theology is given not to the nature of any individual sexual act, but the quality of the relationship in which sexual activity is performed.  She has corrected a long-standing error in theological approaches which has ignored the quality of relationships when discussing sexual activity.  Her approach is not only ethically sound, but it also more accurately reflects the way that human beings experience sexuality, rather than relying on outdated, abstracted notions.

As a teacher and scholar at Yale University Divinity School, she has educated several generations of scholars and ministers, and her work will have a lasting influence in Catholic and Protestant churches long after the current leaders at the Vatican are out of office.  As a frequent speaker at New Ways Ministry symposiums and events, she has made her theological acumen accessible to thousands of Catholics who are concerned about LGBT equality and justice.  Our ministry has been greatly enriched by her presence and participation.  We were delighted and proud to present her with our Bridge Building Award in 2002.

The Vatican’s trend over the last few decades of attempting to silence theologians and other thinkers whose ideas provide an opportunity for the church to grow is not a fair, Christian, or sustainable practice.  It is a practice based in fear, which harms, not helps, the church. Dialogue with thinkers, not censure of them, is the method that will benefit our church and our world.  Attempting to silence thought is a futile activity, as generations of tyrants and dictators have long since learned.

You can read statements in support of Sister Farley from the following people by clicking on the link:

Sister Patricia McDemott, President, Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

Theologians and academics, including Harold Attridge, Dean, Yale Divinity School

We continue our steadfast gratitude for her work and pledge our prayerful support to her during this period of trial.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Support Our Sisters: Pray at a Vigil!

May 28, 2012

Tuesday, May 29th, will be marked by prayer vigils across the nation in support of religious communities of Sisters, as their Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) face sanctions from the Vatican, announced last month.  Since support of LGBT issues, particularly support of New Ways Ministry’s programs, were a main factor in the Vatican’s sanctions, Bondings 2.0 is strongly encouraging people to attend.

Waterloo, Iowa, vigil, May 22, 2012

NunJustice.org, a website dedicated to actions in support of the Sisters, has a complete list of vigils, along with times, locations, and contact information.  Please check the dates as many of the vigils have been taking place throughout May, and although most of the locations will be culminating in a final vigil on May 29th, not all will.    The website’s description of the vigils:

“Stand in solidarity with those who acknowledge women religious as pioneers of social justice, advocates for peace, and women of dignity. “

NunJustice.org also suggests other actions people can take to support the Sisters: Petition, Write, Share Photos, Pledge.

In addition, New Ways Ministry has also suggested writing letters of encouragement to women’s communities.

According to the schedule on NunJustice.org, the following cities will be hosting vigils on May 29th:

Albany, NY

Anchorage, AK

Austin, TX

Bardstown, KY

Boston, MA

Claremont, CA

Cincinnati, OH

Chicago, IL

Clovis, CA

Columbus, OH

Hebron, CT

Indianapolis, IN

Lansing, MI

Little Falls, MN

Louisville, KY

Los Angeles, CA

Mt. Prospect, IL

New York, NY

Oakland, CA

Omaha, NE

Pittsford, NY

Portland, OR

Providence, RI

Raleigh, NC

Rockford, IL

Roseville, MI

Sacramento, CA

San Diego, CA

San Francisco, CA

San Juan, TX

Santa Rosa, CA

Seattle, WA

Sedona, Arizona

St. Louis, MO

Stockton, CA

Tempe, AZ

Toledo, OH

Washington, DC

Waterloo, IA

 

The following cities will have vigils later in the week:

May 30th    Bloomington, IN

May 30th    Cleveland, OH

May 31st       Sedona, AZ

June 3rd       St. Cloud, MN

 

Whether you can attend a vigil or not, please keep the Sisters in your prayers during this critical time in their lives and in the life of the Church.

–Francis DeBernardo

 

 

 


Sister Jeannine, Cardinal Ratzinger, New Ways Ministry, and Solidarity with LCWR

May 11, 2012

The Vatican’s attempt  to control the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) has been felt poignantly by folks here at New Ways Ministry, not only because we were mentioned as one of the contributing factors in the investigation of the Sisters, but because it is so reminiscent of the 1999 attempt by Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to silence New Ways Ministry’s co-founders, Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent.

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine resisted the Vatican’s control, and she continues to be involved in promoting equality and justice for LGBT Catholics in the church and the larger civil community, as well as speaking out on a variety of church reform issues, including, most recently, the LCWR case. 

The similarity between her case and the current attempt to suppress LCWR has been noticed by John Gravois, a writer, who lives just across the street from New Ways Ministry.  He sat down with Sister Jeannine for an interview, and published an essay in The New Republic which begins by noting the fact that support for New Ways Ministry was mentioned in the CDF’s critique of LCWR:

“. . . I was put in mind of my neighbors [New Ways Ministry] last month, when the Vatican announced that it was effectively instituting a hostile takeover of the Leadership Council of Women Religious, a body that represents some 80 percent of American nuns. On April 18, Rome’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared that it was placing the nuns’ group under the caretaker authority of Archbishop James Peter Sartain of Seattle, so that he could ensure a number of reforms were carried out. Specifically, the Vatican faulted the nuns for focusing too much on social injustice, and not enough on abortion and euthanasia; for evincing a ‘radical feminist’ streak; and for their history of collective dissent against Rome and the American bishops, ‘the Church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.’

“On this last point—the bit about dissent—the Vatican would seem to have a wealth of examples it could cite. Anyone who paid close attention to the debate over health care reform in 2010, for instance, knows that American nuns parted ways with the Catholic hierarchy rather starkly. Various sisters’ groups fought to pass the Affordable Care Act; the American bishops sought to strike it down.

“But the Vatican’s document did not mention the fight over Obamacare. One act of dissent Rome did highlight, however, was the American nuns’ collective support of something far smaller—a tiny organization called New Ways Ministry. Rome, apparently, has it in for my neighbor.”

The article gives a nice summary of Sister Jeannine’s biography, particularly with how she became involved in ministering to, for, and with the LGBT community.  If you are unfamiliar with these details, I suggest you take a look at the entire text by clicking here. (Sister Jeannine’s story of involvement in LGBT ministry was also the subject of an award-winning documentary, In Good Conscience: Sister Jeannine Gramick’s Journey of Faith.   You can order a DVD of the film by clicking here.)

One story deserves reprinting here, because of the sheer serendipity of the plot:

“One day in the late ’90s, Gramick was boarding a flight from Rome to Munich when she noticed a familiar-looking man sitting on the plane. It was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which had by that point been conducting an investigation of Gramick for more than a decade—and had been building a file on her for longer than that. Not wanting to miss a chance to meet her inquisitor, Gramick struck up a conversation. When the cardinal learned who she was, he chuckled amicably. ‘I have known you for twenty years,’ he said.

“Notwithstanding the friendliness of that in-flight exchange, Ratzinger’s office issued the conclusion of its long assessment of Gramick a year and a half later, in 1999. It was essentially a spiritual cease-and-desist order: no more speaking or writing about homosexuality, period. Gramick took some time to reflect on the command and then wrote a response: ‘I choose not to collaborate in my own oppression.’  In effect, she treated the Vatican’s order as a suggestion—and politely declined to follow it. Since then, she has proceeded with her work, operating in a kind of Catholic doctrinal twilight.”

The essay concludes with Sister Jeannine’s concurrence with Sister Joan Chittister’s recommendation for LCWR:

“Today, in response to Rome’s recent doctrinal assessment, some prominent nuns—including Joan Chittister, a former president of the Leadership Council of Women Religious—are suggesting that the umbrella group should simply disband and then reconstitute itself as a non-canonical institution, outside the Vatican’s purview. Effectively, they are recommending that the vast majority of American nuns do the same thing Gramick did 13 years ago: remain Catholic yet try to separate themselves from Rome. Gramick, for her part, is eager for the rest of her sisters to join her. ‘If we comply, if we submit to what is being asked by the Vatican, it would be a repudiation of all the renewal that we’ve done in religious life,’ she told me. ‘I don’t believe that nuns will say we can do that.’ ”

Back in 1999, when the Vatican came down on New Ways Ministry’s co-founders, I realized how true it is that when church ministers stand in solidarity with an oppressed group, it is very likely that they, too, will suffer the same violations and indignities of the people they serve.  The most dramatic example of this phenomenon is when foreign missionaries are killed for standing in solidarity with the indigenous poor who are murdered by a tyrannical government.

The same thing happened to our co-founders.   For standing in solidarity with LGBT people, Sister Jeannine and Father Nugent received the same punishment that the church imposed on LGBT people:  an attempt to silence their voices.   Today, the same seems to be the case with LCWR:  the Vatican is attempting to control them because they have stood in solidarity with LGBT people.

Renowned Catholic observer David Gibson has uncovered the American prelates who are behind the investigation of LCWR.  His excellent analysis can be read in a Religion News Service article on HuffingtonPost.com entitled “Vatican Crackdown On Nuns: Are Americans In Rome Behind It?”

A new website entitled NunJustice.org has been established with  six ways people can support women religious during this crisis:

Petition (with a link to the original petition on change.org)

Write (with sample letters and addresses to download)

Vigil (with lists of already ongoing vigils, a sign up and sample prayer services to use)

Share (with a link to the tumblr site for posting photos, etc.)

Pledge (with a mechanism for tabulating by diocese amounts that people pledge to Religious Sisters on Pentecost)

Pray (with additional prayer resources)

There are also talking points, media advisories and a sample flyer (and pictures).

We continue to pray with and for the members of LCWR, and, indeed with and for all religious Sisters in the U.S.  Having lived through a similar case, we know the grace of God will be with them to give them courage.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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