British Cardinal Offers New Perspective on Context of Sexuality

June 17, 2014

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

When Britain’s Cardinal Vincent Nichols addressed the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict last week, the standard news coverage of the event highlighted his description of  war-time rape and sexual degradation as “a most fundamental denial of human dignity and a most gross breach of a person’s human rights.”

But another passage from his talk at the London meeting did not get as much exposure, though I think it is much more significant and newsworthy. In his speech,  Nichols offered a different definition of sexuality than is usually promoted by Catholic bishops.  During his talk he stated (emphasis added):

“Human sexuality is a strong and vital component of our humanity and of each person’s nature. The exercise of that sexuality, in sexual relations, is something that touches the deepest aspect of our identity and personhood. A fundamental aspect of the Church’s teaching about sex is that sexual acts must always take place within the context of authentic freedom. This is because, properly understood, human sexuality has the capacity to unite two people, body and spirit, at the deepest level, in a completeness of self-giving that has within it the call to a permanent commitment between them and which, of its nature is open towards the creation of new human life. What is most relevant in this teaching for us today is that there is no place in sexual relations for brutality, aggression or any kind of de-humanisation of a person.”

(The entire text of his talk can be read or listened to on the Vatican Radio website. A hat-tip to Martin Pendergast, longtime Catholic LGBT advocate in London, for alerting me to this section of the speech.)

What I find significant here is that Nichols substitutes “authentic freedom” for “Christian marriage,” which is the usual way that bishops describe the required moral context of sexual acts.

And while he includes procreation as one of the capacities of sexuality, it is not among the primary ones that he listed.  Instead, the primary capacities are the uniting of persons, the deep intimate bond, the act of self-giving, and the quality of permanent commitment.

His description is significant because it echoes what many contemporary Catholic theologians have been saying about sexuality for many years now: that the traditional emphases on marriage and procreation are not sufficient to ethically describe sexual activity and sexual relationships.

Sister Margaret Farley, RSM

Specifically, many of the concepts he mentions can be found in the work of Sister Margaret Farley, RSM, a Catholic theologian, whose book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, lays out a number of criteria for ethical sexual relationships.  Among the concepts she describes are: do no unjust harm, free consent, mutuality, equality, commitment, fruitfulness, social justice.  (For a fuller description of these concepts, click here.)

Though Sister Farley’s sexual ethics were censured by the Vatican two years ago, it seems that her ideas are filtering up into hierarchical discourse

It is not surprising that we would find these more contemporary theological views about sexuality in discourse from Cardinal Nichols.  Just last week, we reported on how the British bishops’ conference which he leads has made some enlightened remarks concerning transgender people and civil unions.

Almost three years ago, Cardinal Nichols was the first Catholic prelate to call for civil unions for same-gender couples. His  call for such recognition set off a number of other bishops and church leaders following suit.  You can find a comprehensive list of such statements here.

Since his statement differs so greatly than what is usually said or expected from a member of the Catholic hierarchy, I can’t help but assume that it was indeed deliberate on his part to make this distinct point.  His statement may signal a growing awareness on the part of some hierarchical leaders that a new Catholic vision for sexuality is badly needed.

–Francis DeBernardo

 


The Road to LGBT Change in the Catholic Church Won’t Be a Straight One

September 23, 2013
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ remarks about lesbian and gay people are bound to bring about change in the church.  Not everyone will agree with that statement.   Yet, the road to change in the church on LGBT issues may not be a straight one, but who said that straight is always better? Let me explain.

As happened after the pope’s “Who am I to judge?” remark of mid-summer, some commentators have pointed out again after his America interview that nothing has really changed in church teaching because of the pope’s statements.  Pope Francis’ comments do not offer any moral approval of same-sex relationships or marriage equality.   Those who understand church teaching about gay and lesbian people know that official documents have always called for respect and understanding of people with a same-sex orientation, so some have felt that the pope added nothing new and that nothing has changed.

But, as we know from experience, if anyone needed to hear Pope Francis’ message about obsession it is the Catholic bishops in the U.S.   Their campaign against marriage equality over the last decade has quite often overstepped its boundaries and given the appearance of obsession.  Although they often gave lip service to the teaching about respect and understanding, such a message always seemed incredibly shallow given the vitriol they used to condemn same-sex relationships and marriage.  No one believed what the bishops were saying about respect and understanding since their rhetoric provided a stronger message in the opposite direction.

Here’s a case in point.  On the same day that Pope Francis’ interview became public. Catholic News Service ran a story about Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese of Military Services, issuing guidelines about same-sex couples.  The news story stated:

“Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services has issued guidelines on ministering to same-sex couples for military chaplains and other priests and deacons who serve Catholics in the military, U.S. Foreign Service personnel and those at Veterans Affairs facilities. The document, ‘Renewed Fidelity in Favor of Evangelization,’ highlights the need to ‘reiterate with clarity the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding homosexuality’ but also points out that, as St. Paul reminds believers, ‘it must never be forgotten that the human condition occasions many failings.’ “

Clarity?  Does the archbishop think that there is anyone who doesn’t know of the Catholic hierarchy’s opposition to same-sex relationships?  And why is homosexuality considered part of human “failings.”  When bishops speak like this, they show they do not understand or respect LGBT people regardless of how much they say they do.

Pope Francis’ remarks ring truer, though.  Nothing has shown that he will support full marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.  (Though he is on the record for supporting civil unions–a compromise that, while not ideal, is a giant step forward, and one that the U.S. bishops have not agreed to yet. )  But his comments do seem to indicate respect and understanding.  He may not be where progressive Catholics might like him, but he is further down the road than his predecessors, and miles ahead of the U.S. bishops.  It’s no wonder that Sister Margaret Farley, a renowned theologian of sexual ethics, has said that she feels this pope can be reached on LGBT issues.

John Becker, in The Huffington Post, stated that Pope Francis’ remarks seem too much like window-dressing:

“LGBT Catholics, their non-LGBT allies, and the greater LGBT community should really stop breaking out the champagne and balloons for this pope every time he says a few nice-sounding words about gays and lesbians. Believe me, I’m as encouraged by his change in tone as the next person, but after centuries of persecution, the Catholic Church owes its LGBT members a whole lot more than just an acknowledgement of their existence.”

While I agree that LGBT people deserve a lot more, I disagree that these remarks are not a reason to celebrate.  The problem with this line of thinking is that it doesn’t acknowledge that true change comes from the bottom, not the top.  Pope Francis’ remarks are not the true change.  The true change is that Catholics in the pews and Catholics at the “middle management” level (pastors, principals, college administrators, etc.) have already been living out real respect and understanding for LGBT people and have been working towards their full equality, including marriage.

Yes, Catholics should break out the champagne and balloons because a pope is finally showing he is following their lead, not the other way around.

Still for other Catholics, who may have been fearful of church sanction if they expressed any support for LGBT people, the pope’s statements are an example for them to follow.  I can’t say for sure that we will see any change in church teaching on LGBT matters any time soon, but I do predict that we will see an outpouring of support for LGBT people from many more Catholics who up until now have been reluctant to do so.

In The Washington Post “On Faith” blog, Elizabeth Tenety lists eight ways that Pope  Francis is changing the church, including bringing people back, including young people.  With more and more progressive Catholics come back to the fold, after having been alienated for so many decades, the Catholic Church will witness a demographic change.  They, too, will add to the pro-LGBT movement in the church.  Pope Francis is appealing to the people who will make the church more LGBT-friendly.

When demographics and pastoral practice start to change, doctrinal change will eventually have to catch up.  Change in the church happens first in practice and then in theory, not the other way around.  Pope Francis’ statements are going to open a floodgate of many acts of acceptance and dialogue on LGBT issues, and this dialogue will eventually pave the way for doctrinal change.

Furthermore, the humility of the pope, which was so evident in the interview, speaks volumes about the possibility that he will be open to a more dialogical church than we have seen in years.  And that can have effects on matters way beyond LGBT issues, too.

So, the path may not be straight, it may not be direct, but it will eventually lead to a church of justice and equality for all.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Theologian Expresses Hope for Pope Francis’ Pontificate

September 18, 2013

 

Sister Margaret Farley

Sister Margaret Farley

Sister Margaret Farley, whose groundbreaking theological book:  Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics was condemned by the Vatican last year, spoke publicly recently in support of marriage equality, women’s equality in the church, and hope that Pope Francis will listen to discussion on these and other matters.

According to The Detroit Free Press, Sister Farley spoke to a group of 400 people at Mercy Center, Farmington Hills (a suburb of Detroit), at an event sponsored by “Elephants in the Living Room,” an organization of Detroit priests, lay people, and religious who provide forums for various contemporary topics.

Sister Farley’s theological work allows for approving committed sexual relationships between two people of the same gender, one of the reasons that the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith censured the book in May 2012.

During her recent talk, she expressed hope for change in the pontificate of Pope Francis:

 “ ‘He seems teachable,’ she said, and hoped he will listen to the many Catholic women who call for change.

“ ‘I think that women at this juncture are in some way key, because, for example, we do have the problem that there are not enough priests,’ Farley said. ‘I think that eventually it will be necessary to ordain married men and women, married or not. But how that development will finally take place, what the evolution will be, I don’t know.’ “

Sister Farley commented on her ability to speak on sexual ethics topics after having been censured by the Vatican:

“You just can’t back down and say, I apologize, because it would contradict one’s integrity. I didn’t decide never to talk again about the things that were problematic.”

Although she stated that the censure of the book was “minor, minor, trivial in a way,” she did acknowledge that it sends a discouraging message to other theologians. The Detroit Free Press  article stated:

“The book’s censure perpetuates an atmosphere that stifles debate and ignores how changing human experience shapes the views of Catholics, she said.”

During her talk, she explained how her gay nephew, now deceased, was a role model for her:

“I have a beloved nephew who was all those things — wise, holy. And I’m absolutely certain that he was all those things because he grew up in our family. Our family could never have condemned him.”

Despite the Vatican’s censure of her book, Sister Farley was supported by an enormous outpouring of public statements from prominent Catholics.  You can read about these statements here here, here, and here.

Sister Farley has been a frequent supporter of New Ways Ministry, having spoken at three of our national symposiums and having given several workshops/retreats over the years.  In 2002, New Ways Ministry presented her with its “Bridge Building Award” which recognizes people whose scholarship or pastoral leadership help to promote dialogue in the church on LGBT issues.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


The Worst of 2012 in Catholic LGBT News

December 30, 2012

thumbs downAs the year 2012 winds to a close, it’s time to review the news of the Catholic LGBT world of the past 12 months. In today’s post, we will look at the  stories of the worst happenings of the past year, and in tomorrow’s post, we will look at the best stories.  Bondings 2.0 asked you for your feedback on what the worst and best news stories of the past year were, so the ranking of these stories is based on your responses.  The percentage following each story is the percentage of people who chose this item as one of their top five. Thank you to all 311 of you who participated.

The Top Ten

1. The Parliament in Uganda, a pre-dominantly Catholic nation, re-introduces a bill to make the death penalty a possible sentence for lesbian and gay people.  16.34%

2. The Vatican censures the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for, among other things, their support of LGBT issues and New Ways Ministry. 15.69%

3. Pope Benedict opens the year by stating that new models of family are a threat to “human dignity and the future of humanity.” 14.05%

4. The Knights of Columbus have contributed $6.5 million to oppose marriage equality over the past seven years, according to an Equally Blessed report. 12.09%

5. A Catholic lesbian woman in Maryland is denied communion at her mother’s funeral Mass. 10.13% 

6. The Vatican censures Sister Margaret Farley, a theologian who has supported the moral goodness of gay and lesbian relationships. 6.86%  

7. U.S. bishops attempt to make religious liberty an issue as a way to defeat marriage equality initiatives. 6.54%

8. Minnesota teen is denied confirmation for supporting marriage equality. 4.9%

9 & 10. TIE:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The Catholic University of America again denies a request for recognition of a gay-straight alliance on campus. 2.29%                               Several Catholic church employees are fired because of their support of marriage equality. 2.29%

Other items:

In several cases, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development withdraws funding from organizations which support LGBT equality. 1.96% 

Catholic theologian Tina Beattie is disinvited from a fellowship appointment at the University of San Diego because of her support of marriage equality. 1.63%  

The U.S. Catholic bishops investigate the Girl Scouts of America for connections to liberal causes, including LGBT equality. 1.63%  

Minnesota’s Archbishop John Nienstedt instructs his priests not to speak publicly in support of marriage equality. 1.63%

A Catholic high school in Indianapolis refuses to call a female-to-male transgender student by his male name. 0.98%

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


LGBT Injustices Central at Loretto Community 200th Jubilee Celebration in DC

September 19, 2012

Loretto Sisters, Co-members and Friends at the USCCB

LGBT issues were front and center when 40 people gathered in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the Loretto Community’s 200th Jubilee.

Planned on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, the DC gathering included visits to seven sights of injustice where the group prayed and sang a litany of saints and heroes. Sites visited were the US Supreme Court, the US Capitol, the DC Jail, the Vietnam War Memorial, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, the Vatican Embassy, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) headquarters.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, a Sister of Loretto and co-founder of New Ways Ministry, and Matthew Myers, a co-member of Loretto who currently chairs New Ways Ministry’s Board of Directors, joined Sr. Maureen Fiedler of the Sisters of Loretto and Eileen Harrington, a co-member, in leading the afternoon’s celebrations.

Amongst the injustices called to mind were those committed against the LGBT community. These included the exclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons from equal protections under the law at the Supreme Court and the campaign against marriage equality launched by Catholic bishops that makes LGBT persons objects of discrimination.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick of New Ways Ministry and Sr. Maureen Fiedler

In the Loretto tradition of  ‘working for justice and acting for peace,’ the saints and heroes who struggle for equality and conscience were called to mind as well.

In the political and legal realm, those gathered sang the names of John Lawrence, plaintiff in the case that decriminalized same-gender consensual sex, as well as President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, who have refused to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act.

In the ecclesiastical realm, theologians Hans Kung, Charles Curran, and Margaret Farley were sung at the Vatican Embassy for their progressive views on human sexuality and the Vatican censures that followed. Bishop Thomas Gumbleton was intoned at the USCCB for his outspoken voice for LGBT rights within the Catholic Church.

Fittingly, Sr. Jeannine was included in the litany, along with several other women religious. The program described Sr. Jeannine in the following way:

“Loretto Sister who advocates for LGBT persons in the face of continual Vatican opposition.”

In 1992, after the Vatican had directed U.S. bishops to pull back from their support of civil rights’ legislation for lesbian and gay people, the Loretto General Assembly issued a statement in support of lesbian and gay civil rights which included the following:

“. . . as U.S. citizens, we believe that our constitutional tradition–properly understood and interpreted–ought to guarantee basic civil rights and equal protection of our laws to all citizens regardless of sexual orientation. It saddens us that the Vatican would enter the U.S. political arena by encouraging a departure from the finest ideals of our political tradition, ideals which promote equality and basic civil rights for everyone.
“Consequently, we call upon our political leaders to guarantee the civil rights of lesbian and gay persons in the law of our land. We call upon the U.S. Catholic Bishops to support such legislation as an authentic expression of the gospel call to respect the intrinsic human rights and dignity of all persons.”

New Ways Ministry applauds Loretto for 200 years of powerful witness to working for justice and acting for peace because of the Gospel’s urgent call.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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


Theologians Support Sister Margaret Farley in the Face of Vatican Censure

June 12, 2012

Sister Margaret Farley, RSM

Sister Margaret Farley, RSM, the theologian whose 2006 book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics was recently censured by the Vatican, has been receiving an outpouring of support from various quarters in the Catholic Church. The Vatican’s criticism was due in part to the fact that Sister Farley argues for heterosexual and homosexual committed relationships to be treated equally in the moral sphere.

Most recently, the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA), the professional organizations of theologians in this country, issued a statement of support for Sister Farley at their recent national meeting.

The statement first supports her work and teaching ministry, recognizing her great influence:

“We, the undersigned members of the Board of Directors of the Catholic Theological Society of America, wish to note that Professor Farley is a highly respected member of the theological community. A former President of the CTSA and a recipient of the Society’s John Courtney Murray Award, she has devoted her life to teaching and writing on ethical issues and has done so in ways that have been reflective, measured, and wise. Her work has prompted a generation of theologians to think more deeply about the Christian meaning of personal relationships and the divine life of love that truly animates them. The judgment of the “Notification” that a number of Professor Farley’s stated positions are contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium is simply factual. In our judgment, however, Professor Farley’s purpose in her book is to raise and explore questions of keen concern to the faithful of the Church. Doing so is one very legitimate way of engaging in theological inquiry that has been practiced throughout the Catholic tradition.”

The second part of the statement questions the Vatican’s presumptions in their Notification which condemns the book, seeing these presumptions as dangerous to the theological enterprise:

 “The Board is especially concerned with the understanding of the task of Catholic theology presented in the “Notification.” The “Notification” risks giving the impression that there can be no constructive role in the life of the Church for works of theology that 1) give voice to the experience and concerns of ordinary believers, 2) raise questions about the persuasiveness of certain official Catholic positions, and 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. With regard to the subject matter of Professor Farley’s book, it is simply a matter of fact that faithful Catholics in every corner of the Church are raising ethical questions like those Professor Farley has addressed. In raising and exploring such questions with her customary sensitivity and judiciousness, Professor Farley has invited us to engage the Catholic tradition seriously and thoughtfully.”

Sister Farley had addressed the CTSA last week about the Vatican’s criticism against her.  A National Catholic Reporter article quotes the gist of her argument through the following excerpts:

“We clearly have grown in many spheres of knowledge — about humans, about the way the universe runs. It seems reasonable … that if we come to know even a little bit more than we knew before, it might be that the conclusions that we had previously drawn need to be developed. Or maybe even let go of.

“Because it would be a contradiction to Roman Catholic frameworks for doing moral theology to say that we can’t. That would be to imply that we know everything we can know and there’s nothing more to be done. . . .

“My reasons for thinking its important for everyone to think about these issues is because people are suffering. All over the place, people are suffering.”

“Ending her talk, Farley asked what she called ‘profoundly important’ questions.

“ ‘The issue is, finally, in our tradition, is it a contradiction to have power settle questions of truth? Or to say we all have a capacity to know what we ought to do?’ asked Farley.

“We can make mistakes, we can disagree — but is it the case that natural law is let go when we really only know the answers because of grace of office? This is a profoundly important question in our tradition today.”

Fr. Charles Curran

In a National Catholic Reporter essay, another eminent Catholic theologian, Fr. Charles Curran, put the censure of Sister Farley into the wider context of the direction in which certain bishops and Vatican officials seem to be taking the Catholic Church:

“What is happening here is that the pope and the Vatican are more and more defending the idea of a remnant church — a small and pure church that sees itself often in opposition to the world around it. It seems as if church authorities are not concerned at all about those who leave the church. Any other organization would take strong action to remedy the loss of one-third of its members. But the remnant church sees itself as a strong church of true believers, and therefore is not worried by such departures.

“This concept of the church is opposed to the best understanding of the Catholic church. The word “catholic” by its very definition means big and universal. The church embraces both saints and sinners, rich and poor, female and male, and political conservatives and liberals. Yes, there are limits to what it means to be Catholic, but the “small ‘c’ catholic” understanding insists on the need to be as inclusive as possible. Many of us were deeply impressed by the gestures of Pope Benedict at the beginning of his papacy by reaching out for dialogue with both Hans Küng and Bishop Bernard Fellay, the head of the group originally founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Unfortunately, today, dialogue is still going on with Bishop Fellay, but not with Hans Küng.

Fr. Curran offers three important lessons from this case about how to understand authority in the church:

“First, the primary authority in the church is the Holy Spirit, who speaks in very diverse ways, and all others in the church, including office holders, must strive to listen to and discern the call of the Spirit.

“Second, the church has to put flesh on the understanding of Thomas Aquinas that something is commanded because it is good and not the other way around. Authority does not make something right or wrong. Authority must conform itself to what is true and good.

“Third, the danger for authority in the church is to claim too great a certitude for its teaching and proposals. Margaret Farley developed this point in a very significant essay, “Ethics, Ecclesiology, and the Grace of Self-Doubt.” The grasp for certitude too easily shuts the mind and sometimes closes the heart. The grace of self-doubt allows for epistemic humility, the basic condition for communal and individual moral discernment.”

–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


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