Latest Firing Reveals Church Worker Disputes are Really About Homophobia

Yet another church worker claims to have been fired because of sexual orientation in a case which lays bare the homophobia behind such firings.

20601906_1495546457-3053
Joshua Gonnerman

Joshua Gonnerman said he was fired from a Catholic institution because he is a gay man, reported Melinda Selmys on her blog, Catholic Authenticity

While Gonnerman has not released the details of his firing, Selmys has offered worthwhile commentary on how these firings are not about sexual behavior, but sexual orientation.

Selmys explained the Gonnerman is publicly celibate because he has decided to adhere to the magisterium’s teaching on same-gender sexual acts. He has also “been publicly involved in helping others to find life-giving ways of living that teaching out.” His support ministry was featured in an article in The Washington Post a few years ago. Selmys wrote:

“I wish I could say that this is the first time that one of my friends has lost work at a Catholic or Christian organization because of their sexual orientation, but it’s not. No amount of public fidelity to the traditional teaching on marriage, nor even the use of terminology like ‘same-sex attracted’ instead of ‘gay,’ has been sufficient to prevent discrimination within conservative Christian institutions. . .In almost all of these cases, they were told directly that their homosexuality was the cause of concern.

“This is why it makes my blood boil when people claim that there is no homophobic discrimination in Christian circles — that Christians discriminate between sinful and unsinful behaviours, not people. I know a lot more queer/SSA Christians than most folks do, and the rate at which I see blatant discrimination against my friends is high enough that nobody will ever be able to convince me that this is a rare or freakish occurrence: the work of occasional, isolated individuals rather than a symptom of systemic prejudice.”

In Selmys’ analysis,these firings are not about an ethical double-standard where heterosexual church workers are not policed in the same way that lesbian and gay people are.  They are not about lesbian and gay people whose consciences lead them to dissent from the magisterium’s prohibition on same-gender sexual acts. They are really about communicating a non-welcome to LGBTQ Christians.  In Selmys’ words:  “that we are seen as dangerous outsiders even if we choose obedience to the teaching of the Church.”

20141011-melinda-selmys-22-1413483171
Melinda Selmys

In another post on the Catholic Authenticity blog, Selmys further engaged homophobia in the church. She acknowledged that there are numerous church workers who use contraception, yet they are never challenged “because everybody knows that if the Church suddenly fired everyone who uses contraception we would face a Catholic [church worker crisis].” Heterosexual Catholics are not expected to be perfect in their adherence to Catholic teachings about sexuality, and yet:

“[W]hen it comes to homosexuality, suddenly that’s no longer okay. If you’re gay you can expect to subjected to an inquisition by random internet trolls. . .You may be called upon at any time to publicly endorse the most harshly worded phrases from random Vatican documents concerning your sexuality. You might be literally asked to sign a document confirming your acceptance of the Church’s teaching before you can rent space in the parish hall.

“If you’re gay, the usual ways that Catholics deal with sexual desire are no longer sufficient: you must be constantly on guard against every vestige of homosexuality, and your sole purpose in life must be the crucifixion of same-sex Eros. Anything less and you’re a heretic who is probably being paid by George Soros to advance the gay agenda.”

More than 60 church workers have lost their jobs in publicly known LGBT-related disputes since 2008. You can find a listing, along with other information about employment issues, by clicking here.

Joshua Gonnerman’s firing underlines a point LGBT advocates have made before: that these firings are not about same-gender relationships or support for marriage equality, but are fundamentally about homophobia in the church and its effects. That even queer Catholics who are supportive of church teaching are beginning to speak out against these injustices is a major step forward.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 26, 2017

QUOTE TO NOTE: Stop Church Teachings that Kill, Says Sr. Margaret Farley

Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley, the theological ethicist who wrote Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, said the church has “not gone far enough” on gender equality because “we still hear the cries of women, through the centuries and today.”

Margaret Farley2
Sister Margaret Farley

Farley’s comments are readily applicable to the movement for LGBT equality, too. After receiving the Catholic Theological Society of America’s (CTSA) Ann O’Hara Graff Memorial Award earlier this month, she told the gathered women theologians:

“Ideas oppress and repress. . .When the church’s secondary teachings cause sickness and death, there is something wrong with that teaching. . .Just as cultural practices may have been fine until they kill people, so the church’s teachings may have been fine, even harmless, until they kill people.”

Farley’s scholarship has greatly advanced efforts to expose and transform oppressive church teachings on sexuality and gender. For her efforts, Farley was censured by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2012.

I wrote on Bondings 2.0 in April that, even more than ten years after her book was first published, Just Love is still a radical text that challenges Catholics to reorient our church’s teachings and practices on sexuality towards justice. At CTSA’s 2017 meeting, Sr. Farley has once again spoke with precision and prophetic clarity about how Catholic theology can, should, and must serve better the people of God.

You can read a full report on Sr. Farley’s reception of the CTSA award at the National Catholic Reporter by clicking here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 20, 2017

 

 

 

Orlando Anniversary Is a Time to Reflect on Church/LGBT Relationship

This week’s one-year anniversary of the massacre of LGBT people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, became an occasion for John Gehring to evaluate the relationship between the LGBT community and the Catholic hiearchy in the U.S.  His essay appeared in The National Catholic Reporter.

03e723_2da6d2ab897b4baeb16d5a7eeba532ce-mv1
John Gehring

Gehring recalled that only very few bishops publicly noted the LGBT dimension to the Orlando attack. In the past year, some positive and negative things have occurred between church hierarchy and the LGBT community.  According to Gehring, who is the Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, the quality of that relationship is one of “cautious hope,” given the mixed bag of responses on a variety of issues that we’ve witnessed over the past year.  For Gehring, the problems are deeply rooted in Catholic hierarchical thought and begin with the issue of “dehumanizing language” to describe homosexuality:

“While the Catechism of the Catholic Church rejects violence and ‘unjust discrimination’ against LGBT people, it also calls homosexuality an ‘inclination’ that is ‘objectively disordered.’ Before he was elected Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger led the Vatican’s chief doctrine office for more than two decades. In a 1986 ‘Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,’ Ratzinger described homosexuality as a “tendency toward an intrinsic moral evil.” Seventeen years later, he wrote that growing recognition of same-sex civil unions legitimized the ‘approval of deviant behavior.’ Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, even celebrated a public exorcism in 2013 to protest the Catholic governor’s signing a same-sex marriage law. The bishop presided over what was formally called ‘Prayers in Supplication and Exorcism in Reparation for the Sin of Same-Sex Marriage.’ When a church leader literally demonizes LGBT people and their commitment, those called to be stewards of a Gospel rooted in the love of Christ send a toxic message about the unworthiness of them.”

But you don’t need to take only Gehring’s word for it.  He quoted two Catholic leaders about the destructive effects of this type of language:

Dehumanizing language has consequences. ‘It doesn’t reflect that our experiences as gay and lesbian persons are a gift, something that brings us closer to other people and to God,’ said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, an organization that works to build bridges between LGBT Catholics and the church. ‘People are alienated by this language and feel rejected. It ends conversations rather than begins conversations.’ San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy, who has played a key role in encouraging the U.S. hierarchy to adopt Pope Francis’ more inclusive attitude, has suggested the church needs to rethink language such as ‘intrinsically disordered.’ In an interview with America, a Jesuit magazine, he called that terminology ‘very destructive language that I think we should not use pastorally.’ He explained that ‘in Catholic moral theology it is a philosophical term that is automatically misunderstood in our society as a psychological judgment.’ “

Such damaging language threatens to force many Catholics out of the church, as they become increasingly more supportive of LGBT issues.  This problem is particularly significant with the younger generation who are strongly supportive of LGBT people. Gehring offers the following example:

“Rachel Nagengast, 25, went to Catholic schools from grade school through Fordham University, where last year she earned a master’s degree in theological studies. But as a self-described queer woman, Nagengast increasingly felt alienated by her church’s teachings on homosexuality. She hasn’t gone to a Catholic Mass in years. ‘I feel like an outsider in what should be home,’ she said. ‘LGBT Catholics are expected to be patient, but I was really tired of being satisfied with baby steps or being expected to applaud even the tiniest effort.’

Gehring offers the following advice to stave off this mass exodus:

“If they want to retain the next generation of Catholics — including LGBT people and their allies — Catholic leaders should listen more closely and learn from the experiences of gay and transgender people. . . . Church leaders can’t stand with LGBT people without taking the time to listen to them. Bishops could take a simple but powerful step by setting up forums to meet with and learn from LGBT Catholics. Vatican officials also need to take seriously the need to update and humanize language in church documents that don’t reflect the fullness of LGBT people’s lives. While making official revisions to the catechism is a complicated and lengthy process, bishops communicate through pastoral letters, op-eds and increasingly through social media. These opportunities present a chance to ditch language that casts LGBT people to the peripheries and bring them to the center of authentic conservations.”

The author suggests that bishops not only follow the example of Pope Francis, but also heed advice from a U.S. Catholic deacon who spoke at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, and who also has contributed essays to Bondings 2.0:

“If Catholic bishops really want a church that listens, heals and goes to the margins as Pope Francis does, it’s far past time to build a culture of encounter with the LGBT community. I recently met a Catholic deacon from St. Petersburg, Florida, who had a wake-up call after his son transitioned to a transgender woman. ‘I was blissfully ignorant of all things LGBT until it came to my family,’ Ray Dever told participants at a conference, ‘LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.’ The Catholic father and others like him have a lot to teach bishops and priests who have rarely if ever sat down with a gay or transgender person. ‘There are so many families who reject their LGBT kids and that’s tragic, especially when that is done in the name of faith,’ Dever said. ‘I’m no expert, but what these families need to hear is God created these kids just the way they are and that God loves them.’

Gehring’s essay is a good survey of the major trends in Catholic LGBT issues since last June.  If you want to read it in its entirety, click here.  Gehring is the author of The Francis Effect: A Radical Pope’s Challenge to the American Catholic Church

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 16, 2017

 

 

Fr. Bryan Massingale to LGBT Catholics: “Refuse to Be Silenced. Continue to Speak Our Truth.”

“We ain’t what we oughta be. We ain’t what we want to be. We ain’t what we gonna be. But, thank God, we ain’t what we was.”

Symp17_Friday_ - 86.jpg
Fr. Bryan Massingale

Fr. Bryan Massingale began his talk on “Pope Francis, Social Ethics, and LGBT People” with these words of an unknown Black preacher, which were often quoted by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Massingale, a theologian at Fordham University, New York, addressed participants at New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium, and asked them this key question:

“What does it mean to be an LGBT Catholic in an age of Pope Francis?”

The National Catholic Reporter offered further details on his talk:

“Those who came to the Chicago symposium brought with them both ‘hope and frustration,’ Massingale said: hope that more understanding and acceptance of gays and lesbians was on its way into the church and frustration because that time has not yet arrived.

“The priest, who left Marquette last year to teach theology at Fordham University, pointed to a new tone in the church toward gays, a tone he characterized as ‘cautious, tentative, tense, at times ambiguous and contradictory, and yet nevertheless real.'”

Massingale affirmed that beneath the rhetorical shifts, there is genuine doctrinal development happening. Church officials’ “hesitant, resistant and even hostile stance” to LGBT rights comes from their fear that legal protections would lead to approval of sexual behavior they deem immoral. Their deeper fear is the impact such acceptance would have on youth. NCR reported:

“The situation leaves the church in an often contradictory corridor or ‘open closet,’ Massingale said, one in which gays ‘are to be accepted sensitively and compassionately, as long as there is little or no public acknowledgment of their sexual identity, “lifestyle” or “culture.”‘. . .

“Massingale, a priest of the Milwaukee archdiocese, shared a note he had received in 2002 from Rembert Weakland, who earlier that year had resigned as archbishop of Milwaukee after a man he’d had an affair with two decades earlier and he had paid to $450,000 to keep it quiet made the relationship public. Weakland wrote: ‘On the gay issue, the level of fears is so high that the official teaching of the church skates so very close to the edge of a new ‘theology of contempt.'”

Biden - Human DignityAgainst the “open closet” and Magisterium’s troubled approach to lesbian and gay people, Massingale said Pope Francis was focusing on LGBT people’s personhood, not their sexual conduct.  Massingale added his own commentary, saying, “[LGBT people] are equally redeemed by Christ and radically loved by God.”

As an ethicist, Massingale affirmed the right LGBT people have to participate fully in society in and the church, and the necessity for the Magisterium to extend its existing support for human rights to include LGBT communities:

“To insist on private acceptance and compassion for LGBT persons – that is, saying “I love the sinner” – without a commitment to defending LGBT human rights and creating a society of equal justice for all, is not only contradictory; it is inherently incomprehensible and ultimately unsustainable.”

A vibrant question and answer period followed Massingale’s address, during which he shared a story from his own life. After the U.S. bishops released “Always Our Children,” he called his mother. She asked Massingale for his thoughts on the document, and he replied by asking her what she thought, as it was addressed to her. She answered quickly, “I don’t need permission to love my child.”

Massingale closed with a powerful call for LGBT Catholics and their families to keep working for equality:

“Refuse the refusal. Refuse to be silenced. Continue to speak our truth even when we know it’s not going to be welcome.”

Fr. Massingale has himself been increasingly outspoken for LGBT inclusion and human rights. While at Marquette University, he celebrated monthly Masses for members of the LGBTQ communities on campus because, he says, it is important they “have a Mass where they feel welcome and that God does love them.” He challenged Pax Christi USA members at their 2013 annual conference to increase the organization’s defense of LGBT rights, as both a human rights concern and a necessary part of attracting younger Catholics. Massingale also joined other Catholic theologians and officials in condemning proposed anti-gay legislation in Uganda. Most recently, he has said the church cannot abandon transgender Catholics.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 24, 2017

 

 

SYMPOSIUM: Bishop Stowe Brings Message of Admiration and Respect

It has been almost a month since New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” took place in Chicago. Things have finally slowed down enough that we are able to report on it to you.  Over the next few days, we will be providing several posts about symposium highlights.

Symp17_Friday_ - 40
Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., addresses the symposium while New Ways Ministry co-founder Sr. Jeannine Gramick listens.

Based on the response of the over 300 participants, one of those highlights was the presence and speaking participation of Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., of Lexington, Kentucky.  Stowe provided two scriptural reflections at the meeting, one at the Friday evening opening prayer service (Matthew 12:1-14) and one at the Saturday morning prayer service (Luke 6:37-45).

The National Catholic Reporter’s  Patricia Lefevere interviewed Stowe at the meeting and reported on his talks.  She noted that he expressed his respect for LGBT Catholics and supporters for their steadfastness in remaining in the Church:

“Stowe said he is humbled by those who have pursued ‘a life of faith in a church that has not always welcomed or valued’ them or their worth. As a shepherd, he needs to hear their voices and take seriously their experience, he said, adding that both the presence and persistence of LGBT Catholics inspired him.

“They’ve shown ‘a valuable expression of mercy’ in calling the church ‘to be more inclusive and more Christ-like despite being given so many reasons to walk away,’ he said.”

Stowe also used his reflection time to discuss his approach to moral questions:

“In reflecting on Matthew 12:1-14, the bishop told the LGBT assembly that in his reading of Christian morality, he finds the infinite value of the human person to be ‘the touchstone and foundation for determining the morality of a given act or issue. Christian morality is more concerned with the well-being and dignity of the person than with rules, norms or commandments. Jesus seems to teach this on many occasions,’ Stowe said.”

In his interview with Lefevere,  the bishop also explained another motivation for his participation in the symposium:

” ‘New Ways Ministry made me want to come here,’ the bishop told NCR during a 40-minute interview at the gathering. He has been observing and admiring the group’s outreach to LGBT Catholics over several years, he added.”

Stowe also discussed the fact that when it became public that he would speak at New Ways Ministry’s event, some conservative Catholics in his diocese and elsewhere publicly criticized him:

” ‘The flack has been enormous and continues on the blogosphere’ and from ‘self-righteous strangers online and those who subscribe to these feeds,’ Stowe said, calling some of the posts and e-mails ‘vicious.’ . . .

“Among objectors, Stowe believes there are many who are sincere Catholics and are ‘really struggling’ with all the issues around homosexuality. He said he hopes and prays ‘for a culture of encounter’ to ensue so ‘we can become fully engaged with those who want to live the Catholic life and who love the Catholic Church. … Why would we want to turn our backs on them?’ he asked.”

The bishop also commented on his response to young Catholics who are often much more supportive of LGBT equality than older generations.  He noted that negative actions towards LGBT people risks alienating “a whole generation” of young Catholics.  He explained how he approaches this pastoral issue:

“Stowe said that on his many visits to confirmation classes, teens in his diocese ask: ‘Why can’t gay and lesbian people be themselves? Bishop Stowe, why can’t they love who they want?’

“He said he admires how well young people know that the church believes each person is of value. But they also know that LGBT persons are not always welcomed or treated fairly in the church, he said.

“He tries to acquaint them with church teaching on the dignity of each human being, citing passages in the 1965 Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes (the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) and other examples. He indicates how discrimination leads to dehumanization, frequently expressed in bullying, abuse, sometimes violence and even death.

” ‘We have to listen to our young people and pay attention to things like this,’ the bishop insisted.”

In introducing Bishop Stowe to the symposium participants, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo explained that he had heard the Franciscan bishop speak at a conference and was impressed with his message:

” ‘I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,’ DeBernardo said, comparing Stowe’s words to those of Pope Francis and to St. Francis of Assisi. All three men seemed to be saying that ‘it was the church’s job to take the Gospel to the margins,’ DeBernardo said.”

For a meeting whose title and theme focused on Pope Francis, it was very appropriate to have a bishop speaking who so aptly echoed many of the pontiff’s affirming messages for LGBT people.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 22, 2017

Theologian’s Autobiography Explains His Gay Journey

Those who are familiar with Catholic LGBT history will remember that in 1976, Rev. John J. McNeill, SJ, published The Church and the Homosexual, the first book-length theological critique of the Catholic Church’s moral ban on same-sex relationships.  It is a monumental work.

But the first defense of same-sex relationships by a Catholic theologian actually was made two years earlier by Gregory Baum, an ethicist from Canada.  In an article in the February 15, 1974 issue of Commonweal, Baum wrote an article entitled “Catholic Homosexuals” in which he defended the ethical status of same-sex relationships.

Baum, who was a towering theological figure during and after the Second Vatican Council, is now in his 90s, and he just published his autobiography, The Oil Has Not Run Dry: The Story of My Theological Pathway (published by McGill-Queen’s University Press). In this book, for the first time publicly, Baum acknowledges that he is a gay man.

The acknowledgment comes in chapter 32, where the recounting of his experience will, I’m sure, sound familiar to any LGBT person who came of age before the turn of the 21st century.  It is a poignant tale, filled with the usual confusion, fear, and denial which many had experienced.  The twists and turns of his life will also be familiar.  Describing his young adulthood, he writes:

“In subsequent years I fell in love with men on several occasions with a passion that was both joyful and painful at the same time:  I had great joy in the presence of the beloved and great pain because my love could not be received.”

He explains that he became a priest, but that now, in hindsight, he sees it was for the wrong reason:

“Looking back I began to realize that my vow of celibacy had not bee a meaningful religious commitment but simply a promise to bracket my homosexuality, to refuse to explore its meaning and power.”

He decided to leave the priesthood “since I no longer agreed with the church’s official sexual ethics and was exploring my sexuality in non-conformist ways.”

Baum’s affectional and relational journey took additional twists and turns after leaving the priesthood, but I’ll leave it to you to discover those as you read his book.

Recalling his publication of the 1974 Commonweal article, Baum describes it genesis.  After giving a lecture in 1973, he received a letter from Rev. Pat Nidorf, the founder of Dignity, then a ministerial support organization of gay and lesbian Catholics, which continues today in a much-expanded organization.  Nidorf sent him a copy of Dignity’s faith statement for Baum to evaluate theologically.

Baum’s Commonweal article was the result of that evaluation.  He made the case for same-sex relationships in two ways.  First, he argued that “The definition of human nature tends to reflect the self-understanding of the cultural elite”  and so “To say that homosexual love is ‘unnatural’ is to make a cultural statement,” not a moral one.

His second point comes from his background in ecumenical and interfaith relations.  (Baum, whose mother was Jewish, wrote the first draft of Nostra Aetate, Vatican II’s document on the Church’s relationship to the Jewish people, when he was a theological advisor at the Council.) So he argued that “The church’s anti-homosexual rhetoric has produced a culture that despises and persecutes homosexuals, devises cruel punishments for homosexual acts, and fosters self-doubt and self-hatred in homosexual men and women.”  The antidote for this, he says, is “Christ’s great commandment–to love one’s neighbor  as oneself.”   To follow that commandment, he said, the Church needed to review its teachings in regard to all marginalized people.

Baum’s book is a treasure trove of the background of one of the great theological debates of the twentieth century, especially the Second Vatican Council.  New Ways Ministry was blessed to have Baum as a plenary speaker at our Fifth National Symposium in 2002 which was entitled “Out of Silence God Has Called Us:  Lesbian/Gay Catholics in the Vatican II Church.”

Even more so, the book is an inside look at a very gentle soul.  In closing the chapter where he acknowledged his gay identity, Baum wrote the following beautiful analysis:

“I have asked myself if there is a special meaning in the homosexual condition.  God creates the great majority of humans heterosexual and only a small minority homosexual.  Is there a special task associated with the condition of the latter?  Since they are an oppressed minority, aware of the hypocrisy of society and the damage done by the dominant culture, I have suggested that gays and lesbians are intended to extend solidarity to all marginalized groups and demand greater justice. Because homosexuals are largely invisible in society, their prophetic vocation will have a cultural impact and support the struggle for human emancipation.”

Gregory Baum has already been a gift to the Church.  With his new book, he shows us the inner soul behind his keen mind, making the gift of himself that much more precious.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 29, 2017

 

 

 

Ten Years Later, Sr. Margaret Farley’s “Just Love” Is Still a Most Radical Book

This weekend, Catholics are gathering in Chicago for New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” Today’s post reflects on Sister Margaret Farley’s groundbreaking work, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics. Farley, whose justice-oriented sexual ethic has greatly advanced the conversation on LGBT issues in the church, addressed Symposia in 1992, 1997, and 2007. She also received New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award in 2002.

justloveUnsurprisingly, the 2010 Notification that Margaret Farley received from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about her book, Just Love, missed not only the forest for the trees; it missed the trees for the minutiae of their bark.

Far from engaging Farley’s vision, intentionally laid out as she weaves tradition with contemporary knowledge, the Notification issued is a poor, proof-texted engagement. But a reader more receptive to Farley’s work easily sees not only the forest, but the horizon to which this theological giant is leading, and gratefully joins the path towards it.

Questions of sexuality and gender have progressed rapidly in the decade or so since Just Love was published. Yet Farley’s insights, deeply drawn from her first section on traditions, still speak to new and emerging issues. [To read a summary of Just Love’s ethical principles, click here.]

One example of these issues is the Synod on the Family. The synod process made clear how inexperienced many Catholic bishops are at negotiating cross-cultural ethics.The Synod also raised an old question in a new way: In a truly global church, can the Vatican really pronounce on universal norms beyond the most fundamental of principles? In other words, are issues of family life, sexuality, and society today too complex and diverse for a one-size-fits-all approach?

Emerging churches, particularly in Africa, have resisted more permissive stances on sexuality with claims of “ideological colonization,” a term notably used by Francis, the church’s first pope from the Global South. Farley identifies the troubling dynamic driving many such claims: sexual control has been central to Western colonization and postcolonial regions are still grappling with this damaging legacy. Acknowledging these traumas is absent from magisterial discourse today, even as theologians have welcomed such necessary dialogue through international conferences such as Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church.

Margaret Farley2
Sister Margaret Farley

Another emerging issue is gender and its relation to sexuality, now hotly contested in many contexts due to the expansion of transgender rights. Farley’s technical treatment of intersex and trans identities needs some updating given new research in this area, but, more significantly, she remains open to the realities of such persons, writing that “[n]o one ought to pass judgement on any configurations of gender [emphasis added].” This outward-looking stance paired with compassion means her larger points retain their integrity.

No statement of Farley’s is more relevant for today, when “gender wars” are rapidly and harmfully intensifying,  than when she observes that “[g]ender wars would cease if we saw that we are not ‘opposite’ sexes but persons with somewhat different (but, in fact, very similar!) bodies.” Farley’s sexual ethic, with its roots in justice, is wonderful for slowly shifting the conversation beyond a primary concern with whom one has physical intimacy (raising questions of sexual and/or gender identity) to a primary concern about how one has sexual intimacy (raising questions of bodies, abilities, pleasures, and participants).

Finally, though Just Love can and should speak to many emerging questions, conversations about consent could benefit greatly from her just sex framework. To the detriment of healthy sexual relationships, consent has been reduced to saying “no,” or under affirmative consent thinking, the absence of an active and enthusiastic “yes.”  While such models are being used to educate youth and young adults, particularly in higher education, as correctives against society’s historical failure to address sexual violence, they are not adequate.

Despite their good intent, such models are actually doing harm because they employ a mechanical understanding of sexual acts that excludes context and relationality. Farley is clear that free consent and respect for bodily autonomy are minimal norms for just sex, but she is equally clear that sexual justice means more. She insists that sexual acts cannot be separated from the contexts in which they happen, and the foremost context is relationality. Incorporating Farley’s theory of sexual justice into understandings of consent would both help curb sexual violence and promote healthier relationships.

Ten years on, it is clear that Just Love’s relevance has only grown, and that Christian ethical reflection has yet to receive fully its wisdom. Farley’s writing is precise and thorough, reflecting the years she spent laying the foundations for her sexual ethic. Behind her clear argumentation are complex layers of meaning with which the reader must repeatedly grapple. Her closing section on contexts for just love, addressing matters like same-gender relationships and persons who are divorced and/or remarried, is really the springboard Farley provides for Christians to employ her framework in their own research, contexts, and lives.

But what may be most clear of all is that Vatican’s fears were, in one way, fully warranted. Just Love is a truly radical text, which, received more and more fully by Christians, has and will continue to alter radically our lives and the life of our churches. It lays before us a road to full equality for LGBT people, one recognizing the beauty of diverse sexual and gender identities, the goodness of same-gender sexual intimacy, and the gift that every family is to our church.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 28, 2017