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The Vatican is completely correct to clarify that Sister Farley’s book stands firmly outside the tradition of the Church

Sister Margaret Farley is a theologian in the same way as David Cameron

By on Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Sister Margaret Farley, author of Just Love (CNS photo)

Sister Margaret Farley, author of Just Love (CNS photo)

You may have read that the Vatican has condemned a book by Sister Margaret Farley. The Catholic Herald’s account of the matter is to be found here.

Funnily enough, I read and reviewed the book in question when it first came out, which was back in 2006, and the review was published in the Heythrop Journal of May 2008; academic reviews often come out a year or two after the original book’s publication, though a two-year gap is nothing compared to the six years that it has taken the CDF and Rome to give its verdict.

My review is not online, but I have a hard copy in front of me and am happy to share some highlights.

“In a brief section (pp. 235-236), a mere one and a half pages, she deals with ‘self-pleasuring’, a topic that, usually under a different name, has, historically, led to the spilling of rivers of ink. Farley notes that the judgment of tradition has been overwhelmingly negative; even Kant disapproved very strongly; however now ‘most’ theologians and medical practitioners view the activity as ‘morally neutral’; in other words it all depends on reasons and circumstances. Her final word is that ‘This remains a largely empirical question, not a moral one’. This is certainly a coherent point of view, but where is her evidence for this position? She mentions Kinsey and the empirical evidence of some human experience, but she does not explain how the change from moral evil to moral neutrality occurred. One can be forgiven for thinking that the 20th century arrived and the mists of obscurantism vanished before the bright sun of reason (‘Christian traditions … judged it harshly before the 20th century’ (p.236)) – but this is not an argument.”

That is just one of the topics on which the CDF picks up on what Sister Farley has to say and finds it wanting. When it comes to homosexual relations, her judgment is even more sweeping. According to Farley, at page 295 of her book: “My own view, as should be clear by now, is that same-sex relationships and activities can be justified according to the same sexual ethic as heterosexual relationships and activities.” This, once again, is a conclusion, and a conclusion with which many – such as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom – agree: but the book presents no argument for such a conclusion, as I noted at the time.

Sister Margaret Farley’s book is not really a theological book, it is more an anti-theological book, because it tells us that everything that has gone before is more or less wrong and all that we believe now is more or less right, ignoring the inconvenient fact that this modern knowledge is not based on any sort of theological reflection, but rather on the rejection of theological tradition. Margaret Farley is a theologian in the sense that David Cameron and others, with their championship of gay marriage, are theologians.

Incidentally, I have no personal grudge against Sister Farley. I have never met her, and all I know of her is her book. She is perfectly entitled to her views, but the CDF is completely correct to point out to the faithful what constitutes a legitimate part of the tradition, and what stands firmly outside of it. All that surprises me is that it took so long for them to do so.

  • Bob Hayes

    Just thought your earlier posting suggested a possible penchant for conspiracy theories.

  • Bob Hayes

    Universities encourage academics to promote their writings by any legal means.

  • JByrne24

    She had retired before she wrote the book.

  • JByrne24

    As they say in a more reasoned environment: “That’s All Folks!”  (sorry, no music)

    And the message?: Well it’s mainly about earrings, and how you “look” (if you’re a woman).

  • 27playup

    The present Pope,last year when awarding European Theologians the Ratzinger Prize ‘for excellance’ warned of the ‘misuse of reason’ in that although reason must be used to know him ,it can’nt in itself become the supreme and final judge of everything.Reason has its limits, and we by ‘deduction’ progress slowly backwards from The Truth as oppossed to Science where by ‘induction’ we progress slowly to TOE(Theory of Everything).Science is organised sceptiscism in that theories are constantly being tested and knocked down re Newton and Einstein.Jesus Christ is the Truth and The Church is His Body ;hence He will not allow His Body to drift into Error in a ‘final proclamation’-following much ardent debate no doubt re man’s limitations.The Pope therefore in matters of Faith is ‘infallible’ otherwise how can God be Truth! Reason is driven by LOVE;as the Holy Father stated at this event :”Love wants to know better the person who loves.Love-true love-doesn’t make us blind”,it makes people see

  • Joanie Giever

    She has a very normal and modern view of sexuality.  I’ve only read excerpts. She doesn’t have her head in the proverbial sand.  God is a progressive God.  If he wasn’t, we’d still be beheading and torturing people in the Christian Crusades.  Once, again, the author of this article is a male priest. Let the women of the church have input.  Apparently masturbation is a huge, depravity but pedophilia and lewd sex acts that destroyed children lives was covered up.   I’ve at this point lost faith in the church.  Putting a Bishop is charge of The Sisters of Mercy?  They are not the ones that cost the Catholic church billions in law suits for pedophilia.  I forgave the church for that, I forgave them for the financial scandal and now the “butler” scandal last week.  Not taking into account women’s feelings is not acceptable.  Priest have no clue about family life let alone how us young women feel.  Sexuality is normal otherwise God would have made us like animals and we’d go into heat once a year.  There will be very few young Catholics left, especially women.

  • Hartponder

    What does the Love of God mean? 1 John 5:3 says “For this is what the love of God means, that we observe his commandments…” So when applying the Gospel in our lives, we must balance it with the first, and most important commandment That our Lord gave.

    Christians are also admonished in the book of Jude 1:3 “…to put up a hard fight for the faith that was once for all time delivered to the holy ones…”

    And then the faithful are warned in Jude 1:4 that some will slip in, …”turning the undeserved kindness of our God into an excuse for loose conduct and proving false to our only Owner and Lord, Jesus Christ”

    I pray that we don’t turn the Gospel and God’s undeserved kindness into an excuse to disregard God’s rightness standards and commands.

  • Bob Hayes

    Yale is still happy to bask in her celebrity. As I said, ‘Universities encourage academics to promote their writings by any legal means’.

  • JByrne24

    Although I’d signed off this topic (below on “sort by newest first” option) after several days battle, I’m cannot go without saying: well said Joanie Giever.


  • Sweetjae

    Joanie, I really think you missed the point here, you are mistakenly mixing the deliberate sinful acts of men AS AGAINST the deliberate clinging to a false doctrine and teaching it to others. However, both are deliberately being  disobedient to the Teaching of the Church.

  • Jameshughes1947

    The problem is that she apparently does NOT wear the garment of the catholic church by which  I think you mean her religious habit. Quite a number of so called religious are happy enough to make use of the good offices of the church to fund their progress in academia and enjoy the kudos of being a religious and then stab us in the back by pushing these hetrodox views in the public forum despite the obvious harm and scandal it gives to the faithful. They should stop living on us like parasites and either conform to church teachings or get out and tread their own paths at their own expense. It’s time the hierarchy stopped ignoring the snakes in the grass and brought them to heel. Anyway why has it taken the CDF so long to address the problem? AMDG 

  • heironymus

    He wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit -2 Peter 1:21 -not as a post-modern reductionist constructing his own reality. 

  • Benedict Carter

    The above is a perfect example of the liberal ignoramus who knows nothing whatever about either Church history, the Church’s teaching or the reasons for it. 

    God help us. 

  • rjt1

    Since most priests grew up in families, it seems reasonable to say they have as much experience of family as the sister. I expect most priests spend a lot of time listening to people’s problems so plenty of opportunity to gain understanding.

  • rjt1

    Yes, lots of people makes accusations, but what is the actual teaching of the Church? It affirms the goodness of human sexuality but cannot affirm distortions of it. I think we can agree that there are distortions.

    I don’t think we should identify particular Victorian hang-ups with the teaching of the Church.

  • JByrne24

    I have heard school teachers often complain that parents, journalists and just about everyone else, considers themselves experts, to greater and lesser degrees, on education – because they all went to school.

  • JabbaPapa

    I’m sorry, but you are warping this whole affair into a completely unrecognisable travesty of the facts.

    If you haven’t understood that the Church’s job concerning sexual (and other) matters is to teach ideals of behaviour that are to be striven towards, then you’ve understood exactly nothing about Catholic teaching — as seems evidenced by your suggestion that the sex scandals are viewed as anything other than : _scandals_.

    But according to your skewed views, a proponent of sexual abandonment to physical passions as some kind of virtue is free from scandal, whilst those denouncing sexually disordered behaviours are in the wrong ?

    And do I detect a hint that “women” understand sex better than “males” ?

    But if you think that this means that the Catholic Church is attempting to forbid sex, then you REALLY haven’t the foggiest …

  • JabbaPapa

    Right — so now the Catholic Church is promoting “evil”.

    Apostasy !!! Apostasy !!! Apostasy !!!

  • JabbaPapa

    We live in a deeply moralising (not moral) age, where moralisers presume to tell other people what to think and how to behave.

    JB24 being a prominent anti-Catholic moraliser in these forums.

  • JabbaPapa

    Sickening, stupid, and ignorant — indeed !!

    Well said.

  • JabbaPapa

    Oh really? So your standard for moral issues are the feelings that go inside your head when you take communion


  • flohollett

    r i just wonder if sister has a good grip on the word of God. Timothy 1 verse16 says, Have nothing to do with with pointless philosophical discussions- they only lead farther and farther away from true religion .talk like this kind corrodes like gangerine….Avoid false teachers,and those not in keeping with the teachings of the catholic church. God’s word will never change. Can one not see what evil can do? Watch and pray!

  • londoner

    Many ‘traditions’, such as burning so-called witches, limbo and the sale of indulgences to fast-track the rich to heaven have been abandoned. Just because an idea is ‘traditional’ does not mean it is right. Something which hurts no-one, such as masturbation, which could in fact be beneficial (in helping celibate priests to keep their hands off choir boys, for instance), are indeed morally neutral. The Church has damaged itself irreparably due to its obsession with sex and gender. Every headline on this website concerned with women is negative!

  • londoner

    What ‘God calls sin’ is often what individual, influential churchmen decided was sinful many hundreds of years after the Bible was written. According to the Bible God approves of slavery and the stoning to death of badly-behaved children! So we all have to pick and choose what is sinful and what is not. The Catholic Church would have you feel guilty about almost every human pleasure. If you believe God created you and that he is a loving God would he wish you to spend your life in misery, wracked with guilt? There is enough hate in the world without religions turning on homosexual love.