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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.

  • JByrne24

    I’ve made it.

  • JByrne24

    Please see above.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joel-Pinheiro-da-Fonseca/100001070571681 Joel Pinheiro da Fonseca

    Have you seen data on acceptance of the official teaching on contraception?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joel-Pinheiro-da-Fonseca/100001070571681 Joel Pinheiro da Fonseca

    But is taking the pill wrong by its essence, or because it facilitated the evils you described (supposing that it did)?

  • JByrne24

    Oh dear. This IS really my last word to your insults. If you have an intelligent point of problem I’ll give it my poor best. Bye. LDS.

  • Jofm1

    Why doesn’t the Church excommunicate her for promoting heresy?? Enough with these dissenters!!

  • JByrne24

    “The Church is merely custodian of the teachings of Christ.”

    Yes, but this is an ideal. 
    Over the centuries it has not always been so, and too over this immense period it has collected detritus and baggage that it must partially revise and partially discard.
    This is not to apportion blame to people who were better than most of us, but it reflects the humanity of our species and human failings.

  • JByrne24

    I note with great interest all you have said.
    Thank you for the information.

  • Jae

    You make me really laugh hard Jabba! Mate that was painful! Truth really hurts. Thanks.

  • Jae

    JByrne, What does LDS stands for? Latter Day Saints aka Mormons! Why don’t you just go there JByrne? Mormons have the exact same teaching and ideas as you have, both of you are very compatible and the Mormons will welcome you with open arms.

  • JByrne24

    Fair point.
    I used my words badly. I’m sure Paul 6th did not “ignore” the report of the vast majority of the Commission.
    But he decided not to accept the major recommendations that were made by the Commission.

  • Jae

    Well JByrne24 at least we admit that we based our opinions upon the clear Magisterial Teachings of the Church, how about yours? How are you certain that your opinion is not erroneous as well? Where do you based it on? Let me guess, your own standard?

  • JByrne24

    Extremely.

  • cephas2

    You’re kidding, aren’t you?

  • cephas2

    Sadly, you’re not.

  • JByrne24

    Laus Deo Semper, meaning Praise be to God.

    It is how students of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) finish their writings and other work.

    Please see LINK:
    http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=34513

  • Jae

    This hilarious! Again Jabba you make laugh hard on the floor! Probably JByrne24 will quote Hans Kung as the most respected orthodox catholic theologian!!!!!! Anybody, any loon as long as our friend JByrne finds their theology that agrees with his own twisted theology is considered orthodox, LOL! LOL!

  • JByrne24

    No, not at all.
    I live in Europe and it’s getting late, and to bed I must go soon.
    May I refer you to a reply given earlier to you by Joel Pinheiro da Fonseca.

    Extract below:
    “You seem to think that there exists a “Church” apart from the theologians, bishops and popes who in fact think and write and define the official teachings of the times, as if there were an objective standard of Catholic teaching that did not come from the pen of “a theologian”.
    The majority opinion, even the opinion that was declared by pope after pope, that got those who disobeyed excommunicated, has been overturned on many questions. “

  • Jae

    Jabba you have to stop this, I’m getting a tummy ache already for laughing hard! Elijah probably is infinitely more cultured than our friend, and he doesn’t have the slightest clue what comprises a modernist! Tell him to look at the mirror!

  • navyenduring

    Popes may have been wrong about things BUT NEVER ABOUT FAITH AND MORALS.  The pope was wrong about the earth being square etc in the middle ages but this is not faith and morals.  Truth is ETERNAL and does not change.  Many catholics practice sexuality in line with the teachings of the church.  The poll that found that the majority of Catholics use contraception was flawed.  These people identified themselves as Catholic but WERE NOT PRACTICING CATHOLICS.  So morality is based on popular opinion? How wrong you are.  Read St. Faustina (lived prior to WWII and read Fatima) Mary said at Fatima, “More souls go to hell for sins of the flesh than any other sin.” So Our Lady is a liar?  You are deceiving yourself

  • JByrne24

    I know full-well what modernism means. It was not the meaning I was asking about.
    It was the context which was bizarre and inappropriate.

  • theroadmaster

    That’s an interesting question.  I would make the same distinction that Catholic theology would hold for the condom.  As an object it can be potentially be used for different uses(although we are familiar with it’s primary function i.e prevention of conception from taking place, which is highly objectionable regarding Catholic moral teaching).  For example , one could use the condom to carry water if one had no other means of containing it, and this would not violate any Christian principle.  So the condom could be in theory be used for good or ill, but we would be extremely naive, if we believed that the vast majority of people who utilized these prophylactics, done it for reasons, other than to prevent conception during the sexual act.  Likewise with contraceptive pills, they can be used on occasion to treat women for certain medical conditions which are totally unrelated to any intention to contracept.   We know that in the overwhelming number of cases involving people who use them, that the intent is to frustrate the primary intent of the sexual act i.e procreation and separate it(procreation) from the mutual loving aspect of sex.  This act directly contravenes Church teaching on sexual/reproductive mores and thus in this instance the Pill is a sign of scandal.

  • Jae

    The Jews considered Isaiah’s writings as Inspired Word of God himself, Moses did, David did, Joshua did, Jesus Christ did! JByrnes24 did not! Who is this guy anyways?

  • Jae

    Our friend Patrick asserted that, “catholic moral teaching has often been defective”, I really wonder why his own standard of morals is not considered defective! Maybe because he thinks he is infallible or he is certainly and genuinely sure that he’s right.

  • Jae

    I know very well what it means for Catholics who adhere to catholic teachings and NOT so called Catholics who reject and disobedient to catholic teachings! If you believe that Jesus Christ founded one Church and that Church has been given the Authority to speak for Him in His absence for the Salvation of many, then you must OBEY! If not then say goodbye to your salvation.

  • Isaac

    It doesn’t mean “Praise be to God” but rather “Praise always to God”! 

  • Cadillactears

    You ever notice how most of these people look? Who in their right mind would take her seriously? I wouldn’t want to see what she is like without her meds.

  • Jae

    We are not stupid people JByrne, what do you mean “I’m doing nothing of the sort?” well do you want us to list the non negotiable doctrines of the Catholic Church you just trampled upon? Are you playing Invisible ignorance at us? You can’t fool us, church and God.

  • I. Kant

    JByrne24 disagrees with yet another Church teaching (that it is possible by reason alone to conclude that God exists). Anyone surprised?

  • Isaac

    “I believe firmly, as almost all Catholic philosophers do, that this is patently false.”

    How do you know that this is what almost all Catholic philosophers believe?

    Incidentally, there is a good book on this subject by Denys Turner called “Faith, reason and the existence of God”. The preface (almost entirely available on Amazon) explains why it is important that the Church teaches what she does on this point.

  • Jae

    So you are throwing now some citations of a fellow named Joel that actually just agrees with your idea of the “church” as orthodoxy? Why do give more weight and credence to a guy than the Apostolic Church? If we follow the logic of this guy which I don’t even know if he’s a catholic, then why should one stop to reject the Bible itself? Besides the fact that the Bible and the books, letters contained herein were all written by a pen of a depraved, corrupt and sinful men, right? So by Joel’s and your standard, does it make the Bible corrupt as well? Why not reject Moses, Isaiah, Jesus Christ, the Sacraments, the Catholic Church, the Pope as well in order for your logic to be consistent? Why believe in the objective Truth since all came from the corrupt pen, written, spoken by fellow depraved and corrupted men? Does it makes sense to you, JByrne?

    The clear misunderstanding on the part of you and your kind is the apparent lack of common sense to distinguish between the official teachings of the pope and Magisterium to the Universal Church and the opinion, instructions, musings of the bishops, popes and theologians not address to the Universal church as official teaching. Big difference.

  • Matthew Roth

    One has to show that she’s actually teaching heresy as defined under canon law.

  • Isaac

    A more honest (not to mention intelligent) response would be to admit that what I said was — hold on to your seat, here it comes again! — true.

  • Jae

    I guessed Hans Kung is still conservative in JByrne24′s standard for orthodoxy, probably Martin Luther or John Calvin would do for the “most respected catholic theologian” for our friend.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joel-Pinheiro-da-Fonseca/100001070571681 Joel Pinheiro da Fonseca

    Two points: first, as stated, even opinions enshrined in public and universal declarations have been overturned. (Do you know what one Luther’s condemned propositions was? That heretics should not be burned at the stake. This opinion was oficially and publicly declared anathema by the pope. Current popes do NOT think like that, thank God! Obviously, the teaching has changed). Same with usury and liberty of religion and conscience, by the way.

    Second: if you think that there’s no middle ground between absolute blind adherence to an authority and complete subjectivism, then it is you who has killed the very possibility of objective knowledge. The standard by which opinions are judged are not men, but reason.You see, I’m not asking to believe “a fellow named Joel”; I’m not asking for a leap of faith on your part. I’m giving arguments and pointing to historical facts. Look them up. Evaluate the arguments.

    A serious, objective look at the history of Catholic moral teaching will show that positions once considered infallibly determined (as being publicly taught and declared by popes, and receiving the unanimous consent of bishops and the laity in general) have been overturned. The conclusion is inescapable: the infallibility that current official teaching claims for itself is not that certain. And the fact that the CDF currently treats any dissent from official opinion with an inquisitorial, sectarian attitude, instead of engaging in dialogue and rational discussion (from what I’ve been reading, this has been getting worse in the last few years) only underscores the shakiness of the ground on which it stands.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joel-Pinheiro-da-Fonseca/100001070571681 Joel Pinheiro da Fonseca

    What if Jesus did indeed found the Church, the Church preserves Christ’s core message and faith as He promised she would, she also preserves her sacramental lineage as He promised she would, but her authorities have, over time, claimed for themselves a much higher degree of certainty for their opinions than they had objective grounds to claim?

    Believing that the hierarchy, and the papacy in particular, has gone beyond the bounds it could reasonably claim to know with certainty doesn’t mean rejecting the institution as such or not seeing it as divine and holy in many ways. Remember that the pharisees, who had sunk to a very low level of doctrine and morals, were the religious authority, and the VALID religious authority (Jesus said so) of their day. Doesn’t the history of God’s chosen people, and even of their religious authorities, present a very likely framework for the subsequent history of the Christian Church?

    You will disagree with me. And how do you know that I’m wrong regarding the infallibility of the Pope/hierarchy? “Because the Pope/hierarchy teaches otherwise!” Don’t you see anything wrong in this?

  • Jae

    And oh yes to rebut your friend named Joel Pinheiro that the Church exists aside from the theologians, bishops and popes….that aside is named Jesus Christ! And yes the objective truth didn’t come from the depraved, corrupted theologian’s pen (if we based it from this position, then we are all doom and why should I even believe you or Joel in the first place?). The objective Truth comes from God Himself revealed by His Son and sent 12 sinners to speak and write infallibly in His Name! That is what we called Faith in God and His promises inspite in the midst of corruption of men.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joel-Pinheiro-da-Fonseca/100001070571681 Joel Pinheiro da Fonseca

    I have read an article by the Cardinal about Noonan for the magazine First Things. But it was only an article, and it didn’t go into detail at all on the points Noonan made.

    For instance: when discussing usury, the Cardinal said something on the lines of “economic reality changed since the Middle Ages, justifying the change in the nature of interest-charging” – this is false. Interest-charging back then played the same exact economic roles it plays now. And actually, from the 13th century onwards, Europe had a very complex e and very developed financial market.
    Anyway, I don’t want to create a new debate. If you meant the article for First Things, it only points at possible attempts of rebuttals, but does not actually them (which would probably take a book).

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joel-Pinheiro-da-Fonseca/100001070571681 Joel Pinheiro da Fonseca

    Either one completely abandons his own autonomy and substitutes the official teaching for his own mind, or he is a complete subjectivist who considers himself infallible. Aren’t you missing something?

    In science, do we have to choose between sticking 100% with an authority or believing whatever our whims dictate? No. There is such a thing as reason. And by implicitly denying it, you are killing the possibility of objective knowledge. We are left only with blind faith and blind whim.

    Someone here mentioned Kant; well, in arguing in this manner, traditionalist and ultra-orthodox Catholics are behaving like true descendants of Kant!

  • Guest

    It’s not a wig. No one would buy something that looks like that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joel-Pinheiro-da-Fonseca/100001070571681 Joel Pinheiro da Fonseca

    1: Do you have a direct line with Jesus to know what He thinks? Does the pope?

    2: My point was never that “depraved human beings” cannot know the truth. My point is that  men are fallible; their thoughts and ideas may be correct, but they should not be treated as if they were infallible. Doing it only retards necessary discussions and creates unnecessary tension and suffering.

  • Sanctus3x

    Isaiah spoke for God just like the Pope does. Grow up! TRUTH IS EVERGREEN! Always fresh as the day it was said. God is Truth. The Devil is the Father of Lies and those who follow the World, the Flesh and the Devil are lying to themselves and others they lead away from God.

    Broad is the way that leads to destruction and hell. Many there are who travel it.

    Conversely – Jesus is The Way that leads to Eternal Life. He said “If your eye causes you to sin tear it out and cast it from you. Now you can do this figuratively or literally like Saint Lucy did. That is how deadly Mortal Sin is to the soul.

  • Sanctus3x

    Isaiah, was God’s spokesman in the OT.
    Apostles and Popes and Disciples of Christ are God’s spokesmen in the NT.
    Jesus said, ” I am The Way, The Truth and The Life.” He said that Satan is the Father of Lies.
    TRUTH IS EVERGREEN. God is the same yesterday and today.
    The Catholic 10 Commandments are still God’s Laws with which we are to live our lives by.

    This nun has “Ipso Facto” excommunicated herself, from the Catholic Church. Those Priests, Nuns or Religious who teach like her must repent or go.

  • Patrick_Hadley

    What is wrong with it? Do you think that it makes you blind? Do you really not know that it is perfectly natural and totally harmless?

  • Patrick_Hadley

     Junior, putting things into capital letters does not make them true. Telling lies is against the moral teaching of the Church – so I suggest you withdraw the remark that, in the context of this topic of sexual morality, most Catholics support the Pope.

  • Patrick_Hadley

     If you study the history of the Church you will see that it always responds and often conforms to contemporary society. Sadly it often copies some of the worst factors of society and then clings on to them. Just as one example consider the lordly and princely titles given to Church leaders. Did they come from the scriptures, or from the life of Our Lord and the Apostles? Or were they copied from the way that aristocrats and rulers insisted they be called by their subjects?

  • rjt1

    It is a solemnly defined teaching of the Church (Vatican I) that the existence of God (and something of his nature) can be known by the natural light of reason. (“The same Holy mother Church holds and teaches that God, the source and end of all things, can be known with certainty from the consideration of created things, by the natural power of human reason : ever since the creation of the world, his invisible nature has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.” (quoting Romans 1:20 at the end there, I think)).

    I suppose one might debate whether this requires a philosophical proof: I tend to think it does not.

    If you deny this teaching, then it seems to me there is nothing in Catholic teaching which you will not deny. A very peculiar position for one who calls himself a Catholic.

  • Ronishort

    clicked like by mistake in reply to JappaPapa

  • rjt1

    My main replies are below but, on this point of faith, I would suggest that one way of capturing the reality is to say that it is an act of trust in a God who has made himself known.

  • Anonymous

    Or perhaps the Holy Spirit may be using the Pope to say something to the unfaithful married congregation?