Last updated on April 23, 2014 at 21:24 EDT

Response To Vatican’s Notification Regarding Just Love: A Framework For Christian Sexual Ethics

June 4, 2012

NEW HAVEN, Conn., June 4, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — Yale Divinity School Professor Emerita Margaret Farley says her book Just Love was not intended to express “current official Catholic teaching” but rather to help people “think through their questions about human sexuality,” in response to a Vatican charge that her book “affirms positions that are in direct contradiction with Catholic teaching in the field of sexual morality.”

The Vatican, through its Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, (CDF) sent an official “Notification” released in Rome on June 4 following a lengthy investigation of the book. Farley is a prominent Catholic theologian and member of the Sisters of Mercy, a congregation of women religious, who served for almost 40 years on the YDS faculty before retiring in 2007 as the Gilbert L. Stark Professor of Christian Ethics. She is a past president of both the Society of Christian Ethics and the Catholic Theological Society of America and is a recipient of the John Courtney Murray Award for Excellence in Theology.

In a statement released on June 4, concurrently with the Vatican announcement of the Notification, Farley observed that the Notification fails to specifically address her positions on issues such as homosexuality, divorce, marriage, and masturbation and “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.” (Read Farley’s full statement at http://notesfromthequad.yale.edu/statement-margaret-farley.)

“Notification” is a term commonly used for the official communication by which the CDF makes public its judgment in particular matters related to the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church.

Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics (Continuum, 2006) poses the decisive question, “With what kinds of motives, under what sorts of circumstances, in what forms of relationships, do we render our sexual selves to one another in ways that are good, true, right, and just?” Farley’s answer rests on the fundamental notion that morally appropriate sexual relationships, heterosexual as well as same-sex, must be characterized by justice. In that framework, Just Love challenges traditional–and frequently negative–views of homosexuality, masturbation, divorce, and remarriage after divorce.

In her statement, Farley noted, “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.”

In recognition of Just Love, Farley was awarded the 2008 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion, given “to honor and publicize annually creative and constructive insights into the relationship between human beings and the divine, and ways in which this relationship may inspire or empower human beings to attain wholeness, integrity or meaning, either individually or in community.”

News of the impending Vatican announcement prompted a flurry of reaction in the days leading up to the announcement amongst Farley’s colleagues and fellow theologians in both secular and Catholic institutions.

Harold Attridge, dean of Yale Divinity School and a Catholic layperson, said, “Honest and creative theologians have often met a critical response to serious theological reflection, and it is not a surprise that Professor Farley’s work has done so as well. In time, I suspect, those who react negatively to it now will come to appreciate the important contribution it makes to what must be our constant effort to examine the foundations of our moral life.

“The YDS community continues to appreciate the unique insights Professor Farley brings to the theological enterprise, and we look forward to her future contributions in the field.” (Read Attridge’s full statement at http://notesfromthequad.yale.edu/statement-harold-attridge.)

Sister Patricia McDermott, president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, said Margaret Farley is “a highly respected and valued member of the Sisters of Mercy” who “assiduously attempts to present the Catholic tradition as formative of her own rich experience while recognizing the ecumenical audience she often engages.” (Read McDermott’s full statement at http://bit.ly/KYCueT.)

McDermott concluded, “I speak for members of our religious community when I express our profound regret that this Notification was issued. While the process initiated by CDF has been lengthy, arduous and extremely difficult, Sister Margaret and the Sisters of Mercy have responded thoughtfully each step of the way.”

David Hollenbach, University Chair in Human Rights and International Justice in the Department of Theology at Boston College, said, “Margaret Farley’s book Just Love provides urgently needed reflection. It shows that key elements of the Christian tradition can help us think about the ethics of sexual behavior in ways that will help many live more human and more Christian lives. I deeply regret that church officials have failed to appreciate the important contribution Farley has made.”

And Paul Lakeland, the Aloysius P. Kelley Professor of Catholic Studies and director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University, said, “Margaret Farley is a careful and caring Catholic social ethicist, a woman of great integrity…It is the vocation of Catholic theologians and ethicists to work on the boundaries of what is known and to explore the relationship between Gospel values and the challenges of different times and different cultures. Margaret has done this with grace and wisdom throughout her life.”

SOURCE Yale Divinity School; Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

Source: PR Newswire