The Vatican office that oversees the orthodoxy of those Catholic theologians and religious under obedience published on June 4 a warning about a book written by Sister Margaret A. Farley. Her book, Just Love. A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, according to the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Church, "is not in conformity with the teaching of the Church. Consequently it cannot be used as a valid expression of Catholic teaching, either in counselling and formation, or in ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue". The warning is signed by Cardinal William Joseph Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly of San Francisco CA, and has been approved by Pope Benedict. The book was published in 2006.
A release from the Vatican noted that the Congregation wrote to Sr. Farley in 2010 "enclosing a preliminary evaluation of her book and indicating the doctrinal problems it contained, however her answer failed to clarify those issues in a satisfactory manner. The Congregation therefore proceeded to examine the volume following the procedure for 'examination in cases of urgency'".
In June 2011 a commission of experts confirmed that the "book contained erroneous propositions, the dissemination of which risks grave harm to the faithful", declared the Congregation. Sr. Farley was sent a list of the erroneous propositions and invited to correct them, but her response "did not adequately clarify the grave problems contained in her book" and the Congregation decided to proceed with the publication of this Notification, extracts of which are given below.
"The author does not present a correct understanding of the role of the Church’s Magisterium as the teaching authority of the bishops united with the Successor of Peter, which guides the Church’s ever deeper understanding of the Word of God as found in Holy Scripture. ... In addressing various moral issues, Sr. Farley either ignores the constant teaching of the Magisterium or, where it is occasionally mentioned, treats it as one opinion among others. ... Sr. Farley also manifests a defective understanding of the objective nature of the natural moral law", declared the statement.
"Among the many errors and ambiguities of this book are its positions on masturbation, homosexual acts, homosexual unions, the indissolubility of marriage and the problem of divorce and remarriage".
"Sr. Farley writes: 'Masturbation… usually does not raise any moral questions at all'" The Catholic Church, as have other religious authorities, has long deplored masturbation as sinful. The Congregation wrote of Sr. Farley's position on sin of masturbation, " ... This statement does not conform to Catholic teaching: 'Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action. ... For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved'".
"Sr. Farley writes: 'My own view ... is that same-sex relationships and activities can be justified according to the same sexual ethic as heterosexual relationships and activities'. ... "
The Congregation, offered "This opinion is not acceptable. The Catholic Church, in fact, distinguishes between persons with homosexual tendencies and homosexual acts. Concerning persons with homosexual tendencies, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “they must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” .
Referring to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, promulgated during the pontificate of Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II, "Concerning homosexual acts, however, the Catechism affirms: “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved”".
"The Church teaches that the respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of ... homosexual unions. The common good requires that laws recognise, promote and protect marriage as the basis of the family, the primary unit of society. ... The denial of the social and legal status of marriage to forms of cohabitation that are not and cannot be marital is not opposed to justice; on the contrary, justice requires it".
"Sr. Farley writes: 'My own position is that a marriage commitment is subject to release'. ... This opinion is in contradiction to Catholic teaching on the indissolubility of marriage: “By its very nature conjugal love requires the inviolable fidelity of the spouses. This is the consequence of the gift of themselves which they make to each other. Love seeks to be definitive; it cannot be an arrangement ‘until further notice’. The intimate union of marriage, as a mutual giving of two persons, and the good of the children, demand total fidelity from the spouses and require an unbreakable union between them. ... The Lord Jesus insisted on the original intention of the Creator who willed that marriage be indissoluble. He abrogates the accommodations that had slipped into the old Law".
The notification from the Congregation also assesses Sr. Farley's opinion that divorced people may remarry, saying: "This view contradicts Catholic teaching that excludes the possibility of remarriage after divorce. ... In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ, ... the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognised as valid, if the first marriage was'".
"With this Notification, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith expresses profound regret that a member of an institute of consecrated life, Sr. Margaret A. Farley R.S.M., affirms positions that are in direct contradiction with Catholic teaching in the field of sexual morality. ... Furthermore the Congregation wishes to encourage theologians to pursue the task of studying and teaching moral theology in full concord with the principles of Catholic doctrine".
A Wikipedia entry about the embattled Sr. Farley says that she is a professor at Yale Divinity School, and a Sister of Mercy. She was the first woman appointed to serve full-time on the YDS faculty. She and Fr. Henri Nouwen were the first Roman Catholic faculty members at the Divinity School. In 1984 she was one of 97 theologians and religious persons who signed A Catholic Statement on Pluralism and Abortion, calling for "pluralism and discussion within the Catholic Church regarding the Church's position on abortion". She has written six books to date, including Just Love. Sr. Farley is a recipient of the John Courtney Murray Award from the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA), of which she was once president as well as the Society of Christian Ethics. She released a statement on June 4 in reaction to the Notification.