Sister Margaret Farley RSM, a Catholic nun and professor at Harvard University has stirred controversy before, but is now with an official notification from the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about her book, 'Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics', that her work has been found unsuitable for Catholic readers. The book was published in 2006. According to the Vatican office, “Among the many errors and ambiguities in this book are its positions on masturbation, homosexual acts, homosexual unions, the indissolubility of marriage and the problems of divorce and remarriage.” The book was adopted by some Catholic educators.
The notification notes Farley's claim that many women ''have found great good in self-pleasuring - perhaps especially in the discovery of their own possibilities for pleasure - something many had not experienced or even known about in their ordinary sexual relations with husbands or lovers''. Masturbation, Farley wrote in her book, ''actually serves relationships rather than hindering them''. That view, the Vatican congregation stated, contradicted the Catholic belief that masturbation is a ''gravely disordered action''.
The Vatican declared that Farley's approval of homosexual relations ignored ''Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity'', while her backing for homosexual unions was tantamount to ''approval of deviant behaviour." Open also to divorce and remarriage, Farley's book was deemed as ''contravening God's law''.
Catholics and non-Catholics lined up to defend the embattled nun. ''I deeply regret that church officials have failed to appreciate the important contribution Farley has made,'' said David Hollenbach, a theologian at Boston College - a Jesuit institution. Sister Pat McDermott, the president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, of which Sister Farley is a member, described ''the profound regret'' of her sisters following the publication of the Vatican's report. Here follows McDermott's statement:
Statement from Sister Pat McDermott, RSM
Sister Margaret Farley, RSM, is a highly respected and valued member of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.
I know that I speak for our membership in expressing our profound regret that a Notification has been issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith regarding her book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics.
Sister Margaret's reputation as scholar, ethicist, educator and spiritual guide has enlivened the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas and enriched the entire Church. She is a Christian ethicist, an emerita professor at Yale University, and a prominent teacher invited to speak nationally and internationally.
Sister Margaret has given witness to the highest quality of academic work and compassionate presence. She assiduously attempts to present the Catholic tradition as formative of her own rich experience while recognizing the ecumenical audience she often engages. While being faithful to her own faith tradition and commitments, her sensitivity to the varied circumstances, realities and needs of her students is the context she consistently honors. Sister Margaret is an extraordinary teacher and pastoral minister who is deeply committed to the Gospel and the following of Jesus Christ. For more than 50 years, Margaret has given her life in exceptional scholarship and remarkable pastoral service to those who are most in need.
The process initiated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has been lengthy, arduous and extremely difficult. I am deeply saddened that Sister Margaret has had to engage in this process for more than three years and that the Congregation has rendered this Notification concerning the significant pastoral and ethical thinking that are represented in her book, Just Love.
Patricia McDermott, RSM
President, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
Statement by Sr Margaret Farley