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Vatican Critiques Book By Mercy Sister Margaret Farley

June 4, 2012
Book not in conformity with Church teaching on sexual ethics
Not for use in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, formation, counseling
Urges theologians to pursue moral theology in full concord with Catholic doctrine

WASHINGTON—The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has declared that a book on sexual ethics by Mercy Sister Margaret A. Farley does not conform to the teachings of the Magisterium. As such, the CDF said, “it cannot be used as a valid expression of Catholic teaching, either in counseling and formation, or in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.”

CDF critiqued the book, “Just Love: A Framework for Christian Social Ethics,” in a five-page notification released at the Vatican June 4. Pope Benedict XVI approved the notification March 16, and ordered its publication.

The notification can be found at

Sister Farley, professor emerita from Yale University Divinity School, where she taught from 1971-2007, published “Just Love” in 2006. She has been in dialogue with CDF over their concerns since 2010. She twice responded in writing to their concerns, but neither response settled what CDF said in the notification were “grave problems in her book.”

The notification addressed “general problems” and said that “Sister Farley either ignores the constant teaching of the Magisterium or, where it is occasionally mentioned, treats it as one opinion among others.” It added that she “also manifests a defective understanding of the objective nature of the natural moral law, choosing instead to argue on the basis of conclusions selected from certain philosophical currents or from her own understanding of ‘contemporary experience.’ This approach is not consistent with authentic Catholic theology.”

The notification specifically criticized the book’s treatment of masturbation, homosexual acts, homosexual unions, indissolubility of marriage and divorce and remarriage.

The notification noted that Sister Farley said that “masturbation ... usually does not raise any moral question at all.” In response, the notification quoted the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” which states that both the Magisterium “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.”

On homosexual acts, Sister Farley wrote that “same-sex oriented persons as well as their activities can and should be respected whether or not they have a choice to be otherwise.” The notification said that “this opinion is not acceptable” and cited the catechism, which states that homosexual persons “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” It added, however, that Scripture presents homosexual acts as “acts of grave depravity,” and that “tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”

On homosexual unions, Sister Farley offered a defense for domestic partnerships, civil unions, and gay marriage and said they can be “important in transforming the hatred, rejection and stigmatization of gays and lesbians that is still being reinforced by teachings of ‘unnatural’ sex, disordered desire, and dangerous love....” The notification said her position is “opposed to the teaching of the Magisterium” and cited the 2003 CDF document “Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons.” The 2003 statement holds that “the common good requires that laws recognize, promote and protect marriage as the basis of the family, the primary unit of society.”

“Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behavior, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of society,” the CDF said in 2003.

On indissolubility of marriage, Sister Farley said that her own position “is that a marriage commitment is subject to release on the same ultimate grounds that any extremely serious, nearly unconditional, permanent commitment may cease to bind.” The notification, citing the catechism, said “by its very nature conjugal love requires the inviolable fidelity of the spouses.”

On divorce and remarriage,Sister Farley argued that after divorce, “whatever ongoing obligation a residual bond entails, it need not include a prohibition of remarriage – any more than the ongoing union between spouses after one of them has died prohibits a second marriage on the part of the one who still lives.” The notification said her view “contradicts Catholic teaching that excludes the possibility of remarriage after divorce” adding from the catechism that “the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was.”

In its conclusion, the notification expressed “profound regret” that Sister Farley, a member of an institute of consecrated life, “affirms positions that are in direct contradiction with Catholic teaching in the field of sexual morality.”

The notification added, “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.”


Keywords: Sister Margaret Farley, Yale University School of Divinity, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Sisters of Mercy, masturbation, same-sex unions, homosexuality, homosexual acts, divorce, remarriage,

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Sr. Mary Ann Walsh
O: 202-541-3200
M: 301-325-7935

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