|Sr. Margaret Farley|
A couple of days ago I wrote about the fact that the Vatican had issued a warning to Catholics about a book, which was written by Sr. Margaret Farley. I explained that the Vatican had warned Catholics that the sisters book – “Just Love: A framework for Christian Sexual Ethics” – was likely to cause confusion amongst Catholics and could therefore prove harmful to Catholics.
My post however focussed only on my own general concerns that a member of a Catholic religious order had been so audacious as to publish a book that directly contradicts Church teaching. I did not provide any details about what specifically it was about her book that had caused the Vatican such concern. In response to the post, one of my readers kindly suggested that I would have done the topic more justice, if I had taken the time to explain what it was that the Vatican had found objectionable and why. I considered this to be very good advice and hence this post.
The entire notification, which was issued by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) regarding Sr. Farley’s book, is of course available in English on the CDF website for those who wish to read it.
So what is it about Sr. Farley’s book that has led the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith to issue a warning notice to Catholics?
The first problem identified in Sr. Farley’s book is that it chooses to either completely ignore the Magisterium or presents the teaching of the Magisterium as being just one of many opinions, which has no greater value or authority than the opinions of any other person or organisation. Any good Catholic will of course know immediately that this is most certainly not true.
The Magisterium is the teaching office of the Church. It consists of the Pope and the Bishops. Christ promised to protect them from error, saying: “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” We know that whenever the Pope speaks and makes a definitive statement on Faith or Morals, he does so infallibly. The same is also true of the Bishops when they speak as one body, but always and only when they do so in union with, never without, the Pope.
By choosing to ignore the Magisterium or dismissing its teaching as just one of many opinions, Sr. Farley ignores the crucial fact that “the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.” The Magisterium is the primary means that God has given us to enable us know the truth and for any Catholic, particularly a theologian and religious like Sr. Farley, to ignore this or to suggest otherwise, is perverse.
In addition to ignoring or devaluing the teaching authority of the Magisterium, Sr. Farley presents teaching on various subjects that is quite evidently in direct contradiction to the teaching of the Magisterium. She does so on the subjects of masturbation, homosexual acts, homosexual unions, indissolubility of marriage, and on the issue of divorce and remarriage.
On the subject of masturbation Sr. Farley claims that masturbation, or “self-pleasuring” to use her words, is not a moral issue. She states that: “Masturbation… usually does not raise any moral questions at all. … It is surely the case 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.” Sr. Farley claims that our only consideration must be to decide whether masturbation is just or not. The basis for such a decision, she claims, is to determine whether it is used to help or harm, support or limit, individual “well-being and liberty of spirit”. When we contrast this view of Sr. Farley with the teaching of the Church, it is immediately apparent just to what extent Sr. Farley contradicts Church teaching.
“Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.”
“By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. ‘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.’ ‘The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.’ 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.’”
On the subject of homosexual acts and homosexual unions, Sr. Farley states: “Legislation for non-discrimination against homosexuals, but also for domestic partnerships, civil unions, and gay marriage, can also 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.” She also says that, “same-sex relationships and activities can be justified according to the same sexual ethic as heterosexual relationships and activities.”
Sr. Farley’s views in this regard are again blatantly contrary to the teaching of the Church. The Church goes to great lengths to emphasise that “the number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfil God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross, the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.” The Church also teaches quite unambiguously, contrary to what Sr. Farley proposes, that, “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.”
Finally, and equally controversially, Sr. Farley then addresses the issue of marriage, divorce and remarriage. She states that she is of the opinion 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.” Sr. Farley also presents a view that “the lives of two persons once married to one another are forever qualified by the experience of that marriage. The depth of what remains admits of degrees, but something remains. But does what remains disallow a second marriage? My own view is that it does not. Whatever on going obligation a residual bond entails, it need not include a prohibition of remarriage”.
Once again, as has been the case with every previous example already presented from her book, Sr. Farley has chosen to just ignore Church teaching. In this instance she ignores the following unmistakeable words of Christ on the issue of remarriage:
“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."
“They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?’ He said to them, ‘For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery.’”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes it abundantly clear that 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. Between the baptized, ‘a ratified and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death.’”
It should be evident from the above examples that Sr. Farley has clearly chosen to adopt a position in direct contradiction to Church teaching. The Vatican is therefore wise and in fact obliged to warn Catholics that her book could confuse them and cause them harm. Catholics should avoid the temptation to buy the book and trust the Church in this regard. Steer well clear of the book!
 Luke 10: 16
 Lumen Gentium, #25, Nov 21, 1964
 Dei Verbum, #10, Nov 18, 1965
 Farley, MA, Just Love: A framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, pg. 236, Feb 15, 2008
 Ibid. pg. 295
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2351
 Ibid. #2352
 Farley, MA, Just Love: A framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, pg. 293, Feb 15, 2008
 Ibid. pg. 295
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2358
 Ibid. #2357
 Farley, MA, Just Love: A framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, pg. 304 - 305, Feb 15, 2008
 Ibid. pg 310
 Mark 10: 11 - 12
 Matthew 19: 7 - 9
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2382