Thursday, June 7, 2012

The CDF Condemns Heretical Book By Sister Margaret A. Farley

Finally we see something worthwhile out of the CDF! Whats next, the return of an active 'Index' of forbidden books? Perhaps it would be easier to just make a list of all of the good books printed over the past 50 years or so. Although the errors contained in the book are quite obvious, it is good to see a condemnation of them in an official document from the CDF.

Notification on the book
Just love. A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics
by Sr. Margaret A. Farley, R.S.M.


Having completed an initial examination of the book Just Love. A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics (New York: Continuum, 2006) by Sr. Margaret A. Farley, R.S.M., the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote to the author on March 29, 2010, through the good offices of Sr. Mary Waskowiak – the then President of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas – enclosing a preliminary evaluation of the book and indicating the doctrinal problems present in the text. The response of Sr. Farley, dated October 28, 2010, did not clarify these problems in a satisfactory manner. Because the matter concerned doctrinal errors present in a book whose publication has been a cause of confusion among the faithful, the Congregation decided to undertake an examination following the procedure for "Examination in cases of urgency" contained in the Congregation’s Regulations for Doctrinal Examinations (cf. Chap. IV, art. 23-27).

Following an evaluation by a Commission of experts (cf. art. 24), the Ordinary Session of the Congregation confirmed on June 8, 2011, that the above-mentioned book contained erroneous propositions, the dissemination of which risks grave harm to the faithful. On July 5, 2011, a letter was sent to Sr. Waskowiak containing a list of these erroneous propositions and asking her to invite Sr. Farley to correct the unacceptable theses contained in her book (cf. art. 25-26).

On October 3, 2011, Sr. Patricia McDermott, who in the meantime had succeeded Sr. Mary Waskowiak as President of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, forwarded to the Congregation – in accordance with art. 27 of the above cited Regulations – the response of Sr. Farley, together with her own opinion and that of Sr. Waskowiak. This response, having been examined by the Commission of experts, was submitted to the Ordinary Session for judgement on December 14, 2011. On this occasion, the Members of the Congregation, considering that Sr. Farley’s response did not adequately clarify the grave problems contained in her book, decided to proceed with the publication of this Notification.

1. General problems

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 and handed on faithfully in the Church’s living tradition. 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. Such an attitude is in no way justified, even within the ecumenical perspective that she wishes to promote. Sr. Farley 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.

2. Specific problems

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. … 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. In this way, it could be said that masturbation actually serves relationships rather than hindering them. My final observation is, then, that the norms of justice as I have presented them would seem to apply to the choice of sexual self-pleasuring only insofar as this activity may help or harm, only insofar as it supports or limits, well-being and liberty of spirit. This remains largely an empirical question, not a moral one" (p. 236).
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. 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. To form an equitable judgment about the subject’s moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety, or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability".1

Homosexual acts

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. Therefore, same-sex oriented persons as well as their activities can and should be respected whether or not they have a choice to be otherwise" (p. 295).

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"2. 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".3

Homosexual unions

Sr. Farley writes: "Legislation for nondiscrimination 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. … Presently one of the most urgent issues before the U.S. public is marriage for same-sex partners – that is, the granting of social recognition and legal standing to unions between lesbians and gays comparable to unions between heterosexuals" (p. 293).

This position is opposed to the teaching of the Magisterium: "The Church teaches that the respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions. 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 humanity. The Church cannot fail to defend these values, for the good of men and women and for the good of society itself". 4 "The principles of respect and non-discrimination cannot be invoked to support legal recognition of homosexual unions. Differentiating between persons or refusing social recognition or benefits is unacceptable only when it is contrary to justice. 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".5

Indissolubility of marriage

Sr. Farley writes: "My 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. This implies that there can indeed be situations in which too much has changed – one or both partners have changed, the relationship has changed, the original reason for commitment seems altogether gone. The point of a permanent commitment, of course, is to bind those who make it in spite of any changes that may come. But can it always hold? Can it hold absolutely, in the face of radical and unexpected change? My answer: sometimes it cannot. Sometimes the obligation must be released, and the commitment can be justifiably changed" (pp. 304-305).

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 deepest reason is found in the fidelity of God to his covenant, in that of Christ to his Church. Through the sacrament of Matrimony the spouses are enabled to represent this fidelity and witness to it. Through the sacrament, the indissolubility of marriage receives a new and deeper meaning. 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".6

Divorce and remarriage

Sr. Farley writes: "If the marriage resulted in children, former spouses will be held together for years, perhaps a lifetime, in the ongoing project of parenting. In any case, 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 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" (p. 310).

This view contradicts Catholic teaching that excludes the possibility of remarriage after divorce: "Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ – ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery’ (Mk 10:11-12) –, the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God's law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities. Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence".7


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. The Congregation warns the faithful that her book Just Love. A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics is not in conformity with the teaching of the Church. Consequently it cannot be used as a valid expression of Catholic teaching, either in counseling and formation, or in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. 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.

The Sovereign Pontiff Benedict XVI, in the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect on March 16, 2012, approved the present Notification, adopted in the Ordinary Session of this Congregation on March 14, 2012, and ordered its publication.

Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, March 30, 2012.

William Cardinal Levada

+ Luis F. Ladaria, S.I.
Titular Archbishop of Thibica


1 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2352; cf; CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Declaration Persona humana on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics (December 29, 1975), n. 9: AAS 68 (1976), 85-87.

2 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2358.

3 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2357; cf. Gn 19:1-29; Rm 1:24-27; I Cor 6:10; 1 Tm 1:10; CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Declaration Persona humana, n. 8: AAS 68 (1976), 84-85; ID., Letter Homosexualitatis problema on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons (October 1, 1986): AAS 70 (1987), 543-554.

4 CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons (June 3, 2003), n. 11: AAS 96 (2004), 48.
5 Ibid., n. 8: AAS 96 (2004), 46-47.
6 Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 1646-1647, 2382; cf. Mt 5:31-32; 19:3-9; Mk 10:9; Lk 16:18; I Cor 7:10-11; SECOND ECUMENICAL VATICAN COUNCIL, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes on the Church in the Modern World, nn. 48-49; Code of Canon Law, can. 1141; JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio on the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World (November 22, 1981), n. 13: AAS 74 (1982), 93-96.
7 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1650; cf. JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, n. 84: AAS 74 (1982), 184-186; CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Letter Annus Internationalis Familiae Concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by the Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful (September 14, 1994): AAS 86 (1994), 974-979.


Jae said...

About time though we shouldn't do a carpet bombing for the entire group because of the few vocal dissidents!

Matthew Bellisario said...

I think there are more than a few vocal dissents, otherwise the Holy Father would not have called an entire organization of nuns out, who many are well known to hold heretical positions. This is just one example of many.

Jae said...

Calling the entire organization doesn't necessarily mean everyone is guilty of heretical positions. The Church acting as a loving mother of souls is patient and should give one last chance for the dissident elements to recant, repent and reconcile with the her or else declare them as anathema, strong Latin word, rather outside the Church, the same effect, huh? And let the faithful ones come in.

It took more than 6 years of trial from the time Luther nailed his propositions on the church door to his condemnation as a formal heretic. Why not for these nuns?The church is very slow on this matter, we know but we must be patient and loving as well. These nuns also have done great things out of love for our Lord and His Church, taking care of the poorest of us where no one seem to look nor touch, just so happened they were led astray by some faulty ideas not compatible with the teachings of the Church.

The Lord is patient with sinners, the Church is patient and so should we.

Matthew Bellisario said...

Well its been like 30 plus years now for many of these nuns, so now is as good of time as any to get them under control. Also, I never said that "everyone" is guilty of heretical positions as you have implied here. I said, "many."

kkollwitz said...

I've never read a Notification such as this before. Good to see it's clear, concise, to the point, and has footnotes.

Andrew M. Greenwell said...

This one was a no-brainer. Farley was so off-the-mark in her thinking and in her conclusions that it hardly took the CDF to make this clear. Why didn't her local bishop take her to task?

Jae said...

Matt, the book concernef was published only in 2006 and was found officially incompatible in 2012, that makes it 6 years NOT the exaggerated 30 years you were asserting. The Church as I said move very prudently and slowly with this type of cases and needed more concrete informations than hearsays.

Also it only proves my point, that we don't carpet bomb the entire country for the rebellious few. Nothing more.

And please don't expect that Vatican will check every work and books published by all clowns and loonies out there like some kind of a religious world police. Humanly impossible.

Matthew Bellisario said...

Jae, I never said that the Vatican is going to check every book. Also, I am merely stating that these dissident nuns from the group that the CDF addressed, LCWR, have been publishing heresy for over 30 years. The CDF addressed the entire LCWR conference, not just one member of it. If you consider that carpet bombing then go write the CDF and complain.

bill bannon said...

The Church should not act slowly in certain areas. This is not liturgical change which needs rumination or a change in a religious order's constitution. Christ took minutes to drive out the money changers because the context called for not "thinking in centuries" which has become an excuse for constant slowness. This book could have been read by one Cardinal from the CDF in 2006 and warned about then.
Heresy involves either the de fide or the inerrant. Divorce and gay activity in Vatican ecclesiastical courts would fall under those respectively...masturbation's condemnation comes largely (though not first in time) from Aquinas' Summa so that could lead to a dispute as to whether it falls under universal ordinary magisterium but divorce and gay actions are clear in terms of canon 749-3 unless a given Cardinal paused in the CDF due to his having drifted too far into the historico-critical school so as to see Romans chapter one's
condemnation of gay acts as expendable and limited by cultural tradition. This historico-critical drift has happened in the last two Popes on the death penalty. Read the short section 40 of Evangelium Vitae for JPII insinuating that God mandated OT death penalties were actually culturally unrefined and thus could not have been from God. Pope Benedict makes a similar insinuation about the OT dooms of whole tribes by saying in sect.42 of Verbum Domini that such passages should be handled by scholars:
" Rather, we should be aware that the correct interpretation of these passages requires a degree of expertise, acquired through a training that interprets the texts in their historical-literary context..."
Let's remember, Raymond Brown served briefly on the PBC under both JPII and Ratzinger without being scolded for being very untraditional on biblical matters.
Slowness of the CDF might have been caused by this new open door to the historico-critical school and it's tendency to actually void certain biblical verses...thus if one so questions Romans one on gay actions, one must reference the catechism instead.
In any event given a six years late warning, this book could well be sitting in Catholic High School and College libraries. Will the CDF go beyond a warning to emailing all Catholic libraries to remove the book? Will the Pope see that this is done? I think not because as a group we have corporately let Popes be great writers who are non accountable in the world of action when in
fact canon law sees them as being administrators whose power is "supreme" and "immediate" over all the churches. We need the next Pope to not write. We need a Pope who actually loves checking on the various regions by phone to Cardinals of those regions....from dawn to dusk and who writes next to nothing. Church as library is not working.

Matthew Bellisario said...

I agree Bill. The time for diplomacy is over. We don't need any more theological speculations by brilliant minds who want to see how far they can stretch things. We need a Pope who will actually defend with action, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, by disciplinary measures. Every single moral question this author has addressed is covered not only in Scripture, or Tradition, but in the natural law. Teaching on masturbation, homosexuality, etc, is irreformable based on the natural law. Unfortunately few Catholics, even theologians understand the principles of natural law and how the Church has infallibly taught moral doctrine based upon it. It was thrown out when Saint Thomas was abandoned in the seminaries, which was contrary to the command of several popes.

bill bannon said...

I think scripture and de fide pronouncements hold up better though than natural law if an author appeals to Vatican courts. St. Alphonsus di Ligouri in his Moral Theology stated that even saints have disputed the natural law. In the late 15th century, Dominicans accused the Franciscans of usury in their pawn shops but a Lateran Council later sided with the Franciscans. A number of Popes believed in chattel slavery (see Romanus Pontifex by Pope Nicholas V, mid 4th large paragraph) while Vatican II called it shameful. Dominicans and Franciscans attacked the Jesuits on Chinese ancestral rites while various Popes sided with both sides of the debate down through time. It's much clearer with divorce due to Trent and gay actions due to Romans one.

But Rome is partly influenced by media for the first time in history which is why punishments are rare as we try to undo the Inquisition et al in the world's consciousness....and are loathe to punishment
whether of Cardinal Law or of institutions like Georgetown which has a gay-bi-transgendered pride group ( not funded by Georgetown) but oddly allowed....or of Mc Veigh getting the death penalty. Rome and Popes want to image as being tender. But they want it too much. Christ was both tender and tough but He had no rough past to repent of and the Church does in spots...though her tender, hospitaller side (nuns doing nursing for no salary for centuries) doesn't stand out in mankind's mind as the strappado does. " The good is oft interred with their bones.

Matthew Bellisario said...

Bill, the Church in her many documents appeal to the Church's ability to infallibly interpret the natural law. If you read the many documents on marriage and sexual morality, the Church herself states unequivocally that She alone teaches sexual morality not only by her ability to do so from Scripture and Tradition, but from the natural law. For example, this is elaborated on in the document Persona Humana which states,

“Furthermore, Christ instituted His Church as "the pillar and bulwark of truth."[6] With the Holy Spirit's assistance, she ceaselessly preserves and transmits without error the truths of the moral order, and she authentically interprets not only the revealed positive law but "also . . . those principles of the moral order which have their origin in human nature itself"[7] and which concern man's full development and sanctification. Now in fact the Church throughout her history has always considered a certain number of precepts of the natural law as having an absolute and immutable value, and in their transgression she has seen a contradiction of the teaching and spirit of the Gospel.”

So yes, the Church does teach from the documents, but the document's teachings are often upheld by the natural law.

bill bannon said...

Matt, but would an appeal to natural law hold up within a referred non infallible document if an author appealed a judgement in a Vatican court with the world media looking on?
It might and it might not. An appeal to Trent on divorce would hold up because Trent was a dogmatic not pastoral Council. I think the court would be guided by canon 749-3 which all such authors know of..." §3. No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident."

Abortion was arguably condemned in the universal ordinary magisterium for centuries as following from natural law. So why did John Paul II raise it to the clarity of the extraordinary magisterium in EV sect.62 in wording similar to the IC but based on having polled all the world's Bishops (the alternative to ex cathedra)? I think he did so inter alia to make it satisfy 749-3 should a Catholic author justify abortion in a book. The extraordinary magisterium provides perfect claity which natural law only supplies to those who already agree with it. The masters of natural law were the Stoics and they saw infanticide as within natural law. Pope Benedict XIV's position on interest on a loan (that of centuries) was overturned in 1830 when in answer to dubia, moderate interest "was not to be disturbed"... but Benedict's position was valid months prior in 1829. Did the nature of money change in one year? What John Paul II did on abortion was remove it from disputation that self intereted topics can have in the ordinary magisterium because of changes seen in slavery, usury etc.
The more topics moved to the extraordinary John Paul II did...the better. He did it also on euthanasia, and killing the innocent with unanimity of the Bishops. He may have tried in his polling of them on other issues but if he did, they did not give unanimity. The questions are probably under papal secret. I've never seen public mention of the polling but EV clearly mentions it.