The CDF and “Just Love”

Father James Martin, SJ—our regular relator of stories touching on the vita consecrata and those in it—notes that the Holy See has rebuked Just Love, a book by Sister Margaret Farley, RSM. So far as I can tell, no one, up to and including Sr. Farley, disputes the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s conclusion that the book “affirms positions that are in direct contradiction with Catholic teaching,” although the usual suspects fault the CDF on the basis that they prefer what Farley says to what the Church teaches, which essentially concedes the point.

Farley’s response borders on parody in places: Its characterization of the magisterium as the “hierarchical teaching” of the Church, the disputed points as “traditional Christian responses” (which isn’t incorrect, but is served up dripping with obvious scorn), and its insistence that “the book was not intended to be an expression of current official Catholic teaching, nor was it aimed specifically against this teaching. It is of a different genre altogether.” She and her defenders seem to have the odd notion that CDF is accusing her of misrepresenting the Church’s teaching, and so they say things like “she clearly says that these things are her own position; she never says they are current Church teaching.” (“Current!”) But so what? Farley readily acknowledges that her books is at odds with the Church’s teaching, and she does not, apparently, understand why that’s a problem, why a Catholic theologian can’t just shuffle abroad giving her own opinions even when they’re at odds with Catholic teaching. CfDonum veritatis, 82 AAS 1550 (CDF instruction, 1990). One does not have the slightest sense from her response that she has understood the Congregation’s point, which is (it seems pellucid to me) that Catholic theologians cannot “move beyond” the Church’s teaching (to, ahem, coin a phrase); when Catholics, especially Catholic theologians, seek to “help people, especially Christians but also others, to think through their questions about human sexuality,” we must do so as Catholics.

Lastly, I must quibble one point in Fr. Martin’s report: I don’t think that “the Vatican has again signaled its concern about theologians writing about sexual morality.” I don’t think that the Holy See has any concerns about people writing on that topic within the boundaries of Church teaching. It’s when people stray beyond those boundaries that the Holy See is obliged to act.