College Theology Society Board Supports Sister Margaret Farley

Sister Margaret Farley, RSM

The board of the College Theology Society (CTS) has issued a statement in support of Sister Margaret Farley in the face of the Vatican’s recent censure of her bookJust Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics.  The CTS statement also calls on bishops for further dialogue with theologians on the issues of that Farley case raises about theological research and discussion.

In June, Sister Farley was cited in a Notification from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for holding positions on various sexual matters, including same-sex relationships, which differ from the magisterium.

The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) reports that the  statement of  the board of CTS, the second-largest association of Catholic theologians in the U.S., notes that while Farley’s ideas are

” ‘different from those currently taught by the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church,’ theologians ‘communicate their findings not only to members within the Church but also to many others seeking to live justly in the pluralistic societies in which they live’ .”

” ‘In committing themselves to the theological task of faith seeking understanding, theologians frequently pose difficult questions in light of the lived experiences of the people of God,’ the statement continues.

“The statement also notes that ‘among the most challenging aspects of exploring such questions’ are ‘the deep divisions which plague not only our society but also our Church.’ ”

” ‘To heal the divisions in our polarized Church, we urgently encourage Catholic bishops and theologians to improve the ways in which they communicate with each other, and to collaborate in developing better structures and more transparent procedures to discuss theological differences in a more just and respectful manner,’ the statement concludes.

” ‘We, the Board Members of the CTS, have identified this important task as a priority in the coming year and look forward to discerning constructive ways forward.’ “

You can read the full statement, along with the names of the 12 signatories on the CTS website.

The NCR story notes that the CTS statement is the second one from an association of U.S. Catholic theologians in support of Sister Farley:

“On June 7, the board of the other membership society for theologians, the 1,500-member Catholic Theological Society of America, released a statement supporting Farley, saying the board was ‘especially concerned’ that the Vatican’s criticism of the theologian presents a limiting understanding of the role of Catholic theology.

“The statement was later endorsed by the society’s entire membership at its annual meeting June 8 in St. Louis.

“The statement said the Vatican’s move regarding Farley’s book ‘risks giving the impression that there can be no constructive role in the life of the Church for works of theology’ that attempt to:

  1. ‘give voice to the experience and concerns of ordinary believers’;
  2. ‘raise questions about the persuasiveness of certain official Catholic positions’; or
  3. ‘offer alternative theological frameworks as potentially helpful contributions to the authentic development of doctrine.’

” ‘Such an understanding of the nature of theology inappropriately conflates the distinctive tasks of catechesis and theology,’ that statement continues.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

0 replies
  1. Richard Baldwin Cook
    Richard Baldwin Cook says:

    What follows is the sort of comment I have submitted to the National Catholic Reporter that is never posted:

    I wonder if any aspect of the Farley episode matters outside the USA.

    In Mexico, women who have tragic pregnancies that end in miscarriages are prosecuted without any medical evidence at all of having procured an abortion. They are convicted and then thrown into prison for years at the behest of the hierarchy; these episodes make no impact whatsoever here in the USA.

    What goes around comes around. Do we think the academic fate of the retired Sister Margaret ought to resonate to the slightest degree in Mexico?

    The Catholic Church is fragmented along national lines. The only powerful, uniting bond across the Church is the capacity to raise money globally. As for the rest, we are all pretty much, happily ignorant.

    So we see the spectacle of lay Catholics, former priests now government employees, and bishops in Uganda touting legislation that will mandate the execution of non-hetero persons. This make slight impact here in the USA.

    We are a Universal Church in the sense that our ignorance is global.

    I wonder if anything about the shameful Farley episode will resonate at all, even in the USA, until and unless there is transparency about Church finances.

    ‘Someone’ is pleased that the Vatican gratuitously trashes the scholarly reputation of a well respected, retired academic. Who benefits from this? What is their interest in this game?

    I can’t imagine that even 1% of bishops worldwide have ever read a word written by Sister Margaret Farley. Most of them probably have never heard of her. I doubt if she has any sort of following – pro or con – at the Vatican. She has been condemned by a committee headed by a hierarch who reads no English. There is a subtle game afoot here that has nothing to do with the content of a book.

    In the Farley episode we are observing from distance, a ballet of the ignorant and the powerful acting in combination to demonstrate (to someone) a steely, cruel, reactionary resolve in the face of horrifying modernism. Who benefits from this? Who is pleased by it? Who pays for it? Who gets the money from it?

    In my archdiocese of Baltimore, every question I have raised with the hierarchy about money matters is met with stony silence. Why does the Church hierarchy drain off 8% of an announced new fund raising goal of $100,000,000 for campaign expenses? That’s eight million dollars. The campaign simply cannot cost that much. How much does it cost? There is no transparency. How much is the fund raising company of professionals receiving to manage the campaign? Surely, but a fraction of the eight million – since much of the campaign communications with the parishes is done routinely by chancery staff, whose salaries are already being footed by parishioners.

    In my archdiocese of Baltimore, the hierarchy is giving money to a crypto-racist group that is leading the anti-civil marriage equality campaign statewide. How much are parishioners giving to the crypto-racists without the parishioners’ knowledge?

    How many pastors know the details of this campaign and of archdiocesan finances generally? How many bother even to ask?

    The priests – pastors of the faithful – mostly, appear to be cowed into silence. They appear to be mere enablers to wealthy and powerful clerical free-loaders who have ascended the ranks.

    Is fear the watchword of this Church?

    Are we, who think the Church ought to be inclusive, required to curb our enthusiasm because a pastor is placed at risk if our efforts appear too direct? to unorthodox?

    Are we parishioners, who insist on a place for progressive, pro-active work within the Church, to be guided not by a vision of the Cosmic Christ but by fear that some lame, ignorant, genuinely pitiful archbishop has the power to curtail programs and transfer a pastor?

    For short-term secular political purposes, the hierarchy can use our money to get into bed with non-Catholic racists any time they want. There is literally no reaction to this across the parishes.

    But the board members of an organization of counsellors to LGBT Catholics and former Catholics is asked by an utterly ignorant and uninformed California bishop to stop using the words “gay” and “lesbian” and to sign personal pledges as to their own individual orthodoxy. This is the spectacle unfolding in Oakland: a fool will decide if experienced counsellors can continue to be certified to do their work.

    This is idiocy. The fool who ought to be fired will, in all likelihood, be promoted instead. This is how we got William Lori here in Baltimore. His predecessor was no fool. He set up the non-transparent $100,000,000 campaign and has gone on to the Vatican – to be a fund raiser.

    The idiocy will continue until there is transparency about the sources and the expenditure of money. Don’t hold your breath.


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