Sr. Farley SPEAKS or “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?”

From NCFishwrap:

Vatican-criticized nun addresses fellow theologians
Jun. 10, 2012
By Joshua J. McElwee

ST. LOUIS — Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley addressed for the first time publicly Friday evening the Vatican’s harsh criticism of one of her books, saying it points to “profoundly important” questions facing the Catholic community regarding the roles of truth and power.
Speaking slowly, and at times faltering for words, Farley, a prominent moral theologian, addressed the issue during a session at the 67th annual meeting of the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA) that saw some 300 colleagues gather to ask what the Vatican’s critique might mean for the future of their discipline.
Ultimately, said Farley on Friday, the critique of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of her book Just Love, indicates different understandings of the role of theologians in the church and how our tradition changes and grows over time.  [They think they have their own “magisterium”.  The phrase “Magisterium of Nuns” might apply, as a matter of fact.  In any event, Sr. Farley and the CTSA do not determine what the ecclesial vocation of the theologian is.  There was a document on this important question.  HERE.]
“We clearly have grown in many spheres of knowledge — about humans, about the way the universe runs,” said Farley. “It seems reasonable … that if we come to know even a little bit more than we knew before, it might be that the conclusions that we had previously drawn need to be developed. Or maybe even let go of.
“Because it would be a contradiction to Roman Catholic frameworks for doing moral theology to say that we can’t. That would be to imply that we know everything we can know and there’s nothing more to be done.” [I think what she might be saying, in fact, is that we are all grown up now.  We have evolved out of the old human being, and into a new sophisticated modern person who can chose her own morality.]
In her talk Friday, which came during an hour-long session set aside by the CTSA specifically to address the Vatican’s critique, Farley also spoke of her reason for writing her book, which explores how theories of justice might be applied to help create “norms” to guide our sexual actions.  [Yahhh…. not so much.]
The Vatican’s critique, released in a formal “notification” June 4, did not mention that aspect of the book, only citing Farley’s positions on a number of specific issues, which are only briefly discussed in the work. [How much of the book has to be dedicated to the errors?]
Among the areas criticized by the Vatican are Farley’s treatment in the book of the morality of masturbation, homosexual relationships and unions, and divorce and remarriage.
“My reasons for thinking its important for everyone to think about these issues,” said Farley, “is because people are suffering. All over the place, people are suffering.” [Is that an argument for the things she defends?]
Ending her talk, Farley asked what she called “profoundly important” questions.
The issue is, finally, in our tradition, is it a contradiction to have power settle questions of truth? Or to say we all have a capacity to know what we ought to do?” asked Farley.  [Gen 3:1 Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”]
“We can make mistakes, we can disagree — but is it the case that natural law is let go when we really only know the answers because of grace of office? This is a profoundly important question in our tradition today.”  [Repeat after me: “Magisterium of Nuns” over and against that of the bishops and Holy Father.]

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. thomas tucker says:

    As if this is the first time questions like this have come up?
    Don’t the names Henry VIII and Martin Luther ring
    a bell?
    They answered the question their way. Don’t be surprised
    if Sister answers it her way. Most of us will remain in
    communion with the Bishop of Rome.

  2. NoTambourines says:

    WikiMagisterium: The magisterium that any-nun can edit!

  3. Diane at Te Deum Laudamus says:

    They are so busy reading themselves they haven’t taken the time to read the Church

  4. Mrs. O says:

    If all the moral theologians fell into error, would an absolute wrong become a virtue? Suffering, like the suffering the young people endure who take her and Savage’s advice and do anything to anybody without any “restrictions” or conscience? Does that solve the suffering? No. I do wonder if they haven’t compounded it and made it worse as some things become so addictive over time, they are impossible to stop.

  5. FXR2 says:

    Ave Maria gratia plena, …


  6. PostCatholic says:

    Aren’t nuns still just laypeople?

  7. aviva meriam says:

    “We can make mistakes, we can disagree — but is it the case that natural law is let go when we really only know the answers because of grace of office? This is a profoundly important question in our tradition today”
    ……isn;t that an admission on her part that she has replaced the natural law?
    the authority to replace the natural law derives from the “grace of office”? WHICH office?
    Did she just make her position within the church more tenuous?
    I guess I agree with the Martin Luther analogy (except he at least served as a priest for many years and originally was Obedient)

  8. ContraMundum says:

    In those days there was no king in Israel, but every one did that which seemed right to himself.

  9. Marc says:

    Magisterium of Nuns < Magisterium of Holy Mother Church

  10. Marc says:

    @NoTambourines- I love your above post! You’re killing me here!

  11. Charles E Flynn says:

    A twenty-nine cent homemade worldview made by a nun is still a twenty-nine cent homemade worldview, one destined for oblivion sooner rather than later.

  12. Matthew78 says:

    Her concept of justice is deplorable. Where is the justice in the premarital relations of two unmarried people, in the sexual deviancy of an individual person, or in an unnatural ‘marriage’? In each case, the dignity of the human person is being violated on a fundamental level – the body is reduced to a mere piece of pleasure to be had, and the soul is left decrepit, worn down by guilt, deception, and sin. We see this in the many nominal Christians and agnostics, who, after living in sin year after year, still have a feeling in their conscience that something is just not right about their lives. The promiscuous, the cohabitors, the porn addicts – sorely depressed people. Yea… such great justice to encourage our reckless and sick society to wallow in the filth of its own illness. And of course millions of innocent children have lost their lives in abortion due to the ‘sex revolution’ and its decades of evil. What a great sadness that the virtue of justice is being used and called upon in such a perverse and deceitful way. Prayers are indeed necessary in these times.
    I am reminded of St. Augustine’s ninth homily on the First Epistle of John, chapter 7. He says that a woman who finds adultery pleasurable will avoid committing adultery out of fear of her husband’s condemnation. It is amazing that she should fear her husband, for her husband is human – he can be deceived, lied to, and tricked into believing that his wife is chaste when in fact she is not. However, if a potentially adulterous wife has such fear for a husband, who can be deceived, how much more fear should we have for one who cannot be deceived (God)? And, who are we to ask God, who cannot be deceived, to turn his face away from our sins, when we ourselves refuse to turn our own face away from our sins? Forgiveness follows not from deception but from an honest acknowledge of one’s sins. What a scandal it is that Sr. Farley would try to deceive so many into thinking such actions moral. Where is the fear or love of God in such abominable theology?

  13. SonofMonica says:

    “People are suffering,” she hisses, as she wraps her coils around their necks. “Let’s see what we can do about that…”

  14. AnnAsher says:

    I resent how she refers to the faith as “our tradition” as if there are other “traditions” equally valid.

  15. MPSchneiderLC says:

    Fr Z, why do you keep calling it the “magisterium” of nuns since magisterium means teaching office. It is really the “anti-magisterium of nuns” since (a) they are opposed to the magisterium, and (b) they don’t really teach anything (read Sr. Farley’s reasoning here or in the texts condemned).

  16. PhilipNeri says:


    As usual, sister is confusing authority with power. And, predictably, ignores how she wields her academic authority with crushing power. I can only imagine (and shudder) at the prospect of being an orthodox believer sitting in one of her seminars as a student.

    “Development,” “evolution,” etc. seem to be the central conceits for modernist Catholic theologians. But one must wonder whether or not they are willing to concede that at some point in the future we will develop/evolve in such a way that the foundational truths of the faith will be obvious. I’ve asked this question of my seminary profs: is there any knowable limit to our understanding of divine revelation while we’re still here on earth? If they answer, “Yes,” then I ask who or what decides for the Church what that limit is. If they answer, “No,” then I ask why we should accept their understanding of revelation.

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  17. wmeyer says:

    I think that a part of the problem is stated very clearly in the headline: “fellow theologians”. The Magisterium of Nuns is trouble enough, but there appears to be a Magisterium of Theologians as well, and these are self-persuaded that they are in some way senior to the bishops and the pope in their ability to declare truth. As witness some of their quite preposterous declarations, they are delusional, at least in that regard.

  18. Scott W. says:

    She could have cleared all this up by simply stating something to the effect of, “I’ve been horribly misunderstood because I affirm that masturbation, homosex, and divorce and remarriage are wrong.” Instead she gave us typical progressivist drivel. It’s all a magic act of misdirection to cover the fact that she doesn’t have the clockweights to come out and directly deny Church teaching.

  19. Legisperitus says:

    Fr. Philip Neri has hit the nail on the head. She doesn’t recognize authority. She sees it as merely “power,” and “power” as something to be grabbed.

  20. Gail F says:

    Gee Sister Farley, you know what? No one is disputing that when we know more about something, the best thing to do is revise a previous conclusion based on less knowledge. What Rome is telling you is that the conclusion you have reached based on more knowledge, or at least more in-depth knowledge, is WRONG. Your conclusion is not correct simply by virtue of the fact that you made it!

    Also, how about considering the concept that justice is the wrong principle to start out with, when thinking about sexual relations? Justice is about making sure people get what they are due. No one is “due” a sexual relationship with anyone else. And when people enter into a familial relationship, that is, combine their family with another in marriage, far more than justice is required. Justice as a base for family life is a debasement of family life. Justice, for instance, ensures that a child gets monthly support checks after his parents divorce — the very least the parents owe him, and a poor substitute for what even a set of married parents who don’t much like each other and aren’t very good at raising a child can offer. Justice isn’t enough.

  21. LisaP. says:

    Amazing comments above, excellent discussion.

    These stories make me seethe, and it’s not my best side — it makes me so angry when people in Ms. Farley’s position talk about power and truth. How much money does she make as a member of Yale faculty? How much power does she have, both over the culture and media and over the young people in her sway? Just the fact that she has been paid to write 8 books — 8 books! I know many good writers who have good things to say and will never, ever, ever get published, because they don’t have the connections, the money, the background, the class to have an automatic in with the publishing industry. But folks like Sister Farley have worked the system, said what it takes to get where the power is, and so they get riches and power and acclaim for writing “theology” that doesn’t rise to the level of a middle schooler’s diary of angst. Maybe there’s something she’s said or written that is useful or at least intelligently formed, but I’ve got to say, if *I* can pick apart an argument on first read, it’s not something a *Yale professor* should be putting out there.

  22. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: justice, she’s not wrong about that being the traditional natural-law understanding of sex. It doesn’t mean that people are owed sex, though; it means that people are supposed to be responsible human beings who only have sex with their spouses (properly chosen spouses) in the right way for the right reasons; and not with persons whom one has no right having sex, with whom sex constitutes a wrong to them and you.

    In modern times we think of love first, which is good for a higher theology of the body. But for dealing with civil society that isn’t all Catholics or even Christians, natural law is the way to go. (And frankly, marriage in most of human history for most people has often been a matter of mutual agreement and respect, taking care of each other, perhaps friendship, but not romantic love. Respect and friendship count as love, and wanting to have children to raise and love is love, but it’s not the first thought for such folks.)

    The problem is that natural law’s definition of justice is all about the way that nature and reason (and God) have set things up, and relating to that in a proper human way. By reading “justice” in a progressive or Communist way, you can give lip service to natural law but in reality ignore or reverse it. Hence her contention that we know so much more about nature now, and thus we can have sex with anything that moves without any worries.

    But we all know that people read “love” as “what I want to do” all the time, so I doubt that the shift to the higher theology would eliminate these twisted, abusive theologians’ agendas.

  23. Gail F says:

    LisaP: She probably wasn’t paid much at all to write books. Few people make more than a few thousand dollars writing a book, and I say this as someone who has written 13.

    Suburbanbanshee: You’re right, I was trying to simplify. S. Farley is saying that justice should or can be the principle behind all sexual relationships, not just marriage, which she seems to have decided is just one option among many. To say that two people of the same sex who have a non-marital relationship should base their relationship on justice is to say that they owe each other something on the basis of merely agreeing to have sex with each other. I can see a sort of twisted contract law logic to that, but it has nothing at all to do with natural law and I’m sure she knows that perfectly well. It sounds to me like a “Well, people are going to do it anyway, let’s figure out how to regulate it” sort of argument. You might be able to regulate it that way, but it would never have anything to do with real justice — only with convenience.

  24. LisaP. says:

    Gail, I think I understand your point, but she was at the very least paid by Yale to write those books — I’m guessing she wasn’t teaching a lot of 101 courses, she gets paid by Yale to publish. As for whether she gets paid much through the publishing company, through royalties, etc., my guess is that she is one of those who has made much more than a few thousand dollars from her books, not because they are better than yours or because more people want to read them than read yours, but because her position of power makes others who aspire to that kind of position feel they should at least have the books visible on their shelves. I also suspect there are students all over the country who have to buy her books because their profs make them so they can fulfill course requirements. Power.

  25. LisaP. says:

    Just checked Amazon, her paperback book sells for $27, and right in the reviews is a blurb from a guy who makes the book required reading for his undergrad course. I am sure there are many great academics writing good books, my point is simply that this looks like really bad work to me and my inclination is to think people are paying her for it not because it is a good product, but because she is in a position of power. Which, again, irks me only because she’s playing the “speaking truth to power” card, as if she were just the gal next door fighting The Man.

  26. Rachel K says:

    “Farley on Friday” – is this a new talk show?!
    On a serious note, who are the CTSA? Who set them up and why? Whose authority are they under?
    I suspect, sadly, that they are probably a self-appointed, self regulated group of dissenting theologians, both professional and amateur, who are there to change the world. I look forward to being corrected…

  27. cl00bie says:

    During my formation classes I had one of the pantsuited sisters tell me:

    “We don’t follow Jacob’s Ladder with all the different levels anymore. We follow ‘Sarah’s Circle’ with Jesus in the middle and all of us equidistant from him”.

    I asked: “Where does the Living Magesterium of the Catholic Church fit into all this?”

    She responded: “They’re just men.”

    So she respects no teaching authority but herself. Doesn’t that make her… well… Protestant?

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