The Bold And The Beautiful

I have been mulling over the recent support given by the Catholic Theological Society of America to Sr. Margaret Farley.

Let’s be clear about a large slice of the group. There is in the CTSA a serious percentage of self-legitimating theologians who have the smugness of the academic elites. They don’t want to admit that – as the trends are changing – they are more and more irrelevant in their Catholic institutions. Thus, they can bask in Sr. Farley’s celebrity for a moment or two and be heroes by supporting her!

Think about the objections the liberals have to what the CDF has done. They don’t say that proper procedures weren’t followed. They don’t deny that the CDF reflects the Church’s promulgated teachings. They don’t say that Farley’s book is not in harmony with what you find in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. They cede that what the CDF Note reflects is “official” teaching. What they are saying is that what the CDF Note reflects shouldn’t be official teaching.

They say catholics believe other things. Therefore, the theology “of the Vatican” is not the theology of “the majority of Catholics”. They juxtapose two different kinds of Magisterium.

Also, the CTSA should be a scholarly group. They laud Sr. Farley’s book as a great piece of scholarship. The problem is that Sr. Farley’s book isn’t all that impressive from that point of view. It doesn’t reflect a lot of hard work or research. Sure, there are a few footnotes and a little bibliography, but hers is not the well-researched book one would expect at a high level of theological reflection. Or is the standard for certain authors a bit more … relaxed?

To be fair, Farley doesn’t cite Oprah, but she does The Kinsey Report.

Instead, what substitutes for work in Sr. Farley’s book is personal experience.

You might think about it this way.

The Poor have experience X, therefore Y should be done for them.

Sr. Farley wants justice for the “oppressed”. She morphs something like the “preferential option for the poor” into something like the “preferential option for the lesbian”. Lesbians are the new poor and marginalized. Lesbians are the new anawim!  They need a new sexual ethic.

Research might be a little thin when it comes to this claim.

So, where do you ground your arguments? In your personal experiences and those of your students.

Think about it this way:

A 20 year old would-be lesbian comes to your office during office hours and breaks down crying. She was abused, she is a little over-weight, she is in tears. She comes out: she is a lesbian. You think, this is God’s daughter and she is in pain. I have to give her a sexual ethic that will free her from oppression.

Sr. Farley is perfecting soap-opera theology.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. dominic1955 says:

    Is not this moral theology based on experience just another flavor of Modernism? Pascendi lays out how important religious “experience” was to the original Modernists, it trumped pretty much everything else in their eyes. [Good one.]

    Same with this sort of “theology”-its based on what the authors falsely worship as true, the subjective, disordered and often tortured “experience” of people in the “real world”. How can objective truth be based on such shifting, flighty sand? It cannot, but giving people an excuse to do whatever their passions tell them is seen as being “compassionate” and “pastoral”. Subjectivism and emotionalism, ick…

  2. Cephas218 says:

    You should really put a warning label on this post. My monitor narrowly avoided a coffee splurt on “Lesbians are the new poor and marginalized. Lesbians are the new anawim! They need a new sexual ethic.” Well written, Fr. Z!

    [If I don’t cause a couple good spit-takes a day, I have to examine my conscience. They also, I hope, increase sales of Mystic Monk Coffee.]

  3. Clinton says:

    Does Sr. Farley’s work bear both an imprimatur and a nihil obstat? If not,
    then why not? Did she seek and obtain permission from her bishop to teach as a Catholic
    theologian, as required by Canon Law? If she did not bother to obtain a mandatum,
    why has her bishop permitted that situation to continue? Does the theology department at
    the (protestant) Yale Divinity School care if she has no mandatum? Does the CTSA?

    Catholic higher education, the CTSA, and, frankly, our bishops — all have a hand in the current
    degraded state of Catholic theology as it is done in this country. By ignoring any meaningful
    safeguards, they have made soap opera theology inevitable. The CDF has neither the time,
    the manpower, nor the budget to do the work those three groups should already be shouldering.

  4. Father P says:

    “You think, this is God’s daughter and she is in pain. I have to give her a sexual ethic that will free her from oppression” That is exactly what I would think in this case. What Sister’s book provides is a sexual ethic that will make her feel better. On the other hand, the Gospel and Tradition provides the sexual ethic that will free her from oppression.

  5. Johnno says:

    Their solutions can pretty much be summed up by the following example:

    – Subject is a man addicted to heroin.

    LCWR’s response: Open heroin injection sites that are ‘safe’ with free heroin subsidized by taxpayers to give these ‘poor’ people what they want. Easy to do. Heck, free heroin for everyone who wants it in that case! Let people make their choices that make them happy. Let’s redefine being slaves to something as something that we can’t help because its our nature and God intended for us to become this way! If the God/goddess can ‘make’ homosexual people, then surely the being’s omnipotence leads us in our lives to ‘discover and become’ other things!

    Church’s response: Free the man from his addiction to heroin. Extremely hard to do, requires effort and actual LOVE because only one who loves is willing to put up with that amount of effort and trouble. Man is free from the addiction and is more in control of himself and stronger than before capable of living without being chained to that infernal and non necessary destructive habit. God made us to learn, know and love Him! And thus by falling in love with Him we gain the total source of all happiness and not be fooled into seeking something other and away from it, which is only despair!

  6. Denise says:

    There is an alternative to the Catholic Theological Society of America. Just as the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious arose in response to the LCWR, the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars offers Catholic scholarship that is faithful to the Magisterium. They do publish a quarterly journal that many WDTPRS readers will find both interesting and helpful.

  7. jhayes says:

    Does the theology department at the (protestant) Yale Divinity School care if she has no mandatum?

    No. And YDS is not Protestant. It describes itself as “ecumenical and nonsectarian” Its Dean is a Catholic.

    Here’s what YDS has to say bout Sr. Farley and the CDF:

    Harold Attridge, dean of Yale Divinity School and a Catholic layperson, said, “Honest and creative theologians have often met a critical response to serious theological reflection, and it is not a surprise that Professor Farley’s work has done so as well. In time, I suspect, those who react negatively to it now will come to appreciate the important contribution it makes to what must be our constant effort to examine the foundations of our moral life.

    “The YDS community continues to appreciate the unique insights Professor Farley brings to the theological enterprise, and we look forward to her future contributions in the field.” Read Attridge’s full statement at

    While Harold Attridge of YDS is a Catholic layman, Fr. Brian Hehir, a Catholic priest, was Dean of Harvard Divinity School for a number of years. He is now Secretary for Health Care and Social Services in the Archdiocese of Boston. HDS describes itself as “nonsectarian”

    As to Catholic universities, my nderstanding is that most don’t require their theology professors to have a mandatum.

  8. jhayes says:

    Theological writings don’t require an Imprimatur unless you want to use them as school textbooks on which instruction is based. . See Canon 827.

    §2 Books dealing with matters concerning sacred Scripture, theology, canon law, church history, or religious or moral subjects may not be used as textbooks on which the instruction is based, in elementary, intermediate or higher schools, unless they were published with the approbation of the competent ecclesiastical authority or were subsequently approved by that authority.

  9. AnnAsher says:

    The bold and the beautiful? How about the egregious and the poodle permed?

  10. PostCatholic says:

    While Harold Attridge of YDS is a Catholic layman, Fr. Brian Hehir, a Catholic priest, was Dean of Harvard Divinity School for a number of years. He is now Secretary for Health Care and Social Services in the Archdiocese of Boston. HDS describes itself as “nonsectarian”.

    Just to add to this, Harvard Divinity School is historically Unitarian and to a less extent Congregational, and that legacy is still there, while it is indeed non-sectarian and not tied as a seminary to any denomination. For instance, the Unitarian Universalist Association archives are held at HDS’s Andover library, and the single largest denominational affiliation of HDS students is still UU.

    Yale’s tradition is a bit more complicated but was mostly tied to the Congregationalist and Methodist churches, and there’s a separate divinity school within YDS (Berkeley) that is Episcopalian. YDS’s program places much more emphasis on ministerial training than HDS’s.

    Rev J. Bryan Hehir has had quite a career–he was the principle author of the USCC (as it then was) statement on nuclear disarmament that so bothered the Reagan administration; had a big content role in Cardinal Bernardin’s “Consistent Ethic of Life”: he’s been the pastor of the Catholic parish in Harvard Square while a professor at HDS; and he had a short stint as HDS’s dean when the previous dean (not a Catholic) was fired over child pornography habits, but was told to give it up by that disgrace Law because of the progressive theology/Unitarian Universalist character of the school. I expect a lot of WDTPRS fans don’t like Hehir’s work that much, but I like the guy plenty. He’s a great pedagogue, for one thing, and he has a good sense of humor.

  11. Clinton says:

    jhayes, Sr. Farley’s book is being used as a textbook on which instruction is based.

    The Cardinal Newman Society blog, in an article titled “Due Cause for Concern: Sr. Farley’s
    Book Used by College Professors” noted that her book is/was a required text at many Catholic
    universities, including Fairfield University, Loyola University Chicago, Seattle University and
    Loyola Marymount University, and was recommended as supplemental reading at both Boston
    College and the University of San Francisco.

    Even if it were not being used as a textbook (which it is), Canon 827 (3) states that “(I)t is
    recommended that books dealing with the subjects mentioned in (2), even though not used
    as basic textbooks, and any writings when specially concerning religion or good morals, be
    submitted to the judgement of the local Ordinary”. So why didn’t she seek an imprimatur ?

    I am guessing that Canons 827(2) and 827(3) are why Sr. Farley recently wrote at Yale’s
    website 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”. When her book sells as a college text and she’s speaking with the CTSA, it’s
    “Catholic theology”– when she’s talking to the CDF, it’s “a different genre altogether”.

    “As to Catholic universities, my understanding is that most don’t require their theology
    professors to have a mandatum” — that’s probably true, jhayes, but it is absolutely
    required by Canon 812 of the 1983 Code. All Catholic theologians are required to seek and
    obtain permission from their Ordinary to teach Catholic theology. That so-called Catholic
    universities are not requiring a mandatum, that theologians are ignoring the
    requirement to seek one, and that bishops are not insisting that the laws of the Church be
    respected– well, that’s a big part of the problem, IMHO.

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