The CDF wanted to hurt Margaret Farley, not help her sales. Right?

Some Fishwrap types have chortled that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith aided sales of Sr. Margaret Farley’s dread and perverse book.   Why, they burble, would the bad men at the CDF do something so stupid as to condemn Farley’s books?  If those bad men reeeeeeally want to hurrrrrrrt Farley, they would have ignored her book!  Leave aside that the CDF has no desire to hurt Farley.  They are trying to defend the Faith and help people, including Farley, avoid going to hell.

That is the way Fishwrap types view fidelity to the doctrine of our Catholic faith.

At the site of the Cardinal Newman Society, there is a good response to the idiots who weigh Farley’s spot on the list against the CDF’s actual role.

Here is part:


So why would the CDF condemn Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics by Sr. Margaret Farley? Especially since the author herself wrote on 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.”

Well, somebody forgot to tell that to many Catholic theologians, because they’ve used the book in classrooms in Catholic colleges all across the country and as support for their own writings, sometimes challenging the teachings of the Catholic Church.

While Just Love has been largely ignored by the public, it seems to be quite popular in the world of Catholic higher education. [Get that?]

Perhaps most offensively, Fordham University theology and religious education professor Kieran Scott lists Farley’s book as one basis for his argument to “reassess cohabitation as a viable moral option” outside of marriage in Human Sexuality in the Catholic Tradition (2007), which Scott co-edited with Fordham religious education professor Harold Horell.

Sister Farley’s Just Love was a required text in Fairfield University’s 2010 religious studies course, “Sexuality and Spirituality in American College Life.”  Really, doesn’t that say everything about the contemporary Jesuit university?

The prior year, Fairfield lauded Sister Farley’s “keen intellect and prophetic voice” in a statement praising Farley as well as her book, “in which the notion of justice serves as a key to understanding, and re-thinking, human sexuality and the Christian moral tradition.” Farley was there to deliver the University’s Anne Drummey O’Callaghan Lecture on Women in the Church.

At Loyola University Chicago, the spring 2012 seminar for first-year doctoral students in ethics and theology, taught by Sandra Sullivan-Dunbar, required students to read Just Love. The spring 2010 “Christian Ethics” course at Seattle University, taught by Susan Secker, also required Sister Farley’s book. And Loyola Marymount University in 2009 listed Just Love under “required texts” for its “Issues in Moral Theology Today” course taught by Jonathan Rothchild.

Secker seems particularly enamored of Sister Farley, as she noted in her course description:

Sister Farley is an eminently respected Catholic ethicist who has written this volume as a pastoral response to issues of sexual ethics shaped by her years of teaching and ministering at Yale University. Make sure you read her preface and introduction. Of particular importance is her attentiveness to gender, culture, race and religious pluralism in her construction of a framework for sexual ethics. [And don’t miss her descriptions of “self-pleasuring”.]

Just Love was a “suggested” text for the “Christian Sexuality” course at Seattle University in 2011, taught by Fran Ferder and John Heagle. Boston College offered a spring 2010 seminar class on “Contemporary Theories of Justice” by Fr. David Hollenbach S.J., who listed Farley’s book in a supplemental reading list for students. In 2005 Fr. James T. Bretzke, S.J., then of the University of San Francisco, included Farley’s book in his Sexual Ethics Bibliography under “Miscellaneous Sexual Ethics.” Father Bretzke is now a moral theologian at Boston College.

Sister Farley noted her own book in a speech she delivered at the Conference for Mercy Higher Education at Gwynedd-Mercy College, a Catholic college in Pennsylvania, in 2006.

This is far from an exhaustive list. There are likely many other instances of Farley’s book being used in classrooms of Catholic colleges or listed in footnotes of several theological articles or books. Far from being in “a different genre altogether,” as Farley has claimed, her book was being used in theology classrooms and was the basis for many articles being read by college students now and over the past decade.

And it is that serious concern, not how high the book ranks on Amazon, that should matter most to the Vatican – and undoubtedly it does.


There it is.

The book contains many things that are contrary to the Catholic faith and advance things that are spiritual dangerous.

THAT is why the CDF issued the Notification.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Clinton says:

    And THAT is why there is Canon 827 (2&3) of the 1983 Code of Canon Law.

  2. Ezra says:

    John Allen was right when he wrote that

    official censure of theologians these days typically takes the form of bad book reviews.

    Unless these critiques are followed by practical action, you can hardly blame the Fishwrap types for chortling.

  3. josephx23 says:

    Forgive me if I am attributing this incorrectly, but I think it was Schopenhauer who said that there is a difference between buying a book and actually appropriating its contents, as any intellectual poseur knows (as a one-time undergrad in literature and religious studies, I speak from direct personal experience.) The media might be able to whip up some sales in the short run for stammering Sister Margaret, but I doubt that the general reader has much of an appetite for exploring a Kantian approach to theological sexual ethics. These books will one day lie a-mouldering in used bookstores alongside quaint, forgotten volumes by Mary Daly, Gustavo Gutierrez and other theologians of liberation.

  4. LisaP. says:

    If a parent buys her book to see what the fuss is about and in reading it decides to stop paying for or encouraging his child to go in debt to pay for tuition at a university that teaches heterodoxy, I don’t care if Sister Farley gets a check for that.

    But I’ve got to say, any parent who doesn’t already raise an eyebrow or three at a student taking “Sexuality and Spirituality in College Life” isn’t probably going to buy, read, or blink at the texts in the class. Forget the dissent and theme, do you really pay tens of thousands of dollars to have your son or daughter take classes on his or her experience at college? What’s next, “The Deeper Meaning of Doing Your Laundry in the Dorm Basement”? Navel examining, yuck.

    Every religious parent who sees a kid off to college should read, rather than “Just Love”, “I Am Charlotte Simmons”. That’ll give you something to think about.

  5. Bryan Boyle says:

    Is anyone surprised at the venues at which both her book and her person are held in such high esteem? I mean, look at the order (in the main…) which founded them. You have your answer.

    The suppurating rot at the core of these dens of “higher education” iniquity won’t be fixed unless and until the deviants in the asylums are suppressed and cut loose. Tough love. Why? Because the limp-wristed coddling, pleading, ‘dialoguing’, ‘engaging’, and all the rest of the weasel words have had 0 (zero) effect. Even a person no less than Christ himself rose up in righteous anger at the merchants turning the temple precincts into nothing more than an open air bazzar. So, in essence, why should the Church body, taking Msgr. Michael Wrenn’s observation in an elegant treatise on inclusive language as applied to this controversy, “pander to elements calling for change who, at their core, possess a deep and abiding hatred of the edifice the profess to serve”.

    Sometimes, you just have to cut people loose. Pray for their souls, yes. Continue to let them defile and evacuate in the waters of the Church? Nah. Time to clean out the Augean Stables.

  6. MKR says:

    Josephx23, you seem to be of the view that Farley’s book is erudite and intellectually challenging. It is not. It is a stupid book, written by a stupid person, with a message that runs contrary to Church teaching about sex and the family. Hence the book’s good reviews and location on theology and religious studies course syllabi. (As a rule, religious studies and theology departments are magnets for bad books and idiotic ideas.)

  7. irishgirl says:

    @ Bryan Boyle: Well said! I’m with you on this one! Amen to that!
    These so-called ‘intellectuals’ have nothing but cholesterol on the brain. They need to knocked down a peg or two!

  8. rcg says:

    This simply proves the need to correct he ‘Catholic’ Universities. This will sound harsh, but they are actively undermining the Church with their teaching while recruiting our children into the homosexual life style. If you wonder why so many Catholic women have had abortions, look to our schools.

  9. John Weidner says:

    There are no Catholic universities. (Except maybe a few traditionalist enclaves.) They died decades ago; what we see now are the walking dead. Let the dead bury their dead.

    We should be putting our energies into inventing the universities of the future. Which could be very Catholic, if Catholics took the lead. If only we still had imagination and energy.

  10. Fr. Augustine Thompson O.P. says:

    The problem here is that in sales there is no such thing as bad publicity, except no publicity. A public communique about the book just knocks up sales, no matter who makes the communique and what the book is about. I know, my new biography of St. Francis of Assisi (Cornell UP, 2012) was mentioned by (of all people) Andrew Sullivan in a cover piece for Newsweek (of all journals). Over 500 copies were sold on Amazon the day the issue came out.

    The way the CDF should deal with things like his is to privately advise bishops to check if the problematic book is being used in Catholic schools of the diocese and have it stopped.

  11. dans0622 says:

    Fr. Augustine, your suggestion is a good one. If only Catholic schools (the ones that would use such a book in the first place, at least) would be likely to respect such a command from the bishop….

  12. disco says:

    Any condemnation of the CDF coming down on on the side of orthodoxy against the heresy of sr Farley belies a lack of belief.

    Liberals look on religious beliefs as so many made up stories so when one group condemns the error of another they see it as we might see children arguing over toys. Best to just play nice and keep the noise down.

    Unfortunately for them, the Catholic Church is the custodian of truth and hell does exist.

  13. Kathleen10 says:

    I’m with Brian Boyle on this one. Rout the blighters.

  14. wmeyer says:

    Bryan Boyle: Nice to see someone else quoting the good Msgr. Wrenn. His books cleared up many puzzles for me. And what he had to say makes the Farley case read as business as usual.

  15. josephx23 says:

    MKR, I haven’t read Just Love or any other book by Sr. Margaret, but I have read monographs on Christian ethics (mainly from the progressive/liberation-theological strain preferred by my erstwhile professors), and based on the reviews, it sounds like this book belongs to that genre. I don’t remember the last time a book of that particular genre climbed the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Since you’ve read Sister Margaret (or seem to have, though your one word review of her book and her person in general leaves the reader in the dark on that detail), I’m sure you can tell me whether she’s a rip-roaring read, destined for literary stardom. I’m guessing that, like other books in the genre, Just Love is tedious, the sort of book that a certain kind of radical might like to be seen reading without actually reading it.

  16. josephx23 says:

    Incidentally, though I think you are right, MKR, that faculties of religion and theology are “magnets” for bad ideas, I might point out that many of the lousy ideas they get come from secular disciplines like the social sciences, “evolutionary biology,” etc. There’s also a lot of good work being done in these disciplines. Reinhard Hutter, who teaches at the Duke Divinity School, had an excellent article on “Acedia and Pornography” in April’s First Things that drew on the traditional understanding of the virtues and Pope St. Gregory the Great’s Moralia in Job. So I think it’s a little unfair to paint everyone in that guild with a broad brush.

  17. Johnno says:

    Bring back the Index and the Inquisition!

  18. Gabriel Austin says:

    What would happen to a student in one of these [jesuit] colleges who actually took the dear sisters ‘s advice and “self-pleasured” in class?

  19. Bryan Boyle says:

    wmeyer: you can only imagine having him, sadly departed, as a confessor and spiritual director (as well as a good friend) for close to 30 years. I miss the good Msgr. badly. Haven’t found a priest (sorry, Fr. Z, don’t know you personally…but, I can imagine you are just like him in person…) yet who I feel as close to.

    Gabriel Austin: virtual or actual? In reality, it was more like mental self-abuse taking courses from some of the jebbies at Fordham.

  20. Bthompson says:

    The odd thing is that Sr Farley’s book isn’t just incorrect, it is utterly bizzare!
    6 years ago I attended a lecture at a certain Jesuit University by Sr Farley, explaining the content of her then new book.
    She was so determined to normalize fornication, remarriage, and (above all) homosexual activity that she had to define her new “proposed principles” for Christian sexual morality so vaguely that they also admitted the possibility of polygamy, limited adult-minor relationships, degrading and abberant sexual activity, etc. There even could be a case for bestiality under her principles (though the “obtain consent” principle would need re-interpreted such that sapience is not necessary, but why not? she is already OK with compromising other supposedly important moral principles.)
    Her proposal is doctrinally incorrect, yes. But it is also totally crazy due to its willingness to make the sacrifice of allowing anything just so that the sacred cows of modernity might be permitted.

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