Friday, June 08, 2012

Catholic Theological Society of America Says Vatican is Wrong About Theologians' Job

The National Catholic Reporter says that the Catholic Theological Society of America, "the largest membership organization of U.S. theologians," has started it's annual four-day conference (this year in St. Louis)--and that the first order of business was for its Board of Directors to issue a statement defending Sister Margaret Farley against Vatican criticism that her popular book on sexual ethics does not reflect official teachings.

The statement notes that Professor Farley is a past president of the CTSA and a recipient of its John Courtney Murray Award.  NCR reminds us that at its conference last June, the society issued a similar defense of Sister Elizabeth Johnson, whose book Quest for the Living God had been criticized by the U.S. bishops in March 2011.

John Thiel, CTSA president, told NCR that the society's main concern regarding Margaret Foley was to dispute and challenge the Vatican's position "that the role of authentic Catholic theologians was simply to repeat what the magisterium teaches."

Against the Vatican's view, the CTSA's statement declares:

"Professor Farley's purpose in her book is to raise and explore questions of keen concern to the faithful of the Church.  Doing so is one very legitimate way of engaging in theological inquiry that has been practiced throughout the Catholic tradition."

As I point out in my doctoral dissertation (link at right), the church would have no official positions unless theologians had argued the issues first.  And the only way the limits of the official positions can be discerned is for theological analysis and discussion and debate to continue.  The Vatican, of course, would like us to forget how its teachings became official and how, inevitably, every official position superceded a previous one.

The text of the CTSA's statement and a list of signers follows:


On June 4, 2012, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a "Notification" entitled "Regarding the Book Just Love:  A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics by Sister Margaret A. Farley, R.S.M."  The "Notification" judged that, in a number of respects, Professor Farley's book presents positions on matters of sexual ethics that are contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium.

We, the undersigned members of the Board of Directors of the Catholic Theological Society of America, wish to note that Professor Farley is a highly respected member of the theological community.  A former President of the CTSA and a recipient of the Society's John Courtney Murray Award, she has devoted her life to teaching and writing on ethical issues and has done so in ways that have been reflective, measured, and wise.  Her work has prompted a generation of theologians to think more deeply about the Christian meaning of personal relationships and the divine life of love that truly animates them.  The judgment of the "Notificaition" that a number of Professor Farley's stated positions are contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium is simply factual.  In our judgment, however, Professor Farley's purpose in her book is to raise and explore questions of keen concern to the faithful of the Church.  Doing so is one very legitimate way of engaging in theological inquiry that has been practiced throughout the Catholic tradition.

The Board is especially concerned with the understanding of the task of Catholic theology presented in the "Notification."  The "Notification" risks giving the impression that there can be no constructive role in the life of the Church for works of theology that 1) give voice to the experience and concerns of ordinary believers, 2) raise questions about the persuasiveness of certain official Catholic positions, and 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.  With regard to the subject matter of Professor Farley's book, it is simply a matter of fact that faithful Catholics in every corner of the Church are raising ethical questions like those Professor Farley has addressed.  In raising and exploring such questions with her customary sensitivity and judiciousness, Professor Farley has invited us to engage the Catholic tradition seriously and thoughtfully.


John E. Thiel, Ph.D.
Fairfield University
Fairfield, CT

Susan A. Ross, Ph.D.
Loyola University
Chicago, IL

Richard R. Gaillardetz, Ph.D.
Boston College
Chestnut Hill, MA
Vice President

Mary Ann Hinsdale, I.H.M., Ph.D.
Boston College
Chestnut Hill, MA
Past President

M. Theresa Moser, R.S.C.J., Ph.D.
University of San Francisco
San Francisco, CA

Josef D. Zalot, Ph.D.
College of Mount St. Joseph
Cincinnati, OH

Michael E. Lee, Ph.D.
Fordham University
Bronx, NY

Kathleen McManus, O.P., Ph.D.
University of Portland
Portland, OR

Judith A. Merkle, S.N.D. de N., Ph.D.
Niagara University
Niagara, NY

Elena Procario-Foley, Ph.D.
Iona College
New Rochelle, NY

June 7, 2012

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Charles Curran: Vatican Radically Distorting the Role of Authority in the Church

Not a moment too soon, Father Charles E. Curran has linked the treatment of Sister Margaret Farley to a whole list of abuses of authority by the Vatican.

This is important for a variety of reasons.  Not the least of them is the arc of atrocities that can be documented from the Vatican disciplining Curran for arguing the right of Catholics to dissent from the teaching of Humanae vitae right up to slapping Sister Farley for daring to think about the Vatican's old, tired teachings on human sexuality.

The following is the text of Curran's plea for the Vatican to end its heresy that it alone is the voice of God for his People.  But wedded to its heresy, the Vatican probably lacks ears to hear.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's condemnation of Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley's award-winning book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, is not a surprise. The congregation insists the book "cannot be used as a valid expression of Catholic teaching" because it disagrees with the hierarchical magisterium on masturbation, homosexual acts, homosexual unions, the indissolubility of marriage, and divorce and remarriage.

There is a long list of Catholic moral theologians whose works on sexual ethics in a similar vein have been condemned or censured by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the course of the last 40 years. Pope John Paul II wrote his 1993 encyclical, Veritatis splendor, because of the discrepancy between the official teaching of the church on moral matters and the teaching of some moral theologians even in seminaries. According to the pope, the church is "facing what is certainly a genuine crisis, which is no longer a matter of limited and occasional dissent, but of an overall and systematic calling into question of traditional moral doctrine."

All have to recognize there is such a real crisis in the church today. But the crisis is not just a crisis in moral theology; it involves a crisis in the church as a whole and in our very understanding of the Catholic church. According to the well-respected Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, one in three people who were brought up as Roman Catholic in the United States are no longer Catholic. The second-largest "denomination" in the United States is former Catholics. One out of every 10 people in the United States is an ex-Catholic. We all have personal experience with those who have left the church because of the teaching on sexual issues. Related issues, including the role of women in the church, celibacy for the clergy, and the failure of church leadership to deal with the scandal of child abuse and its cover-up, have also been recognized as reasons why many people have left the Catholic church.

The reaction of popes and bishops to revisionist moral theologians is only one part of a growing reality in our church today. There is a litany of other similar actions taken by the Vatican -- the restrictions placed on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious; the reining in of the activities of Caritas Internationalis, the church's agency dedicated to helping the poor; the very negative reaction to the priests' associations in Austria and Ireland; the removal of William Morris, the bishop of Toowoomba in Australia, for merely encouraging the discussion of celibacy and the role of women; the appointment of only very safe clergy as bishops; etc. The list goes on and on.

What is happening here is that the pope and the Vatican are more and more defending the idea of a remnant church -- a small and pure church that sees itself often in opposition to the world around it. It seems as if church authorities are not concerned at all about those who leave the church. Any other organization would take strong action to remedy the loss of one-third of its members. But the remnant church sees itself as a strong church of true believers, and therefore is not worried by such departures.

This concept of the church is opposed to the best understanding of the Catholic church. The word "catholic" by its very definition means big and universal. The church embraces both saints and sinners, rich and poor, female and male, and political conservatives and liberals. Yes, there are limits to what it means to be Catholic, but the "small 'c' catholic" understanding insists on the need to be as inclusive as possible. Many of us were deeply impressed by the gestures of Pope Benedict at the beginning of his papacy by reaching out for dialogue with both Hans Küng and Bishop Bernard Fellay, the head of the group originally founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Unfortunately, today, dialogue is still going on with Bishop Fellay, but not with Hans Küng.

The basic problem in all of this is the understanding and role of authority in the Catholic church. This issue is much too vast and complicated to be discussed here in any detail, but three points should guide any consideration of authority in the church.

First, the primary authority in the church is the Holy Spirit, who speaks in very diverse ways, and all others in the church, including office holders, must strive to listen to and discern the call of the Spirit.

Second, the church has to put flesh on the understanding of Thomas Aquinas that something is commanded because it is good and not the other way around. Authority does not make something right or wrong. Authority must conform itself to what is true and good.

Third, the danger for authority in the church is to claim too great a certitude for its teaching and proposals. Margaret Farley developed this point in a very significant essay, "Ethics, Ecclesiology, and the Grace of Self-Doubt." The grasp for certitude too easily shuts the mind and sometimes closes the heart. The grace of self-doubt allows for epistemic humility, the basic condition for communal and individual moral discernment.

It's Time for a Female 'Pope' -- To Put an End to the Vatican's Apostasy

Web postings and op-ed commentaries voicing outrage at the Vatican's continuing, escalating war on women -- and on the American nuns who are at their forefront -- are now so vast that no individual blog could possibly provide links to them.  To sample the depth and breadth of the disgust, just try a Google search for Sister Elizabeth Johnson, the Vatican visitation of U.S. sisters, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), or Sister Margaret Farley. 

For a good summary of the National Catholic Reporter's coverage of the events leading up to the latest atrocity -- the Vatican's censure of Sister Margaret Farley for her award-winning, academically applauded book Just Love:  A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics -- try Tom Fox's excellent analysis Bishops' Move Against Women Religious a Hard Sell, Indeed.

So I need not expend time and space here to link to the wealth of global revulsion available on the internet.  What I will do is argue the obvious conclusion that needs to be drawn from the outrage: 

The Vatican's war on women is the final, intolerable instance of the papal apostasy from the Second Vatican Council. 

This apostasy dates from the issuance of Humanae vitae, Pope Paul VI's encyclical rejecting the strong theological consensus of the People of God in favor of responsible parenthood, through the reactionary papacy of Pope John Paul II, and into the darkness of the present day. 

And what might God's Spirit be telling us through these epic atrocities?  How 'bout this: 

The only way to salvage the Catholic Church is for the corrupt, misogynistic male despots of the Vatican to submit themselves to the oversight of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious! 

Yes, the Vatican gestapo has it exactly backwards.  Women religious, globally and in the United States, are par excellence the group that has faithfully implemented Vatican II.  It is they who should be critiquing and auditing and evaluating the Vatican's faithfulness to the Council. 

By separating themselves from Vatican II, the officials of the Vatican have ceased to be in communion with the People of God.  The LCWR is the perfect model for the kind of 'pope' the church requires in the 21st century. 

It is time for women religious to take the lead of the People of God and to put an end to the Vatican apostasy.  Now!