07 June 2012

CTSA Supports Sister Margaret Farley, RSM

I don't often talk about the task of doing theology here, though quite frequently I am engaged in it when I write about eremitical life, its nature, prophetic role, capacity to answer or assist with certain contemporary questions, and so forth, or when I deal with topics like the theology of the cross, for instance. But recently the challenging and creative place of theologians and theology in the life of the Church has been coming up everywhere with insistent regularity and today is one of those.

One of the more difficult questions for theologians and for Rome is the relationship between theologians and the Magisterium of the Church. A similarly neuralgic question, not just for these two groups, but for the rest of the church as well has to do with the difference between doing theology and catechetics, that is, the distinction between "faith seeking understanding" and teaching others what the church teaches. The relationships in these questions are complex with points of overlap and ambiguity but above all the two groups are supposed to be engaged in a constructive, collaborative relationship where both serve the truth and the source and ground of truth we call God, and where trust is evidenced even (or especially) when theologians push the envelope by engaging new questions and perspectives which call for new ways of thinking of or speaking about the truth.

In its recent condemnation of the work of Margaret Farley, RSM the conflict between doing theology and doing catechetics is especially highlighted. There is no doubt that some of Sister Farley's positions are not in accord with Church teaching. Neither is that necessarily problematical from the theologian's perspective, especially when the work is mainly academic and geared to scholars, but of course it is quite problematical from the perspective of the Magisterium --- especially if theologians and Magisterium (of Bishops) cannot work together in a way which allows complementary roles to be made clear to the rest of the Church. (In Aquinas' day we had the magisterium cathedrae pastoralis (a teaching authority "of pastors" exercised by the Bishops) and a magisterium cathedrae magisteralis (a teaching authority exercised by "professors" or, that is, a Master or Doctor of theology), Readings in Moral Theology #3. When disagreements occured the Pope might eventually intervene but sometimes he reminded both sides of the need for humility with regard to the mystery of God and forbade them from condemning one another (cf Paul V). But the situation is different today --- on many levels.)

Today the CTSA, the Catholic Theological Society of America has made a statement supporting Sister Margaret Farley's work and speaking to the distinction between theology and catechetics and so, implicitly reminding us all that theology is an ongoing search for understanding which, precisely because of the incommensurability of God's mystery, does not cease with the Church's profession of faith. (Quarens in fides quarens intellectum is a present participle and therefore indicates an ongoing project).

The statement is found below. Some might also be interested in Gaillardetz's new book, When the Magisterium Intervenes, The Magisterium and Theologians in Today's Church which deals with these points. It includes the dossier on the US Bishops' committee's investigation of Elizabeth Johnson's book, Quest for the Living God and an analysis of the relationships which exist between theologians and the Magisterium of Bishops and how each are called to carry out their responsibilities towards one another and the Tradition of the Church.


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 “Notification” 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

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

Jozef 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