Monday, June 04, 2012

At CDF, The "Crackdown" Continues

As the LCWR storyline continues to whir through weeks' worth of news-cycles, a fresh development promises to give new "legs" to the meme of embattled American nuns, even if the newest thread isn't directly related.

At Roman Noon today, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released its first Notification in five years fleshing out the variances of a theologian's work with Catholic teaching. This time, CDF focused on a 2006 text by an American sister -- Margaret Farley RSM of Yale Divinity School -- saying that the professor's Just Love: A Framework for Christian Social Ethics "contained erroneous propositions, the dissemination of which risks grave harm to the faithful."

"In addressing various moral issues," the congregation judged that "Sr Farley either ignores the constant teaching of the Magisterium or, where it is occasionally mentioned, treats it as one opinion among others. Such an attitude is in no way justified."

After a study begun in March 2010, the Notification was dated last March 30th, two weeks after the decision had been approved and ordered for publication by Pope Benedict. While the former "Holy Office" voiced its "profound regret that a member of an Institute of Consecrated Life... affirms positions that are in direct contradiction with Catholic teaching in the field of sexual morality," no disciplinary measures were taken against Farley.

Led by California-born Cardinal William Levada -- who, according to widespread reports, is approaching retirement after seven years in the post -- the first of the nine congregations sparked the current wave of focus on the nation's nuns with its April order of a shake-up of the LCWR, the umbrella-group representing the leadership of some 80 percent of the US' women religious. The move was born of a four-year Doctrinal Assessment of the leadership conference's materials and speeches at its assemblies, which found evidence of what the CDF termed a "rejection of faith."

At the same hour Rome's point-by-point rebuttal of Farley's treatment of "masturbation, homosexual acts, homosexual unions, the indissolubility of marriage and the problem of divorce and remarriage" was released, a piece in the National Catholic Reporter emerged with the author's response.

"Although my responses to some particular sexual ethical questions do depart from some traditional Christian responses," Farley said, "I have tried to show that they nonetheless reflect a deep coherence with the central aims and insights of these theological and moral traditions."

Elements of the CDF ruling "misrepresent – perhaps unwittingly – the aims of my work," she added, "and the nature of it as a proposal that might be in service of, not against, the church and its faithful people."

The Vatican's first full critique of a theologian since the March 2007 report on the Basque Jesuit Christologist Jon Sobrino, the Notification on the Sister of Mercy -- a highly-regarded figure among her peers -- is the second hierarchical warning on a text by a leading American nun in the last year, following the early 2011 statement on Sister Elizabeth Johnson's Quest for the Living God by the Doctrine Committee of the US bishops.

A Sister of St Joseph of Brentwood, Johnson is a longtime professor of theology at New York's Jesuit-run Fordham University.

Notably, both Farley and Johnson are former presidents of the Catholic Theological Society of America -- the lead group of the nation's church scholars, whose annual convention takes place next weekend in St Louis. Both sisters have likewise received CTSA's highest honor, the John Courtney Murray Award.

SVILUPPO: An extended response from Farley to this morning's release has been published by NCR.

In a separate statement, the theologian's superior, Sister of Mercy Patricia McDermott, praised Farley as "an extraordinary teacher and pastoral minister who is deeply committed to the Gospel and the following of Jesus Christ.

Terming the process that led to the CDF judgment "lengthy, arduous and extremely difficult," the order's president said she is "deeply saddened that Sister Margaret has had to engage in this process for more than three years and that the congregation has rendered this Notification concerning the significant pastoral and ethical thinking that are represented in her book."