And in St. Louis last weekend (June 7-10), the theologians were girding for a fight.
Members of the Catholic Theological Society of America spoke in protest against the Vatican’s recent denunciation of Sister Margaret Farley’s 2006 book, “Just Love: A Framework for Christian Social Ethics” in which the bishops found “grave problems.”
We must “learn to say ‘stop’ to those who abuse authority only to preserve it,” the Rev. William O’Neill, of the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, told the assembled scholars.
On June 4, the Vatican’s orthodoxy watchdog office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, released a five-page “notification” about Farley’s book, saying her writing on sexual ethics did not conform to the teachings of the magisterium, the church’s teaching authority through the pope and bishops. Pope Benedict XVI had approved the notification March 16.
“Sister Farley either ignores the constant teaching of the Magisterium or, where it is occasionally mentioned, treats it as one opinion among others,” the notification said. It declared the book could not be used “either in counseling and formation, or in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.”
On Thursday (June 7), the board of the Catholic Theological Society of America issued a statement supporting Farley, a past president of the group and a professor emerita at Yale Divinity School. The board said 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 statement acknowledged, as Farley did in her own statement last week, that “Just Love” contained ideas that were contrary to church teaching. But, it said, Farley’s purpose was to “explore questions of keen concern” to Catholics, which “is one very legitimate way of engaging in theological inquiry that has been practiced throughout the Catholic tradition.”
The wider membership agreed with the board, later approving a motion to endorse the statement.
Last year, the group responded similarly after the doctrine committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops criticized the work of another theologian, Sister Elizabeth Johnson, a professor at Fordham University.
John Thiel, a professor of religious studies at Fairfield University and the CTSA’s president, said that while Catholic theologians take the teachings of the church seriously, their role is not simply to repeat those official teachings.