The Future of Theology and The Margaret Farley Case Symposium

In the current print edition (the electronic version came out last week) of America Magazine, there’s a special symposium on the future of Catholic sexual ethics in light of the report on Professor Margaret Farley, RSM‘s 2006 book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics (Continuum). The symposium is titled, “The Road Ahead: Moral Theology after the Margaret Farley Case,” and includes three short essays from scholars — James Bretzke, Richard Gaillardetz, and Julie Hanlon Rubio —  who specialize in moral theology, ecclesiology, and the theology of marriage and the family, respectively. This is how the editor’s introduced the published pieces:

Prompted by the doctrinal congregation’s assessment and the discussion that ensued, the editors asked several moral theologians, systematic theologians and experts in canon law to comment: (1) on the role of moral theologians today, (2) the context of their work as they attempt to serve diverse audiences; pastors and the faithful, the magisterium and the academy, and (3) the intellectual demands of their discipline.

While many people may have already had the chance to read these reflections, I encourage those who haven’t yet to do so. While the immediate impetus for this was the official “correction” of Farley’s book, the matter at hand extends to a broader concern for the purpose, vocation, and relationship of the vocation with regard to the rest of the Church (which is the Body of Christ) and those who hold leadership positions within the Church.

From the perspective of an ethicist, Bretzke explains the task at hand: “A good ethicist has to work in the present out of the past with an eye to the future, while also attending to the many “publics” his or her discipline engages. This is vitally important in transitioning from one time-tested model to another.”

Noting the way in which this particular case extends beyond the specific field of ethics, Gaillardetz writes: “The assessment in June of Sister Margaret A. Farley’s book Just Love by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith invites reflection on two issues that take us beyond the field of moral theology. The first concerns the task of theology as it relates to the distinctive teaching responsibilities of the magisterium, and the second concerns the contributions of ordinary Christians to the development of official church teaching.”

Finally, introducing the seven norms that Farley presents in her book for sexual ethics, which constitute “just love,” Rubio observes the potential such a framework presents to various generations of Catholics, as well as those outside the Roman Church who might be looking for ethical insight in this regard:

This framework has great potential to speak to an older generation who wrote off Catholic sexual teaching long ago and to a younger generation who not only dismisses it but also has a hard time conceiving of any ethical framework for sex. Professor Farley recognizes the depth of the lack of connection both generations experience with official Catholic sexual morality, but she insists that we keep talking and holding ourselves accountable to shared norms. These norms are very much in keeping with the Catholic tradition, though they emphasize relational responsibility more than absolute rules. For the many inside and outside the church who find traditional ways of thinking about sex less than convincing, Professor Farley offers reasoning that resonates and a sound basis for better ethical conversation.

I recommend checking all three of these essays out (you can read them online here), especially if you are interested in the future of Catholic theology as considered from a concrete case study today.

Photo: Stock

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