St. Joan of Arc, Pray for Us

June 5, 2012 at 10:22 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments
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Well, the Vatican assault on women, especially Catholic sisters, continues. On June 4th, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a condemnation of Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, a book by the highly regarded Christian ethicist and Yale Divinity School professor emeritus, Sister of Mercy Margaret A.Farley. Laurie Goodstein and Rachel Donadio offer an overview of events in the New York Times, while Jamie Manson, Farley’s former teaching assistant at Yale, explores the implications of the Vatican’s attack on Farley’s work in an especially insightful way.

A number of commentators have noted the legalistic nature of the Vatican notification and particularly its conclusion that the book is “not in conformity with the teachings of the Church.” Farley herself replies that ““the book was not intended to be an expression of current official Catholic teaching, nor was it aimed specifically against this teaching. It is of a different genre altogether.”

What strikes me about this conclusion, though, is the notion that in this increasingly and extraordinarily complex, multilayered world, it would even be possible to write a three-hundred-page book that accords with the “Church’s teaching” on almost anything. If each member of the College of Cardinals went off now and wrote such a book, would they all agree with one another or  with “the Church”? I begin to envision the “Church’s teaching” especially, of course, on sex, as an electronic template, presented to each Catholic at baptism, that can be used to print the truth on paper, computer screens, walls, etc. The alternative, of course, is that we would talk with one another, read, think, pray, and come to some agreement, for our time, at least. Farley’s book might be of considerable use in this process.

In closing, I’d like to point out that a few days before the Vatican issued its reprimand of an internationally recognized Catholic ethicist, the church celebrated the feast of St. Joan of Arc. Joan is my confirmation saint, so May 30 is always a happy day for me. In his commentary on Joan on May 30 in the daily prayer book that I use, Give Us This Day, Robert Ellsberg recalls that Joan was condemned in 1431 by an ecclesiastical court (a Roman Catholic court, that is) and was burned at the stake. But in 1456 she was found innocent of the charges against her, and in 1920, canonized. Ellsberg concludes:

“Among canonized saints, she enjoys the unusual distinction of having been previously condemned and executed as a heretic. Thus, she may legitimately be claimed not only as a patron of France but of all those holy men and women vilified in their own time in the hope of eventual vindication.”

Saint Joan of Arc, pray for Sister Margaret Farley and for us all. Amen.


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  1. Did you see that Margaret’s book shot up from being ranked something like 147,000th to 19th on Amazon. It could be a whole new way of becoming popular. But being condemned by one’s church is not a great experience, even if it turns out to be a way to become famous or sainted. My folks (the Presbyterians) jumped ship about 500 years ago. My prayers go with American Catholics who remain and live in protest.


  2. Marian– thanks for your thoughtful comments. I’m almost to the point of being beyond appalled or even surprised by all this. I’d imagine being judge, jury and “executioner” requires a lot of time, effort and energy on the part of VCDF; too bad it can’t be put to a better use.


  3. Thanks, Pat


  4. Joan of Arc is definitely our patron saint right now in the Church. The confusing nature of leadership in the church is well represented by your writing, thank you. In Cleveland, the people of 13 closed churches appealed that closing and were upheld – something many thought was impossible. The bishop is still slow in reopening the churches, but the communities are rediscovering what it means to be a community in the process, so there is a lot of good coming from this. Help us maintain our sense of humor, Holy Spirit! Thank you, take care, Margaret A. Flanagan


    • And 650 people turned out in Cleveland for the demonstration supporting the Sisters May 29th!

      Thanks, Margaret!


  5. I took a quick look at Jamie’s piece. From what he said the book seems to be very usueful in terms of initiating dialogue and independent thought. Pity the Vatican took it in the wrong way. I can see the frame work moving humanity forward in a big way. I look forward to when the criteria becomes mainstream and taken for granted.
    Thanks for the links.


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