Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Attack on Nuns Continues with Condemnation of Sr. Margaret Farley (and Updates on Contraception Debate)

And another batch of articles updating stories about which I've blogged previously here--the common theme of these is, loosely, both the ongoing and increasingly aggressive attack by the Vatican on American nuns, and the politicking of the USCCB and the Vatican against the Obama administration's HHS guidelines:

1. I alluded to this story in yesterday's posting about Peter Steinfels's Commonweal op-ed statement re: the bishops and their "religious liberty" crusade: the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has just slammed yet another book by an American nun-theologian.  In this case, the theologian is Sr. Margaret Farley, a highly respected emerita professor at Yale who is a past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and of the Christian Ethics Society.  The book that the CDF has chosen to condemn is Farley's Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, which has, as a result of the Vatican condemnation, now skyrocketed to the #1 position in Amazon's lists for both theology and gender and sexuality categories.

For information about the book and why the CDF has condemned it, see Jerry Filteau's and Jamie Manson's statements at National Catholic Reporter.  Hint: Farley dares to call for a reframing of how Catholic teaching and moral theology view issues like masturbation, contraception, and homosexuality and gay relationships.  In my posting about Steinfels on the bishops and religious freedom yesterday, I also linked to another overview and discussion of Farley's book and the CDF condemnation: this is a thread responding to Michael Peppard's report on Farley's condemnation.

When you click on the thread, you'll see that on it some of the best and brightest of American Catholic scholars today--our leading intellectual lights--are chortling right now about Maureen Dowd's comments re: the Farley situation in today's New York Times, and are high-fiving each other about the Vatican's determination to fashion a smaller, purer church shot of all dissenters.  They're high-fiving themselves, in other words (and isn't this strange?), about their collusion with church authorities in running folks off, and in creating a church that belies the name catholic--but all in the name of preserving and reasserting "real" Catholic identity!  Which, we're asked to believe, scholars like Margaret Farley or others threaten when they honestly admit that the Catholic church has a serious problem convincing almost anyone with a brain of the legitimacy of its teaching about human sexuality, and when they call for honest dialogue rather than silly game-playing about issues like homosexuality, contraception, and masturbation . . . . 

And this issue of the meaning of catholicity and authentic Catholic identity is precisely what one of our real best and brightest theologians, a man of integrity and longstanding pastoral sensitivity who has suffered tremendously at the hands of Catholic officials because he intends to find and tell the truth and because he has a pastoral heart, Charles Curran, has just brought up in his own response at NCR to the Farley condemnation--about which I hope to have more to say down the road.

Don't miss, either, at NCR Tom Fox's excellent statement about how the condemnation of Farley and the attack on American nuns in general is going to prove a hard sell among American Catholics (outside the precious, defensive, parochial circles represented by some bloggers at places like Commonweal who imagine that they alone define what it means to be an American Catholic in the 21st century, that is).  As Fox rightly points out, Vatican officials and the USCCB have an uphill climb because, inter alia, it escapes few folks' attention that they're now beating up quite specifically on women.

2. And on that need to beat up on nuns (and women in general), see Adele Stan's recent articles at Alternet, "Why the Pope Hates Nuns" and "Washington Post Carries the Vatican's Holy Water to Douse Nuns."  As I said yesterday in my comments about Peter Steinfels on the bishops and religious liberty, I think the conversation of the American Catholic center both about Catholic identity and the interface of Catholic teaching/values with the public square would be far more fruitful if we stopped treating voices like Stan's or Dowd's (and Dowd is, after all, Catholic) as the voices of the enemy.  And if the centrist gatekeepers started engaging in respectful dialogue with those voices--rather than blessing the voices of people like Bill Donohue and Robert George as if they automatically have a greater claim to understanding Catholic values than the voices of these outsiders we're so intent on keeping at bay have . . . .

3. And speaking of the voices that enjoy the automatic approval of the hierarchs and the centrists who are joined at the hip to the gentlemen of the cloth: don't miss Sarah Posner's recent profile of Helen Alvaré at Salon.  As Posner notes, Alvaré has thick ties to the power centers of the Catholic church, and has played and continues to play a significant role in the Vatican-USCCB attack on contraception in the U.S.  She promotes a startling conclusion that right-wing Catholics have drawn from John Paul II's theology of the body (and natural-law thinking, biologically construed): namely, that any attempt to enhance male erectile function is ipso facto holy, because every sperm is sacred.  And according to the same norm, any attempt to impede female fertility is ipso facto unholy, since the "natural" role of ova is to be always at the disposal of sacred sperm, no barriers permitted.

It goes without saying that Posner is another of those thorns in the side of the Catholic centrist set who define who will or will not be permitted into conversations that determine Catholic identity and what the church has to offer to the public square . . . . And it goes without saying, again, that I think the conversation defining Catholic identity and Catholic contributions to the public square would be far more catholic, far more representative of authentic Catholic values, and far more compelling in the public square, if we let such voices into the conversation while challenging more forcefully the claims of people like Alvaré, Robert George, or Bill Donohue to represent Catholicism at its best, no questions asked.

4. And finally, in case you missed this, I recommend Lisa Miller's article in the final week of May entitled "Catholics Caught between Bishops, Obama's Birth Control Mandate."  Miller sees American Catholics (82% of whom believe birth control is morally acceptable) caught between authoritarian daddy (the bishops who have been adamant and vocal about the "religious liberty" issue, including USCCB president Cardinal Dolan) and silent and frustrated mommy (bishops who have questions about the way the religious liberty war is playing out, but who feel constrained not to voice their opposition).  

The result, as Miller notes, is serious intrafamilial dysfunction in American Catholicism, and an untenable family dynamic that is already driving and will continue to drive many children from the family circle.  As they look for a happier home elsewhere . . . .

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