Every Friday, we choose an alum who has been making headlines—for better or for worse.
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Margaret Farley ’73PhD: A scholar and nun tangles with the Vatican.

Last week, Margaret Farley’book Just Love had racked up sales in the four figures—in six years. This week, after the Vatican condemned the book as posing “grave harm to the faithful,” it sold out on Amazon. “That’s some powerful PR,” wrote a Washington Post blogger.

Farley seems an unlikely target for such controversy. A nun in the Sisters of Mercy, she was the first woman and one of the first Catholics on the full-time faculty of the Yale Divinity School, where she began teaching even before finishing her PhD in religious studies in 1973. In 1986, this magazine ran her photo on the cover as part of an article about great teachers at Yale. She became a leading ethicist and theologian, with a focus on feminism and sexual and medical ethics, and stints as president of both the Catholic Theological Society of America and the Society of Christian Ethics.

Just Love—subtitled “A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics”—drew positive reviews when the academic press Continuum Books published it in 2006. But in a “notification” released on June 4, the Vatican proclaimed the book full of “errors and ambiguities,” deviating from official Catholic doctrine on masturbation, homosexuality, and marriage after divorce. “Consequently it cannot be used as an expression of Catholic teaching,” the notification says.

Farley did not intend the book to summarize Catholic doctrine, she writes in a statement, but rather “to help people … think through their questions about human sexuality.” She adds: “I fear the Notification—while clear in its conclusions—misrepresents (perhaps unwittingly) the aims of my work and the nature of it as a proposal that might be in service of, not against, the church and its faithful people.”

While Farley made no further comment, the Divinity School (where she is now Gilbert L. Stark Professor Emerita of Christian Ethics) rallied to her defense. And Just Love rallied on Amazon, shooting up to number 16 among books and number 1 in the religious studies category. Amazon “placed a large order” on Tuesday morning, says Kara Zavada, a Continuum/Bloomsbury marketing employee—not soon enough to avoid running out of stock by Thursday afternoon. “We want to get it out on Kindle right away,” Zavada notes, but production was delayed by a fluke of timing: Bloomsbury’s London office was closed at the beginning of the week for the Diamond Jubilee.


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