I know how to keep my mouth shut. It’s a skill I rarely exercise, but it’s one I have.
When people look at you as someone who knows her faith and her religious history, sometimes you get questions you don’t want to answer, because you haven’t figured it out yet or because, shall we say, you haven’t reconciled your conscience to the wisdom of the Magisterium.
In those cases, staying silent is the right thing to do. My questions and conflicts are mine alone. When others would be confused or scandalized by my statements, I shouldn’t burden them. So I stay silent.
A few weeks ago the Vatican issued a statement about the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Much has already been written about that, so I’ll just point out one concern: that the group was chastised for not talking enough about certain issues such as legalized abortion. That’s when I started to panic. Now we can get in trouble for the things we don’t say, too?
For many of us, our silence has seemed our salvation. If promoting or defending a teaching with which we don’t agree would destroy us, we keep our mouths shut. But maybe that’s not enough anymore.
Now Margaret Farley has been put on notice by the Vatican for a book about sexual ethics. Farley applied principles of justice and love to her exploration of sexuality, and her conscience and intellect led her to some conclusions that contradict official Church teaching. She never proposed these teachings to replace the Magisterium’s, she never said they were doctrine. But the act of writing them down was pronounced unacceptable. Maybe even the act of thinking them was wrong too.
I don’t know Margaret Farley personally, though some friends who studied with her sing her praises, and her response to the notification left me in awe of her graciousness and peace. Still, when I read the news yesterday I cried.
I cried because I was scared. I was scared to think, or write, or examine my conscience because who knows what I will find there? I don’t want scrutiny. When your professional life is in the Church the stakes are high.
I cried because I recognized that my silence is not always valor, sometimes it is fear. And that makes me ashamed.