Vatican has a cadenza over nun’s sex guide

The Vatican’s criticism of Sister Margaret Farley, a professor emeritus of Christian ethics at Yale University, comes amid escalating tension with America’s nuns after the Holy See accused them of preaching “radical feminist” ideas.

In a statement approved by Pope Benedict XVI and issued on Monday, the Vatican’s doctrinal office claims Farley’s book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, “ignores the constant teaching of the Magisterium or, where it is occasionally mentioned, treats it as one opinion among others”.

The statement singles out Farley’s claim that many women “have found great good in self-pleasuring – perhaps especially in the discovery of their own possibilities for pleasure – something many had not experienced or even known about in their ordinary sexual relations with husbands or lovers.”

Masturbation, she concludes, “actually serves relationships rather than hindering them”. That view, the Vatican stated, contradicted the Catholic belief that masturbation is a “gravely disordered action”.

Farley’s approval of gay sex ignored “Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity”, while her backing for gay unions was tantamount to “approval of deviant behaviour,” the Vatican said. Her openness to divorce and remarriage was deemed as “contravening God’s law”.


When Just Love was first published in 2006, it was adopted by catholic educators in the US and won a prestigious religious book prize.

‘Important contribution’
On Monday, senior US Catholics lined up to defend Farley. “I deeply regret that church officials have failed to appreciate the important contribution Farley has made,” said David Hollenbach, a theologian at Boston College.

Sister Pat McDermott, the president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, of which Farley is a member, described “the profound regret” of all members at the Vatican’s report.

Reacting to the report, Farley admitted in a statement her ideas veered from Catholic teaching, but said: “I have tried to show that they nonetheless reflect a deep coherence with the central aims and insights of these theological and moral traditions.”

That approach runs contrary to pope Benedict’s firm belief that the Catholic church will only survive if it clings to its core beliefs without compromise.

The report warned: “Sister Farley manifests a defective understanding of the objective nature of the natural moral law. This approach is not consistent with authentic Catholic theology.”

The incident is another shot fired in the ongoing battle between US nuns and the Vatican. Last Friday, the largest organisation of American sisters refuted the Vatican’s claim that it had fallen prey to feminist ideology and was no longer teaching Catholic views on abortion and gay unions.

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents most of America’s 57 000 nuns, said the Vatican’s plan to send in a trio of bishops to rewrite its statute had caused “scandal and pain”. Reacting to the plan, Catholics held vigils outside churches to defend nuns and 50 000 signed a petition against it. – © Guardian News and Media 2012

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