June 5, 2012

Vatican — which oughtta know — condemns nun for book on sexual ethics


Pope Benedict has approved a condemnation of a book by a nun about sexual ethics

In a statement “approved by Pope Benedict,” the Vatican yesterday denounced a leading American nun who taught Christian ethics at the Yale Divinity School for writing a book called Just Love, in which she “praises female masturbation and approves divorce and gay sex and marriage,” as a story for the Guardian by Tom Kington puts it. According to the report, the Vatican castigated author Sister Margaret Farley for approving of “deviant behavior,” and because she “manifests a defective understanding of the objective nature of the natural moral law” that “is not consistent with authentic Catholic theology.”

According to the Guardian report,

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”.

Strangely, it seems a delayed response: The book — its full title is Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics — was first published six years ago, and was immediately “adopted by Catholic educators in the US and won a prestigious religious book prize.”

But a New York Times report by Laurie Goodstein and Rachel Donadio puts the attack in some perspective: “The formal censure comes only weeks after the same Vatican office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a stinging reprimand of the main coordinating organization of American nuns, prompting many Catholics across the country to turn out in defense of the nuns with protests, petitions and vigils.”

Meanwhile, says the Guardian,

… 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.

As for Farley herself, she issued a statement, saying in part “I do not dispute the judgment that some of the positions contained within it are not in accord with current official Catholic teaching.  In the end, I can only clarify 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.”


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives