VATICAN CITY—The Vatican on Monday sharply criticized a book on sexuality written by a prominent American nun, saying it contradicted church teaching on issues like masturbation, homosexuality and marriage and that its author had a “defective understanding” of Catholic theology.
The Vatican’s orthodoxy office said the book, “Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics” by Sister Margaret Farley, a member of the Sisters of Mercy religious order and emeritus professor of Christian ethics at Yale Divinity School, posed “grave harm” to the faithful.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that in the 2006 book, Farley either ignored church teaching on core issues of human sexuality or treated it as merely one opinion among many.
Farley said Monday she never intended the book to reflect current official Catholic teaching. Rather, she said, she wrote it to explore sexuality via various religious traditions, theological resources and human experience.
The Farley critique, signed by the American head of the congregation, Cardinal William Levada, comes amid the Vatican’s recent crackdown on the largest umbrella group of American sisters. The Vatican last month essentially imposed martial law on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, accusing it of undermining church teaching and imposing certain “radical feminist themes” that were incompatible with Catholicism.
It ordered a full-scale overhaul of the group and appointed three bishops to carry it out.
The crackdown on Farley, a top American theologian, will likely fuel greater resentment at Rome among more liberal-minded American sisters.
The Vatican examination of the book began in 2010 and involved seeking Farley’s responses to its concerns. After her replies failed to satisfy the Congregation, it moved to a full-fledged “examination in cases of urgency” that concluded Dec. 14.
Pope Benedict XVI approved the decision last March and ordered the decision published.
In its statement, the Vatican singled out specific problems in Farley’s book which it said “affirms positions that are in direct contradiction with Catholic teaching in the field of sexual morality.”
Farley, for example, writes that masturbation doesn’t raise any moral problems and can actually help relationships rather than hinder them. The Vatican asserted that according to church teaching “masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.”
Farley wrote that homosexual people as well as their activities should be respected. Church teaching holds that gays should be respected but that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.”
On gay marriage, Farley said legal recognition of gay marriage can help transform the stigmatization of gays. Levada wrote back that approving gay marriage would not only signal approval of “deviant behaviour” but would obscure the value of traditional marriage between man and woman in society.
“The principles of respect and non-discrimination cannot be invoked to support legal recognition of homosexual unions,” he wrote.
In her statement, Farley said she had aimed to propose a framework for sexual ethics that “uses a criteria of justice” in evaluating sexual relations.
She acknowledged that her responses to certain issues do depart from traditional doctrine, but said they nonetheless were coherent in theological and moral traditions.
“The fact that Christians (and others) have achieved new knowledge and deeper understanding of human embodiment and sexuality seems to require that we at least examine the possibility of development in sexual ethics,” she wrote.
She said she appreciated the Vatican’s work but lamented that her positions weren’t reflected in the Congregation’s final document.
So the Roman Catholic church teaches:
- that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action
- that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered
- that approval of gay marriage would signal approval of deviant behaviour and obscure the value of traditional marriage between a man and a woman
Well, let the church tackle Lionel Tiger in his work, The Manufacture of Evil... Ethics, Evolution and the Industrial System, p.32-33
It is possible we have been systematically misled about our morality from the very beginning. Why should God have interfered with Eden as he did, evidently for the dual offenses of sexual awareness (sexual anxiety again!) and empirical scepticism, that forbidden fruit? And why blame poor Adam, whom after all God made? And why was what happened in Eden the "Fall"? And why were Adam and Eve so harshly and disproportionately ridiculed for their sexual frisson? Were not those perplexingly pleasureable nerve endings in their genitalia there for a purpose?Was orgasm an accidental spasm, which happened to be so mightily pleasing that (later on when churches got going) its occurrence or not could be held up as a measure of obedience to God?
This is mad. No wonder practitioners of morality trades have so enthusiastically separated man from animal, culture from nature, devotion from innocence. If morality is natural, then you don't need priests as much as you're likely to enjoy being informed by scientists. If morality is a biological phenomenon, then it is merely insulting to harrass mankind for its current condition because of an historic Fall in the past and a putative Heaven in the future. When spirituality became a special flavour and ceased being fun, when mystical congregation and speculation became instead a matter of bare knees on cold stone and varying renunciations; when involvement with the seasons and the other subtle rhythms of nature became formalized into arbitrary rituals governed by functionaries, then the classical impulse for moral affiliation became translated into something else: into a calculation of ethical profit and loss supervised by an accountant Church and a demanding God. A new tax was born. The tithe. Ten percent for the first agents.
If the Vatican has trouble with Farlay's book, as deviant from church teaching, imagine the difficulty they will have with Professor Tiger!
And imagine them trying to untangle the gordion knot that he has posed for their entertainment and "scholarship."