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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 8, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 23
Vatican bans nun's book on sexual ethics
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Vatican bans nun's book on sexual ethics

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Only a month after launching a crackdown on U.S. nuns, the Vatican has condemned a book on sexual ethics by noted Catholic theologian Sister Margaret Farley.

Farley's 2005 book Just Love reveals a 'defective understanding of the objective nature of natural moral law' and is 'in direct contradiction with Catholic teaching in the field of sexual morality,' the Vatican said.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the agency responsible for enforcing Catholic dogma, sent an official notification of its findings to Farley's superiors in the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas on May 21. The Vatican published the document online on June 4.

The notification was signed by CDF head Cardinal William Levada and approved by Pope Benedict XVI, who had previously headed the CDF as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

In addition to condemning several of Farley's conclusions in the book, the Vatican banned Just Love from use in any Catholic teaching institution.

In a statement also released June 4, Farley said she had hoped to propose a framework for sexual ethics that 'uses a criteria of justice' in evaluating sexual relations.

'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 said.

Sister Farley has received 11 honorary degrees over her lifetime, and is a past president of the Society of Christian Ethics and the Catholic Theological Society of America.

The CDF did not write a point-by-point critique of Farley's book, but it did indicate its objections to several of her conclusions.

For example, Farley writes that masturbation 'usually does not raise any moral questions at all.'

She goes on, 'It is surely the case 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.

'In this way, it could be said that masturbation actually serves relationships rather than hindering them.'

In response the CDF noted dryly, 'The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.'

Farley departs even more from the Vatican line when she discusses legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

'Legislation for nondiscrimination against homosexuals, but also for domestic partnerships, civil unions, and Gay marriage, can also be important in transforming the hatred, rejection, and stigmatization of Gays and Lesbians that is still being reinforced by teachings of 'unnatural' sex, disordered desire, and dangerous love,' she writes.

'Presently one of the most urgent issues before the U.S. public is marriage for same-sex partners - that is, the granting of social recognition and legal standing to unions between Lesbians and Gays comparable to unions between heterosexuals.'

That passage made the Vatican almost apoplectic.

'Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered,' the CDF writes.

'They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.'

In her June 4 response, Farley says she was trying to explore some new topics in sexual ethics, and never intended to write a textbook on Catholic dogma.

'I can only clarify that the book was not intended to be an expression of current official Catholic teaching,' she wrote, 'nor was it aimed specifically against this teaching. It is of a different genre altogether.'

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