The Vatican has condemned a leading US nun for writing a book in which she praises female masturbation and approves divorce and gay sex and marriage, warning that the book must not be used by Catholic educators.
The Vatican’s criticism of Sister Margaret Farley, a professor emeritus of Christian ethics at Yale University, comes amid escalating tension with US nuns, after the Holy See accused them of preaching “radical feminist” ideas.
In a statement approved by Pope Benedict 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 wrote, “actually serves relationships rather than hindering them.”
That view, the Vatican said, 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 behavior,” the Vatican said.
Her openness to divorce and remarriage was deemed as “contravening God’s law,” it said.
When Just Love was first published in 2006, it was adopted by Catholic educators in the US and won a prestigious religious book prize.
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, 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 said in a statement her ideas veered from Catholic teaching, but added: “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.
“Sister Farley manifests a defective understanding of the objective nature of the natural moral law,” the Vatican said. “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. On Friday, the largest organization of US nuns rejected the Vatican’s claim that it had fallen prey to feminist ideology and was no longer teaching Catholic views on abortion and gay unions.