Vatican Censures Another American Nun

Dear Folks,

Below is a reflection, “Vatican Censures Another American Nun”–in this case, a
Sister Margaret A. Farley (Sister of Mercy), who presented a theological rational for same-sex relationships, masturbation, and remarriage after divorce.

Your comments are always welcomed.

Peace and good will,
Deacon Jim

Vatican Censures Another American Nun


As you’ve probably learned, the Vatican doctrinal office (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF)) has censured an American nun,  Sister Margaret A. Farley (Sister of Mercy of the Americas), who taught Christian ethics at the prestigious Yale Divinity School and who was the former president of the Catholic Theological Society—the umbrella institution for American Catholic theologians.  In her book, “Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics,” Farley attempted to present a theological rational for same-sex relationships, masturbation, and remarriage after divorce.

The CDF said that Farley’s book was not consistent with authentic Catholic theology, and should not be used by Roman Catholics.  Cardinal Levada statement on the book said that it “cannot be used as a valid expression of Catholic teaching, either in counseling and formation, or in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.”  The statement said that Pope Benedict XVI approved of the censure and ordered its publication.

Sister Farley responded in a statement: “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 (emphasis added).  It is of a different genre altogether.”  —New York Times, 6-5-12.


          While Sister Farley’s “aim” (intention?) may not have been specifically against Church teaching, as a matter of fact, it simply is in opposition to Catholic moral teaching.  Farley finds moral and theological justifications for same-sex marriage.  Such justification she believes “can also be important in transforming the hatred, rejection, and stigmatization of gays and lesbians.” She wrote that “same-sex relationships and activities can be justified according  to the same sexual ethic as heterosexual relationships and activities.”

            The CDF report said that “This opinion is not acceptable” because it violates the clear tenets of Catholic morality expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity (cf. Gen 19-29, Rom 1:24-27, 1 Cor 6:10, and 1 Tim 1:10), tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered” (CDF, Persona humana 8).  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” (CCC, #2357).

            The CDF said that Sister Farley’s assertion that sometimes divorce is a reasonable option for couples who have grown apart contradicted church teaching on the “indissolubility of marriage.”    The latter is based upon the unitive relationship the Risen Christ (bridegroom)  has with the Church (bride) which is his Body, as well as the unity shared between the three persons of the Blessed Trinity.  According to the Catechism:

            The love of the spouses requires, OF ITS VERY NATURE (emphasis                        added), the unity and indissolubility of the spouses’ community of   persons, which embraces their entire life:  “so they are no longer      two, but one flesh (cf. Mt. 19:6 and Gen 2:24).  They are “called to      grow continually in their communon through day-to-day fidelity to their marriage promise of total mutual self-giving” (Apolstolic       Exhortation, Familiaris consortio, #19).  This human communion           is confirmed, purified, and completed by communion in Jesus       Christ, given through the sacrament of Matrimony  (#1644).


            The CDF document quoted liberally from some of racier passages in “Just Love,” including ones in which Sister Farley writes that female masturbation “usually does not raise any moral questions at all.”  She adds 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.”

The Vatican said this assessment contradicted church teachings of offenses against chastity, such as masturbation: “Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action” (CDF, Persona humana 9).”The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose” (ibid.).

            As expected, the the secular media has put this recent development  within the  spin of an out-of-touch patriarchical hierarchy beating up a little old nun.  Leading the charge is a former Catholic,  Maureen Down, whose resentment towards the Church is palatably venomous,  wrote in the NY Times (June 7, 2012)  that the censure is “Just the latest chapter in the Vatican’scrusade to push U.S.  nuns—and all Catholic women—back into moldy subservience.

“The denunciation of Farley’s book is based on the fact that she deals with the modern world as it is.  She refuses to fall in line with a Vatican rigidly clinging to an inbred, illusory world where men rule with no backtalk from women, gays are deviants, the divorced can’t remarry, men and women can’t use contraception, masturbation is a grave disorder and celibacy in enshrined, even as global pedophilia scandal rages.

“The latest ignoble fight with a noble nun adds to the picture of a Catholic Church in a permanent defensive crouch, steeped in Borgia-like corruption and sexual scandals, lashing out at anyone who notes the obvious: they have lost track of right and wrong.”

The media does not have the inclination or the interest of doing a disinterested inquiry as to why the Church teaches what it does.   Rather It relishes a fight,  highlights bullet-points  which are unpopular and  which frequently clash with the dominant consciousness of our culture, then dismisses them in an  ad hominem fashion.  As Catholics, I don’t know why we should be surprised by such malicious assaults  as our Lord Jesus foretold, “They’ll hate you (the Church) because they have hated me first.”

In the meantime, it’s incumbent upon us to know our Tradition and to be able to convey it in a way that is credible, consistent, comprehensive, and convincing. 

            I am not concerned that the Hierarchy will cave into cultural pressure because  we have a 2,000 year old Deposit of Faith (Scripture and Tradition) that has weathered the test of time, we have a Magisterium that has the authority from Christ to govern the Church’s doctrine and worship, and we have the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Having said that, we want to be united in doctrines that are essential, open to an honest inquiry on non-essentials,  and in to show charity to everyone.