The Vatican today sharply criticised 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 today 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 December 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."
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