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My Take: Vatican is unjust to condemn nun's 'Just Love'
The Vatican publicized its condemnation of Sister Margaret Farley on Monday.
June 4th, 2012
01:20 PM ET

My Take: Vatican is unjust to condemn nun's 'Just Love'

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

A few years ago I sat on a book prize jury and weighed the merits of the book "Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics" by Margaret A. Farley, a nun in the Sisters of Mercy order. I thought it was well-researched and well-argued, and I was not surprised when it won the 2008 Grawemeyer Award in Religion (and with it a $200,000 prize).

On May 21, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith forwarded to Sister Patricia McDermott, president of Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, a Notification condemning Farley's "Just Love." On Monday, the Vatican published that Notification online.

Not surprisingly, the matter preoccupying the Vatican here is not poverty or hunger or oppression. It is sex.

“Among the many errors and ambiguities of this book,” concludes the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “are its positions on masturbation, homosexual acts, homosexual unions, the indissolubility of marriage and the problem of divorce and remarriage."

"Just Love" surveys sexual ethics from various philosophical, historical, religious and anthropological perspectives before turning to its central topic: the ethics of love and sex.

When it comes to love, Farley argues, love itself is not enough. “The question ultimately is, what is a right love, and a good, just, and true love?” she writes.

Her answer? Love is just when it meets three criteria: “it is a true response to the reality of the beloved, a genuine union between the one who loves and the one loved, and an accurate and adequate affective affirmation of the loved.” In short, “persons are not to be loved as if they were things.”

Turning to the ethics of sex, Farley advances a parallel argument, though this time she articulates seven norms: “do no unjust harm,” “free consent of partners,” “mutuality,” “equality,” “commitment,” “fruitfulness” and “social justice.”

So if you are looking for a libertine line here, you are not going to get one. But as the Vatican noticed and Farley herself admitted in a statement Monday, this is not toeing the traditional Catholic line, either.

Instead of grounding her thinking here simply in scripture and tradition, Farley draws as well on secular perspectives and contemporary experience. And she is alive to the possibility that same-sex relationships can meet her criteria for justice, including that of “fruitfulness,” rightly understood.

Once again, I must admit that I cannot make sense of what the Vatican is doing here.

In recent weeks, the Roman Catholic Church has gone after U.S. nuns for fighting poverty rather than fighting gay sex. Now, the Vatican is targeting a nun individually.

A cynic might say that the Church is trying to distract us from a sexual abuse scandal that continues to fester. If so, it isn't working, and few are buying the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's claim that Farley is somehow a renegade Catholic whose writings must be shunned by the faithful.

Dozens of theologians are supporting her publicly, noting (among other things) that the Vatican didn't even do Farley the courtesy of meeting her argument with an argument of its own. Meanwhile, McDermott has expressed the “profound regret” of the Sisters of Mercy over the Vatican’s decision to issue a Notification against the book.

As I took "Just Love" down from my bookshelf Monday morning and paged through its arguments, what stopped me up short was this introductory passage:

In Western culture, at least since its Christian formation, there has been a perduring tendency to give too much importance to the morality of sex. The sexual has threatened to take over the moral focus of whole generations of persons. Everything about the “sexual” is considered “moral” or “immoral,” and “morality” is almost reduced to “sexual morality.” All of this is to the detriment of concerns about economic justice, the oppression of whole peoples, political dishonesty, and even theft and the taking of life.

Farley goes on to argue for the importance of thinking and writing about sex, since we "frequently harm or betray ourselves and one another precisely as sexual beings." But the point stands. As does this question: Why is the Vatican so focused on an issue Jesus himself almost entirely ignored?

I acknowledge the right of the Roman Catholic Church to police the thinking and writing of its own. But I will continue to be disappointed by the Vatican until it shows me that it is at least as concerned with economic and social justice as it is with masturbation and gay sex.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Ethics • Homosexuality • Opinion • Same-sex marriage • Sexuality • United States • Vatican

soundoff (577 Responses)
  1. Pscyclepath

    The problem is not so much the Catholic Church, but the people runnign the Catholic Church at its highest levels. Jesus had a good bit to say about these sorts of church leaders, most of which is set out in Matthew 23.

    June 5, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      As a Catholic, I appreciate this comment. My overriding point is that the teachings of the Church are fundamentally life affirming. Granted there have been abuses and there are failures of leadership but the catechism is, at it's core, the bedrock of freedom and social structure.

      June 5, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  2. seebs

    I have to say, I am mystified by the Vatican's priorities. Remember in Matthew 25, where Jesus says "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I did things you disapproved of with someone I loved, and ye shamed me and spent enough money to feed and house thousands of people trying to get the government to stop me."

    Yeah, I don't remember that part either.

    Tell ya what, guys. When the day comes that we go twenty four hours without a murder, without assault, and without anyone going hungry when there's plenty of food sitting around going to waste, then I will totally listen to your arguments as to why I should care what people do in bed.

    June 5, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      So in other words when all your carnal and material needs are met then you will decide to be moral? Doesn't work that way. This is why the Vatican is confronting the nuns. Morality starts at an individual level, proceeds through relationship to others into family, community then ultimately society. Not the other way around.

      June 8, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  3. PamOh

    She doesn't need to be a nun anyhow, she has outgrown the church.

    June 5, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  4. bill constantine

    Churches wll continue to have pedo-phyls..You paents should better check out your children when you tell them that leaders are holy. This is not Italy or the Holy Land..Americans have come here for religion indepedence. "The sooner the cancer of "Religion is eradicated, the sooner mankind will be able to progress beyond the level of kindergarden...What about the catholic molestors of small children be taken in account..... consenting adults can do anything but protect the children..Let us hear it for the hard working dedicated nuns who are out there...Has the guy got out of prison for just exposing the e-mails of the pope and the cardinals..it was not his opinion..He would be a hero here in the United States....

    June 5, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  5. KMW

    I guess i will have to reword my previous comment. I do not think CNN liked what I said about their low ratings. I will start over then.

    June 5, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  6. GFreas

    So funny how everyone claims the Catholic Church is attacking h0mose3xuals and s3xual activity. The only people doing the attacking are outsiders, either non-Catholics or disgruntled Catholics. The Church hasn't changed its teaching on these subjects for, oh, 2 thousand years, and yet here is another whiner claiming that the Church is on the attack.

    June 5, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • Craig

      How is a disgruntled Catholic an outsider?

      June 5, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • yep

      you're right! Having been around for 2000 years with thier middle age voodoo. Not to forget they held back science during the dark ages. What a pathetic group.

      June 5, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • MarylandBill

      Dark Ages spanned roughly 500-700 in Western Europe. The Church did not hold back science during that period (Science as we know it still had about 800-1000 years until it was invented), it actually did more to preserve the knowledge of the fallen Roman Empire in the West than any other group. Then they invented Universities and pushed forward the bounds of learning in art, music and architecture... They invented the cornerstones for the Scientific Method (Occam was a member of the clergy) and in fact it was a cleric who developed the heliocentric theory... But one scientist insults the Pope and gets slammed for it (Galileo who couldn't even prove heliocentricism and rejected Kepler's laws of planetary motion) and suddenly the Church held back science in the Dark Ages which occurred a 1000 years earlier.

      I don't know why I take the anti-christian bigots here seriously.

      June 5, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • yep

      , the church held back science, period,, or do you skip that part of history. here's another for you.. It wasn't until the black plague that people started to stop listening to the RCC fools. In fact the black plague was the awakening that RCC was full of CR-ap. Science now started moving forward.

      Educate yourself. Or do you still believe in bloodletting?

      June 5, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      I love how MarylandBil gives concrete examples of his argument but yup simply makes his assertion and follows with an insult. Classic.l

      June 5, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • Derigible

      *** The Church did not hold back science during that period ....

      Yes it did.
      Michael Tsarion has some well done videos proving that because of the church
      we are hundreds of years behind in science, math, and education.
      Keep em stupid, keep em in line.

      June 5, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  7. KMW

    This reporting is getting a little stale. It must be a slow news day. I would like to see some anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim reports for a change. It is no wonder CNN's ratings are so low. Soon there will not even be a CNN.

    June 5, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • willard43

      That is exactly how I feel about the Catholic Church and religion in general.

      June 5, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • Primewonk

      Is it the Muslims and Jews who are leading the fight to legalize discrimination and hate?

      No. It is the ignorant Christian îdiots.

      Nice attempt to move the goalposts, but you have failed.

      June 5, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • 4thand26

      Let's hope that soon there will no longer exist any religion nonsense...

      June 5, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Legalizing hate? Bwahhahah. Prime is out on his ledge again.

      June 5, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • Derigible

      You can find all the bashing and hate you are looking for at Faux news.

      June 5, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  8. John Donovan

    The way to maximize love in today's society is to restore the honor and privileges that are due to mothers and to fathers. You can't say that a women is valuable in her role as a mother and then in the next breath say that adding another man amounts to the same thing. The psychological equivalence of men and women was the secular religion of the Seventies, and we haven't gotten over it, but all the research in social psych and neuroscience since that time has been strongly implying the opposite, in other words, pointing out the important distinctions between the genders and their implications in the formative years of all human beings.

    June 5, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • seebs

      While it's totally true that there are differences, we've also found quite conclusively that they are not particularly relevant to child-rearing; kids grow up just as healthy with two dads or two moms.

      June 5, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Primewonk

      The actual research shows that kids raised by gay and lesbian parents are just as weel adjusted as kids raised by straight parents.

      Sorry.

      June 5, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • isolate

      We got over the psychological equivalence phase in the 1980s, most notably with the best-sellers by Dr Deborah Tannen, who took apart and analyzed the ways men and women interpret identical phrases, and stressed the radically different ways men and women respond to the same situations. Her books should be mandatory reading for couples intending a long-term relationship, especially men. Reading them was an act of real enlightenment for me, and I credit them with the tranquility of my marriage, the envy of our friends and neighbors.

      June 5, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  9. Dan

    How about addressing CHILD ABUSING PRIESTS then get on your high horse.Until you clean you own problems and protect CHILDREN you are just wasting you breath.

    June 5, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  10. BobZemko

    Jesus, save me from your followers.

    June 5, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  11. Lou Cypher

    She had me at "The Vatican is unjust", the rest was details.

    June 5, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  12. Carol

    Economic and social justice are secondary to a nun's main function, which is to adore God through a contemplative and strict religious life. They seem to forget their place within the church and, more importantly, their vows. They didn't vow to end world hunger, they vowed to obey their superiors and do God's work. I wish they still had public excommunications... this "nun" does not deserve to even call herself Catholic.

    June 5, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • KMW

      Carol,

      Agreed.

      June 5, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • Patriarchae

      So basically you're admitting that your religion, and nuns in particular, are a wasteful and ignorant remnant of medieval times? Good.

      June 5, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • TommyTT

      So by your argument, doing God's work and ending hunger are separate and mutually exclusive. Nice!

      June 5, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • TOOBAD S. SAD

      I could not agree more with Carol. Well said.

      June 5, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • Rob

      Why anybody would identify as catholic boggles my mind. You are nothing but a bunch of brain-washed cowards who can't think for yourselves.

      June 5, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Hold on

      So the role of a nun is to obey and serve as the church directs. Ok. Fine. But can you honestly say that Jesus would condemn the nuns for focusing on social justice? Seeking justice and advocating on behalf of the least among us is one of the most important things the church does. WWJD? I think he would say to the nuns "Well done my good and faithful servants."

      June 5, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • ReaganDem

      Carol you are dead wrong in your assesment of the purpose of any Order of Nuns. Push your ideaology if you will, but please don't insult the Catholic church and especially nuns buy pushing your ignorance.

      June 5, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • Dr. B

      I guess you would have some words for Mother Teresa, then. She was ignoring her "main function" by tending to all those poor people, under your definition.

      June 5, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • yep

      Hey Carol.. Nothing like a bunch of old men whose laws resemble kids tree house rules,, Including; No women allowed and what you hear in the vatican stays there (pedo protectors)

      June 5, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • isolate

      Those were the principal duties of a nun, a "bride of Christ" in the patriarchal socio-religious environment 50 years ago. But nuns were not immune to the empowerment of women throughout the secular world, and fewer and fewer Catholic women are choosing to accept the subservient, second-class role when faced with the opportunities of contemporary society. Catholic seminaries and convents have shrunk to shadows of their former selves, with the average age of native-born American priests and nuns in the sixties. By insisting on priestly celibacy, denying its women religious access to the priesthood and its lay members the use of birth control, the Catholic Church put its collective head in a noose and began kicking away the rickety chair it was standing on.

      June 5, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • yep

      shrink because people are far more educated and no longer worship volcanoes, RCC = volcano worshiping.

      June 5, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Lena

      I became a Protestant almost 25 years ago (thereby guilty of heresy and hence, deserving of excommunication under RCC rules). I too wish they still had public and formal excommunication, because I would dearly LOVE to frame my letter of excommunication from the RCC and display it in a prominent place in my home. Instead, now they just have this stupid "in latae sententiae," where I get nothing 😦 .

      June 5, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • Derigible

      *** vowed to obey their superiors and do God's work.......

      The nuns are doing gods work.
      Why are "they" her superiors ?
      Because they are men ?

      Jesus said the way to god is through your heart.
      The pope says he is the direct path between man and god.
      Who is right ?

      I will take Jesus and the nuns anyday.
      The pope is a false idol.

      June 5, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
  13. Daniel Savane

    Joe or Province:

    And your point is? His opinions might be more well-reasoned than some others, yours, for example, based on his training.

    June 5, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  14. Martoon

    Mr. Prothero, how many religions have you declared "unjust"? Catholicism is a religion with its own beliefs. This book does not fit those beliefs so it was condemned by the Vatican. Tough cookies! Don't like it? Quit and start your own.

    June 5, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • ReaganDem

      Missed the point entirely. Read it again.

      June 5, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  15. Chad

    Instead of grounding her thinking here simply in scripture and tradition, Farley draws as well on secular perspectives and contemporary experience. And she is alive to the possibility that same-sex relationships can meet her criteria for justice, including that of “fruitfulness,” rightly understood.
    Once again, I must admit that I cannot make sense of what the Vatican is doing here.

    could it be that the Vatican is attempting to stay faithful to what scripture says?

    Question for you Stephen: Do you think that God changes His mind?

    of course your answer is "well, God doesnt exist, so it's a stupid question"

    I find your continual attacks on God poorly reasoned and disingenuous, example:
    I will continue to be disappointed by the Vatican until it shows me that it is at least as concerned with economic and social justice....
    If you dont believe in God, you dont believe in truth, "fairness", "justice", all of which by definition reference an absolute standard.

    Please note, that's not my opinion, that's the definition of relativism.
    Relativism is the concept that points of view have no absolute truth or validity, having only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration.[1] The term is often used to refer to the context of moral principle, where in a relativistic mode of thought, principles and ethics are regarded as applicable in only limited context

    that's your disingenuousness.. you appeal to absolute truth's, but you want to be the one defining them for everyone. You dont recognize that as a relativist there is NO SUCH THING as absolute truth.

    So, Steve.. either acknowledge absolute truth (God), or live with relativism.

    take your pick.

    June 5, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • Patriarchae

      Chad, "fairness" and "justice" are nothing but manmade concepts, completely separate from religion. Just like morality, lack of belief in a god does not mean that the person lacks a sense of "fairness" and "justice." Of course there is no "absolute truth," and it would be completely silly for anyone to believe so, but fairness and justice do NOT reference an absolute standard.

      And the rest of your post is just an ad-hominem attack against the author as well as an attempt to proselytize. I do believe that you are the one with a poorly reasoned argument.

      June 5, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Shadowflash1522

      On the contrary, one can posit absolutes without attributing them to a conscious, all-powerful, all-knowing God-thing. From a relativistic standpoint, as it were, all that is required for an "absolute" is that everyone agrees on it.

      Matter is absolute. Energy is absolute, as is the conservation of the two. Gravity is absolute: it doesn't matter if you believe in it, it's there. None of these things is dependent on a God-thing for its "absoluteness". Similarly, one can establish semi-arbitrary absolutes that are no less valid through empirical observation, such as the aforementioned "fairness" and "justice". Things are not "just" because God proclaims them to be so. If that were the case, then one enters the socratic dilemma: are good things good because they please the gods, or are they pleasing to the gods because they are good?

      June 5, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • JustaNormalPerson

      The essence of the problem is the Catholic church is built upon Christ but ignores the teachings of Christ. For the Catholics that try to follow the teachings of Christ are condemned by the hierarchy who pretend to speak for God. The pope is supposed to be the authority on religious matters yet he tried to cover up the molestation of children by priests in Germany. He also ignored an attempt to defrock a priest who molested more than 200 children. Because the pope ignored the request, the priest was instead transferred to another post where the molestation continued.

      This is what is real.

      June 5, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • Mike

      'Question for you Stephen: Do you think that God changes His mind?'

      Whether or not God changes his mind or not the Catholic church has frequently.

      'If you dont believe in God, you dont believe in truth, "fairness", "justice", all of which by definition reference an absolute standard.'

      The Greeks discussed these well before Christians did and they were certainly not original concepts to the Greeks. Christian values is relatively new in history. Christians have no standing to give the 'definitive definition' of any of these concepts,particularly when they have failed to live up to their own definitions so frequently.

      'So, Steve.. either acknowledge absolute truth (God), or live with relativism.'

      And how is 'fanaticism' defined?

      June 5, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • Henry

      Relativism is evil ehh? Why do Christians always claim one of their formerly respected leaders caught in a scandal was never really a member of the faith?

      That is the very definition of relativism.

      June 5, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Sid Airfoil

      Chad, you are way off base.

      You ask "Question for you Stephen: Do you think that God changes His mind?". If there was a god, no, he would not change his mind. But people WOULD often interpret him incorrectly. Do you think the work is flat? That was once an interpretation of scripture.

      You say "If you dont believe in God, you dont believe in truth, "fairness", "justice", all of which by definition reference an absolute standard." I don't believe in god and do believe in truth, fairness and justice. And one doesn't need an "absolute" standard to believe them. SInce morality is relevant only in interactions among humans, one only needs to apply a secular, human standard to objectively define it. That which violates the rights of humans in immoral, that which does not is moral (it's a bit more complicated than this, but there's no time here). Plus, your "absolute" standard is really just your arbitrary interpretation anyway, which makes your standard just as non-absolute as mine, only mine is at least based on the nature of reality and of human beings, whereas yours is based on unsupported faith and ancient traditions.

      Lastly, you seem to think that there are only two POVs on morality: Absolutism (which I call "intrinsicism") and relativism (which I call "subjectivism"). I reject both. Regarding morality, nothing is INTRINSICALLY moral/immoral because that would imply that morality is not connected to its affect on other people. In that sense murder is immoral, NOT because it violates the rights a human being, but because it violates god's law. Also nothing is SUBJECTIVELY moral/immoral because that a meaningless statement. If morality is subjective, anything goes. I subscribe to a third choice, that morality is OBJECTIVE. In that sense a thing is immoral WITH RESPECT TO the nature of human beings as individual, rational creatures who, by nature, must be free to pursue their lives as they see fit. Any act that violates a person's basic nature is immoral. In this sense, morality is neither absolute/god-given nor is it a subjective free-for-all. Instead it is rooted in the nature of man (a secular foundation) which allows us to apply it concretely without resorting to arbitrary interpretations of god.

      Sid

      June 5, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Chad

      @Patriarchae " "fairness" and "justice" are nothing but manmade concepts, completely separate from religion. Just like morality, lack of belief in a god does not mean that the person lacks a sense of "fairness" and "justice."

      @Chad "you are missing the point.
      you are using the terms "fairness" and "justice" as it they are absolutes.
      to a relativist, they arent. One person has a difference sense of fairness and justice than another. As such, there is no absolute standard of "fairness" and "justice" unless everyone agree's to that, and by definition since that is impossible, there is no absolute standard. There is no such thing as "society has determined that such and such is "fair", because not everyone agrees, and lacking an absolute standard to appeal to, that's it.

      Relativists do NOT believe in a definition of "fairness" and "justice" distinct from peoples individual interpretations of "fairness" and "justice". As such then, it can't be appealed to.

      June 5, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Chad

      @Shadowflash1522 "On the contrary, one can posit absolutes without attributing them to a conscious, all-powerful, all-knowing God-thing. From a relativistic standpoint, as it were, all that is required for an "absolute" is that everyone agrees on it."

      =>since it is impossible for 100% of all humanity to agree on one thing, there is no such thing, right?
      A relativist rejects the notion that there is such a thing as absolute truth. Truth is always relative to some particular frame of reference.
      that's the definition

      June 5, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • wtWilliams

      Chad,
      As a Cathoilic, your comment was difficult to read because it was so abrasive and not easy for liberals to swallow. Does God change his mind? I would guess no. But tradition tells us that our understanding of God can change through Revelation. Scripture is essential to God's Revelation but so is reason. So discussing these controversial subjects is important for us to learn Truth from each other. As Catholics we believe we are closest to the Truth but that does not mean we cannot learn from people with completely different ideologies.

      Shadowflash1522, your comment hurt my brain but is is still refreshing to read something that advances the discussion to a mature and reasoned level. Thanks!

      June 5, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • James

      Absolutism – The idea that the sun revolves around the earth and nothing will ever change that fact.

      June 5, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • wtWilliams

      Precisely why Absolute Truth exists despite what we think is Truth.

      June 5, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • jnail7

      @chad=>since it is impossible for 100% of all humanity to agree on one thing, there is no such thing, right?
      A relativist rejects the notion that there is such a thing as absolute truth. Truth is always relative to some particular frame of reference.
      that's the definition

      This is a failure to comprehend what you are talking about. Relative frame of reference, being used primarily in physics, does not deny the underlying truthiness of objects, but instead acknowledges bias in observation of those objects. It is a mechanism for obtaining a relative understanding that can be communicated in a meaningful way. From your frame of reference this concept is flying over your head. From the concept's frame of reference you are passing beneath it. One or tthe other (or possibly a combination of the two) is actually happening, but we have no guaranteed method to determine which. We could claim with false certainty that you are beneath the understanding of this concept (absolutism) or take the more honest approach and claim that from your point of view this concept escapes your grasp (a relativistic statement that does not deny the possibility that it is you who are running away from the concept.)

      June 5, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Ron

      Chad –

      You denounce relativism and claim that there are absolute truths, that I can accept to some degree but where I (and I think most people) have issues is with your concept of infallibility. You claim to be advocating the infallibility of an all knowing divine being. That isn't what you are doing though. You are claiming the infallibility of the absolute truth of your interpretation of the desires of a divine being.

      If there is a divine being I have no trouble accepting that divine being knows the absolute truth and that it is infallible. I just hcave serious doubts that you or anyone else alive is presenting that beings absolute truth without flaws.

      June 5, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • Chad

      @wtWilliams "As a Cathoilic, your comment was difficult to read because it was so abrasive and not easy for liberals to swallow"
      @Chad "sorry.. you are correct, my dislike for Prothero's continual assault on Christianity got the best of me.. I'll try to do better.

      =========
      @wtWilliams " Does God change his mind? I would guess no. But tradition tells us that our understanding of God can change through Revelation. Scripture is essential to God's Revelation but so is reason."
      @Chad "I always support investigation and like the Bereans we should continually investigate the scripture, however we can't "reason" something into existence that is contrary to scripture.

      Even though I agree that support for any position can be garnered by selectively picking scripture, I think that there are somethings that I dont think any rational person can think the bible condones.
      Which ones?
      Fairly easy to pick out.. it is those social topics such as gay marriage that people formulate arguments for that arent based on scripture, and appeal to a changing social norm, not biblical truth.

      =========
      @wtWilliams " So discussing these controversial subjects is important for us to learn Truth from each other. As Catholics we believe we are closest to the Truth but that does not mean we cannot learn from people with completely different ideologies."
      @Chad "perhaps semantics, and I dont know if you mean to say what I think you are saying or not. But we as individuals dont define truth. We can stimulate each other to receive truth from God, but we dont define it ourselves.

      June 5, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Chad

      Regarding interpretation.. many have said essentially "ok, how do you know that you understand what God's absolute truth is?"

      it's a good question, with no completely simple answer.
      "Thou shalt not kill"
      ok, not a lot of interpretive room there.. "kill" as differentiated from manslaughter understood etc..

      "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination"..
      where is the room for interpretation there?

      June 5, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • Shadowflash1522

      Chad,
      A counterexample to your "impossibility" (for those just catching up: it is impossible for all of humanity to agree on anything):
      If the eponymous nuclear holocaust took place tomorrow and you were the only survivor, then by definition all of humanity would agree with you and your word would be absolute law. The example need not be so drastic–merely reduce the population of humans until everyone agrees, and voila! You have achieved an absolute by that definition.

      "Absolute" itself being a funny word, because the difference between an apparent absolute (that is, something which is for all intents and purposes absolute but may not be) and an actual absolute is entirely semantic. In other words, an idea need not be totally absolute as long as I perceive it to be so, as the perception is all that matters.

      Lastly, moral relativism is so last century. Moral contextualism is now in vogue. For your reference, it is the idea that no one action is right/wrong in itself, yet right and wrong are more than a temperamental state of mind–any given situation has a morally right or wrong answer.

      PS Thanks, Williams 🙂

      June 5, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • Shadowflash1522

      Chad,
      "Thou shalt not lie with a man as with a woman..."
      Hmmm, do you mean to say that men cannot sleep in the same bed as women? That they cannot exhibit the same postures for sleeping? Perhaps women are allowed to cuddle with men but men can't cuddle with each other? Maybe "lie" is referring to deception–perhaps it prohibits men lying to each other the way they lie to their wives? You see where this is going. "Lie with" is a cute euphemism, but if they wanted guys to not have se-x with each other, why not just say it?

      June 5, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • Ron

      Again you fail to understand. You are interpreting and interpretation of a text that a group of men choose while excluding other texts. The very act of choosing which text contains the 'word of God' is relativistic.

      June 5, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • Chad

      @Ron "Again you fail to understand. You are interpreting and interpretation of a text that a group of men choose while excluding other texts. The very act of choosing which text contains the 'word of God' is relativistic"

      =>By "group of men choose" you are referring to the New Testament and the Council of Nicea.
      First and most important: your comment doesnt apply to Old Testament, which was what was quoted above ""You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination".. Leviticus 18

      Second: your comment doesnt consider the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the selection of the texts to include in the new testament (as prohibitions exist there for the same subject)

      third: although interpretation is a source of continual academic scholarship, the meaning of Leviticus 18 in the original Hebrew has never been disputed..

      June 5, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  16. bxgrrl

    "I acknowledge the right of the Roman Catholic Church to police the thinking and writing of its own." That it does, nearly to the point of mind control. Independent thought = dissent [read: heresy].

    June 5, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  17. Pat F

    Why exactly is the Vatican NOT allowed to have an opinion on this? The Sisters of Mercy are a CATHOLIC organization, adn the Vatican is the leader of the CATHOLIC Church. Sorry, but whether this guy agrees or disagrees with the nun and her book, it is perfectly appropriate for the Vatican to weigh in on this.

    June 5, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • JustaNormalPerson

      And when they do so, we are justified in pointing out their hypocrisy. They are willing to condem others while they themselves cover up the molestation of children.

      June 5, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  18. Vicki

    She writes about the issues in a truly conscious and fully human way. Thank you for your courage Sister Margaret Farley!!!!

    June 5, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  19. Janus

    What next, rabbis and the dalai lama fantasizing about cheeseburgers?

    June 5, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • GauisCaesar

      The Dalai Lama is not a vegetarian!

      June 5, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  20. Joe or Providence

    Boston University religion scholar and author means his opinions are no better than anyone else’s – it’s all subjective – and has no validity beyond your agreement with it if that be the case.

    June 5, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • Huebert

      Not true. His opinion is formed after years of theological study. you are still free to disagree with it, But i would be willing that Prothero is more informed and and better able to defend his position than most people.

      June 5, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • retphxfire

      The lay person has a right to their opinion however a researcher who has spent years investigating and working on a subject has credibility above the subjective view.

      June 5, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • Mike

      And how is the Pope's opinion any better? Let's get real folks, the Pope is a man, elected by other men. I don't believe in the infallibility of the Pope.

      June 5, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Catholic and Happy

      You know, a doctor can learn a lot about surgery by studying it. Doesn't mean he can and should do it. This Prothero might have studied religions but is clearly not a Catholic. My church gives to the poor and needy. My church must minister to those in need regardless of their faith. Come once to my church and observe the elderly who have little to give but still put something in the basket. Attend a youth group service project, like the annual trek to Mississippi to help rebuild homes from Katrina, or my friend's church whose members go to Haiti to help orphans. The church is not about what man is in charge or his underlings....it's much more than that and much good comes from there. It's so easy to criticize the Catholic church now in the US, and Christians in general...as long as it is not directed at other faiths, it's ok. Go ahead. We are used to it.

      June 5, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • Lena

      Catholic and Happy: Do you think your church is the only church that has elderly people who donate and youth mission projects?

      June 5, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.