Vatican intensifying crackdown on American nuns
The Vatican and the American Catholic Church have issued three reprimands of Catholic nuns since last year.
June 5th, 2012
02:34 PM ET

Vatican intensifying crackdown on American nuns

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - The Vatican denies there's a connection, but its reprimand of an influential American nun, at a moment when the Holy See is already engaged in an intense fight with most American nuns, sends a clear message: The Catholic Church’s leaders think America’s nuns have gone rogue and must be reined in.

The Vatican on Monday censured Sister Margaret A. Farley, who teaches at Yale Divinity School, over a 2006 book she wrote that the church said is out of step with official church teaching on human sexuality.

Just weeks before, the Vatican issued a major report condemning the groups that represent most American nuns, saying those organizations had promoted “radical feminism” while neglecting teachings against homosexuality and abortion.

“The Vatican believes that there is a climate of dissent in some quarters of the women’s religious life in America,” said John Allen, CNN’s Vatican analyst. “They are trying to deal with that, and both these developments speak to that.”

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

In its reprimand of Farley, the church focused on her book “Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics,” which it said condones masturbation and homosexuality.

“Masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action,” the church said in a statement Monday that characterized “homosexual acts” as “acts of grave depravity.”

The reprimand warned church officials not to use Farley’s book, raising eyebrows in Catholic circles because she is one of the country’s most respected female Catholic theologians.

The Rev. Brian Linnane, a Jesuit priest and president of Loyola University Maryland, did his doctoral work in theology under Farley.  He said the notification could have a chilling effect on academic freedom at Catholic institutions.

“There’s a sense that the vocation of the theologian is diminished in this notification to where it’s just, ‘Keep repeating what we’ve already said and don’t question it, don’t critique it, don’t try to help us make it more adequate.’  And I think that’s troubling,” he said.

Linnane said people who read the book knew that Farley was departing from Catholic teaching in certain areas.  

“She did not write a book about sexual practices.  She wrote a new framework to think about sexual ethics, which looks at justice, instead of procreation or abstinence, which have been part of the tradition,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s a question of right or wrong so much as I think it is of the ability to raise critical questions, to try and develop new understandings of the theological tradition and in this case of the moral tradition.”

Linnane said the Vatican is right to be sure that public ministers such as priests and nuns be on the same page doctrinally as the church leaders, and he noted the rebuke was specifically against the book, not the author.

“There’s no silencing of Sister Farley in the notification, there’s no threat to her membership in her religious community; it’s just about the book, which everyone agrees probably shouldn’t be taught in Catholic seminaries, certainly shouldn’t be taught in religious education classes for young persons. Everyone agrees it’s theological speculation,” he said.

The censure came days after the leadership that represents most American nuns concluded a meeting in Washington to devise a response to an April Vatican assessment that accused the nuns of hosting speakers who preached “radical feminism” at an annual gathering of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The group represents about 80% of American nuns.

Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter

The report also said the nuns were too focused on social justice and not enough on opposing abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage.

The recent reprimands come about a year after U.S. Catholic bishops rebuked another nun, Sister Elizabeth Johnson at Fordham University, for her writings.

The bishops said that Johnson falsely claims the Catholic Church’s names are “metaphors that do not apply to the reality of God within the traditional Catholic understanding.”

“In the last 12 months you’ve seen two of America’s leading Catholic nuns who are theologians in the cross hairs,” Allen said. “I’m not sure there’s anyone left of their stature to go after.”

Many parts of the American nuns’ community and the Catholic academic world have come out swinging against the Vatican critiques. In a statement, Farley defended her work, saying it was not meant as an official church teaching.

Farley said she feared the Vatican “misrepresents (perhaps unwittingly) the aims of my work and the nature of it as a proposal that might be in service of, not against, the church and its faithful people.”

On Friday, the leaders of the American nuns whom the Vatican had criticized said the Holy See’s report was “based on unsubstantiated accusations and (was) the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency” and that the report had “caused scandal and pain throughout the church community.”

Representatives of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious are flying to Rome this week to try to chart a course forward with Vatican officials. Church experts said that the nuns could accept the assessment, negotiate or resign en masse and form a new group outside the watchful eye of the Vatican.

The reprimands originate from the Vatican’s powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Pope Benedict XVI led for decades before his elevation to the papacy.

In interviews conducted while he held that earlier post, Benedict spoke often about growing the church by pruning - becoming smaller but more devout before expanding.

It is hard to know what the reaction to the fight between American nuns and the Vatican is within the American Catholic community, but there have been some pockets of protest against the Vatican’s actions.

“It’s one thing when the Vatican goes after a theologian, because most rank-and-file Catholics don’t know any theologians,” Allen said. “But so many have been educated by sisters in a school, taken care of by a sister at a hospital or know a nun in their parish that is running the office."

He added, “When there’s a perception that sisters are under fire, there’s a tendency to support them.”

There is evidence that the reprimand against Farley has raised her profile as a theologian. Her "Just Love" was the best-selling religious studies book Tuesday on Amazon.com.

- CNN's Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Sexuality

soundoff (2,186 Responses)
  1. deignostotheistico

    I'm guessing god has a penis, but only a small one.

    June 6, 2012 at 1:20 am |
    • usaidwhat?

      BUT !! He has a Ford 350 with colossal tires and rims on it ! :'}

      June 7, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  2. Sirned

    Leave the nuns alone. They are doing Gods work. The men at the Vatican need to get the thorn out of their own eye first. I suggest they go after the sick predatory priests they are hiding and clean house in their shady Vatican money laundering...Talk about utter egotistical narcissism....Makes me want to leave the Catholic Church

    June 6, 2012 at 1:17 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      Check out Humanism. it's an atheistic ethical system that is far superior to the "morals" offered by the church.


      June 6, 2012 at 1:22 am |
    • Church girl


      June 6, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • usaidwhat?

      also, checout Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris..they make much much more sense.

      June 7, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  3. Bootyfunk

    the vatican definitely comes down on these uppity women but do nothing about the men in their organization that molest children. way to fight the good fight!

    June 6, 2012 at 1:14 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      False statement. Discard

      June 6, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  4. Serge

    The purpose behind religion is hate. Organized religion creates "the other" who is damned if they don't join the group and get with the program. God forbid anyone worship in private and in their individual way. Organized religion is the rich man who is as likely to enter heaven as a camel is able to pass through the eye of a needle.

    June 6, 2012 at 1:10 am |
  5. Mike H

    The folks of the Vatican are completely out of touch with reality. The Catholic church as been more about rituals, tradition, and drawing in vast revenue while all but ignoring the fact that the purpose of the church is to spread the Gospel.

    June 6, 2012 at 1:08 am |
  6. Jim P.

    You either believe the Man in the Vatican has a direct line to God and is the empowered representative of this god on Earth or you do not.

    These nuns took an oath of obedience among other things. Follow your oath or get out and start your own religion. You and the guy running the show cannot both be right.

    I see this as one more proof of how generally useless religion is and how little those who claim to follow the various doctrines actually *believe* what they swear they do.

    If their god wanted social justice, social justice would rain down like manna, you could not stop it. Assuming you really do think there is some guy in the sky who cares and could make things nay way he wished in less than the blink of an eye.

    Looking around, I see no such thing happening so it looks like its up to us humans to sort it all out since no one divine seems to be standing up to take command.

    June 6, 2012 at 12:59 am |
    • usaidwhat?

      women also take an oath of marriage, but if the husband becomes abusive, no one expects her to stand by her oath.

      June 7, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • usaidwhat?

      Everyone who believes has a direct link with God..who are you kidding. I'm an Atheist, but I know religion as I was a Catholic, but I will defend Anyones right to believe what they want, and you have no right saying only the Pope has a direct link to god...No wonder he is so out of control, with people like you handing over your life so easily he thinks "HE IS GOD"

      June 7, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  7. Steve

    Masturbating nuns....totally hot

    June 6, 2012 at 12:56 am |
  8. Dana

    Jesus called. You're focusing too much on social justice.

    June 6, 2012 at 12:56 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      There is no social justice without human dignity which starts with the right to life.

      June 6, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • usaidwhat?

      No Bill..It begins with the Freedom of choice...

      June 7, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  9. St.Mik

    I'm with the sisters.

    June 6, 2012 at 12:54 am |
  10. reasonablebe

    wait...wasn't social justice at the heart of the catholic teachings– and those attributed to jesus? oh wait...male domination is more important. we wouldn't want them to feel impotent....or risk that some myth teachings are just that– myths meant to keep teens and people scared and subservient.

    June 6, 2012 at 12:51 am |
  11. thetruth

    I seriously doubt whether a secular source, most especially this network, can even begin to truly comprehend the teaching of the Catholic Church on this topic, which requires an understanding of scripture, the nature of Christ, natural law, combined with a view of the dignity of the human person who is created in the image of God.

    For the sincere reader who really wants to know, the teaching of the Catholic Church on this topic is extremely well reasoned and takes into account what is truly in the best interest of the individual and society (while not taking its eye off eternity). However, it requires study to truly understand the teaching. The information is there for those who truly want to know.

    I seriously doubt whether a secular source, most especially this network, can even begin to truly comprehend the teaching of the Catholic Church on this topic, which requires an understanding of scripture, the nature of Christ, natural law, combined with a view of the dignity of the human person who is created in the image of God.

    For the sincere reader who really wants to know, the teaching of the Catholic Church on this topicis extremely well reasoned and takes into account what is truly in the best interest of the individual and society (while not taking its eye off eternity). However, it requires study to truly understand the teaching. The information is there for those who truly want to know.

    June 6, 2012 at 12:46 am |
    • reasonablebe


      June 6, 2012 at 12:52 am |
    • Serge

      The pope and "thetruth" share one characteristic: Both totally out of touch with normal existence. Priests, from the beginning of time, have preyed on society and people's fears. The idea that out-of-touch old men can counsel lay people who have normal feelings and relationships is absurd.

      June 6, 2012 at 12:57 am |
    • Raised Catholic

      The Catholic Church is run by a bunch of old men living in the past where women could be relegated to nothing more than baby machines who are supposed to bend to the will of men.

      June 6, 2012 at 1:09 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      it's like saying, only someone who truly believes in the easter bunny can understand why he hides his colored eggs. lol.

      June 6, 2012 at 1:12 am |
    • 1234LISA1234

      Looking into history in the making, The catholic church has served ir's purpose as well as islam, The God of the church does not exist, or not necessary to explain creation or eternity. There is a timeless dimention in existence that consciousness functions in. There is no need for a heaven or a hell. There are some records on these subjects dating up to twenty thouswnd years. A recent work by Dr. Puharich, can be a source for well being. At present the use of psychic healing, and psychokenises is changing the medical proffesion. The use of hipnoses in media ads that started by Nixon has taken down all religiousness. People do not associate any validity to what they hear or see. We need to learn to be gentle with ne another. Allow people to change there mind. Wait untel they can understand. Like what Ezikiel has said: "Let your life be a progessive receprtion of grace."

      June 6, 2012 at 1:49 am |
    • sam stone

      wow. you have so much discernment. we are honored by your presence

      June 6, 2012 at 4:13 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Nice post. Notice not a single responder has taken his challenge. Read Theology of the Body or God is Love. Then you might have a small amount of information with which to intelligently discuss these issues. Otherwise keep up the anti-Catholic rants made out of ignorance. We get it. You hate Catholics.

      June 6, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • usaidwhat?

      reasonablebe...go look up Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins...They will get you thru this poppy crap

      June 7, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • usaidwhat?

      ..And Bill Decon..."YOU HATE WOMEN"

      June 7, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  12. jayman419

    So... the Vatican has done more against these nuns in the past year than it ever did against pedophiles in the past century.

    June 6, 2012 at 12:42 am |
    • Awakened


      June 6, 2012 at 2:28 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Not so but keep up the rhetoric. The more you repeat it the more you believe it.

      June 6, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  13. alltruth


    June 6, 2012 at 12:42 am |
  14. revolting peasant

    From the headline you would think these nuns are snorting coke and flashing their booobies.

    June 6, 2012 at 12:40 am |
  15. sftommy

    The Sisters are more Christ-like than the Pope or the Vatican. The heathen vatican insiders are too busy fighting to control the$Bililons to really worry about the poor they pretend to serve. Vatican is serving the needs of men not that; of Jesus Christ or God.

    June 6, 2012 at 12:39 am |
    • Emmsy

      Sorry sftommy! But your wild statement is factually incorrect!

      June 6, 2012 at 12:45 am |
    • usaidwhat?

      you are absolutely correct....

      June 7, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  16. Bob

    Nunneries have always been a place where the Catholics could hide their lesbian women. The priesthood has always been where Catholics send their gay men.

    June 6, 2012 at 12:37 am |
    • usaidwhat?

      Bob, you are a perfect example of an uneducated, Ho*ophobe,

      June 7, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  17. sarah

    The rules of the church were all made by old men, except for the words of Jesus. The most precious words He gave us were:"Love one another". There were no conditions attached. The Church has gone way off mark. I was in a convent for 8 years, and left because I could not face myself in the mirror. Why men believe they are endowed with all that is right is a mystery to me. Jesus never said women could not be priests, or deacons, or theologians. All those rules are man-made. I pray the Vatican wakes up before it's too late. I pray for all the children who were and are abused by so-called holy men.

    June 6, 2012 at 12:34 am |
    • Emmsy

      Jesus said," Love one another" and yes you are right, that was a great command! He also gave to Peter the power to "loose" or "retain" the sins of men! He left a Church with a hierarchy that has been around since the beginning that we now call the Catholic Church. He gave them the authority to teach and preach and heal in His name. Read the Didache! and all of Scripture! Educate yourself on history and the early Church Fathers before you make proclamations that aren't actually true.
      He placed the care of His Church in the hands of sinful men but said that the gates of hell will not prevail against it! I believe Christ!! God knows what He is doing! 🙂

      June 6, 2012 at 12:52 am |
  18. 0Patrick0

    Before there was the Republican war on women, there was the Vatican war on women. Both wars will be lost.

    June 6, 2012 at 12:32 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son


      June 6, 2012 at 12:34 am |
  19. John

    Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son....The LORD rebuke you! Go back to that place from which you came and leave the children of God alone. You (including the main stream media) don't judge the children or the Church. Judgment is the LORD's to do as the Righteous Judge. Another thing, I am not your honey! There will be no sweet words of deceit come from my mouth. I will speak bitter words of Truth to you and those that follow your yellow-haired father who rages because his time is short. It will be a mighty fearful thing to fall in the hands of the Almighty God for He is a just god. You could choose to love Him and experience His lovingkindness, but you have chosen your father and thus your destination.

    June 6, 2012 at 12:30 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son


      June 6, 2012 at 12:32 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      @tom tom

      LOL! you have been officially rebuked! i want to be rebuked too! LOL!!!

      June 6, 2012 at 1:19 am |
    • sam stone

      John: You do not speak for god. Thank you, have a great day

      June 6, 2012 at 4:16 am |
    • sam stone

      Also,John, your empty proxy threats are laughable. Now, get down on your knees like a good little slaveboy, mmmmkay?

      June 6, 2012 at 4:18 am |
    • usaidwhat?

      John, look in the mirror, you old phony...you are casting judgement yourself, I think you may be a little confused there, You may have gotten your Viagra and your Alzheimer meds confused, again.

      June 7, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  20. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    Betcha no one at the Vatican is losing a wink with regards to this "issue"

    June 6, 2012 at 12:21 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36
About this blog

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.