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.”

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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.

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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. Roywarner

    Somewhere the catholic bishops went from being the liberal leaders of the 60's & 70's to reinstating the power of the INQUISITION. Ratzinger, now Benedict ran this inquisition, which was renamed in 1965 & is now the (paraphrasing) Council on Dogma? Of course old men want nothing to do with women, especially American Nuns. The Bishops seem hell bent on running the faithful out the church doors even more than has been happening all along. Granted, since my days at St. Xavier's, my opinion of nuns was less than favorable. Over half have left & several I know went into years of therapy, to get over decades of being told they were 2nd class, by their own priests. However, nuns today are the backbone of the church, doing ALL the work while priests & bishops enjoy misongeny & the life of Riley. So, it's time to revisit reformation? Not exactly, but it's time to attack the Inquisition for what it is: Evil old men, control freaks & worse. Ratzinger's office was also the very same one that hid pedophile priests & paid them in doinig so. Theology is in the eye of the beholder & the ones with the clout? For this the faithful are the scapegoat & ones made to suffer? Shame on the American bishops, AND the vatican. It turns my stomach. It's men like these that led me to my leaving the church many years ago when I was in the Jesuit Novitiate. Currently my only tie to the church is watching Showtime's THE BORGIA's which give an accurate account of the church then and now. The corruption is the same. Take away their tax exempt status & hit them in the pocket book. They only understand money & greed, evil acts & hiding them, & putting women down. Now it just happens it's CAPITAL GAY PRIDE today & several churches will participate, including catholics. They march, they have booths set up & they support equality. The vatican could learn from this. It's time for a rousing chorus of VATICAN RAG & some good old fashioned Mel Brooks.

    June 10, 2012 at 7:50 am |
  2. Loyal Nothern Democrat

    The new posture and doctrine of the Vatican is called "Deep Throat" and "We be fudge packers!"

    June 10, 2012 at 12:11 am |
  3. Loyal Nothern Democrat

    So the Vatican and the Pope prefer to have "cracks down" rather than "cracks up"?

    June 10, 2012 at 12:08 am |
  4. youdon'tsay

    Topher...God did not create marriage, where do you get that from? Marriage was started so a man could claim his woman as property along with his sheep, camels, and goats! That came from the mind of a very controlling, insecure, limp, excuse for a man. You seem to be the messenger for god, and I'm sure you got the story straight. If you believe all the hogwash and sensationalized stories of the bible, I have a car for you.

    June 9, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  5. JFritz

    Geez, women, get out of that crazy cult! Medieval-minded males telling you what to do? Are you nuts? Form your own religion if you must be slaves to it, but at least put a woman at the head of it, not some frustrated old man.

    June 9, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  6. youdon'tsay

    All you religious wacks make me hungry for a bologna sandwich..

    June 9, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  7. youdon'tsay

    Of course the church is against masturbation, this leads to a good defense on why the priest are allowed to molest children.

    June 9, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  8. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things,

    June 9, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • Deb

      religion has caused more harm and death than any other issue in the entire history of the world. We are all born Atheist (lack of belief) It is implanted in our minds as soon as we can understand. Just because I state that I saw an animal with the body of a goat, but the head of a dog, doesn't make it true. I have the burden of proof, by photos or videos, to prove it. Thus, YOU have the burden of proof to prove God exists, NOT THE ATHEIST. Lack in belief of something until proven is common sense. No matter how many times your mother warned you that fire burns, you still had to find out for yourself, thus you know it to be real, so why would we just believe in a god because we were told to. Religion is quick to point at the Atheists as thou evil and demented, but it's the bible that promotes, slaughter, greed, power, any many distorted virtues. Atheists are happy just to have the pleasure of our lives on this fantastic amazing planet.

      June 11, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • mothernature

      "Religion" IS NOT healthy for children and all living things !!

      June 12, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  9. Buster Hyman

    Nun Booty, Nun Booty, Nun Booty, Nun Booty,

    June 9, 2012 at 7:26 am |
  10. Deb

    Possessor....YES fairy tails ! Gods, talking snakes, parting the sea, raising the dead, must I go on ? No one said anything negative about the virtues written in the bible, your just being a snob. We would have evolved to the same standards without the bible, and if you think we wouldn't have, your the fool.

    June 8, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
    • tails are appendages tales is the word you missed

      It is not your for you are it is you're and you were calling someone else a moron?

      June 8, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • areyoukiddingme

      You too, are being a snob...perfect I'm sure.

      June 9, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  11. Deb

    POSSESSOR....Quit being a jerk, yes fairytails..gods, talking snakes. walking on water, raising the dead, parting the seas, burning bushes, talking angels (fairys) need I go on. No one said anything negative on the virtues it speaks about. Are you such a sad being to think that we wouldnt be where we are socially today without the bible. WRONG we would evolved the same standards. You need to count on yourself sometime instead of thinking theres a god to tend to your garden.

    June 8, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
  12. Barry G.

    Are they also cracking down on priests and others who abuse children?

    Jesus said it would be better for a person to have a millstone tied around a person's neck and for them to be thrown into the sea, than for them to cause one of these little ones to stumble.

    June 8, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  13. Small "c" christian

    It's all about control. In the end, the Catholic Church is nothing more than the current manifestation of the Roman Empire. Led by a leader beleived to be infallible, it is a closed society, seeking to spread its influence throughout the world for the greater glory of itself. It's primary need is to collect tribute from it's members which will allow it to continue to spread it's power and influence.
    The parallels with ancient Rome are not accidental. Essentially, the church was formed by Rome thanks to the salesmanship and editorial skills of Paul, who by his writings and interpretations of the various fables and stories surrounding the Jewish rabbi known as Jesus,was able to "de-Jew" those earliest Christian beliefs, thereby making them into something more palatable to the masses, and ultimately to the Roman Emperor Constantine, whose mother converted to the new religion before her death. This led the Emperor himself to embrace the naescent religion, which he made 'legitimate' by decree, then began the process of consolidating the up to 55 different small sects into one belief system with the First Council of Niceae. Ultimately, Constantine himself joined the new religion on his deathbed and the pact was sealed. Ultimately, Rome became the seat of the Holy Roman Empire, and it's traces are still extant today with the Pope (the Emperor), the Cardinals (Senate), and the lower echelon of bishops and priests (centurions and soldiers) all working to the glory of Rome.


    June 8, 2012 at 3:57 am |
    • ElmerGantry

      Well stated.

      June 8, 2012 at 6:54 am |
    • ElmerGantry

      Although, I do think something is missing.

      It's all about control, more about power, and most importantly about money as that is what buys control and power.

      All that gold, rare art, and wealth in the Vatican came from where? From manufacturing?, from trade? Etc.
      No it came from donations from millions billions who could I'll afford these donations.

      June 8, 2012 at 7:00 am |
    • ElmerGantry

      Error correction,
      The word millions was to be in strike through but wasn't.

      June 8, 2012 at 7:02 am |
  14. WHY?

    Christians, Jews, and Muslims, are robots, programmed by robots, programmed by robots, programmed by robots...etc... For more than 6000 yrs!!!

    June 7, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • Shrink

      Time to take your meds. The monomaniacal obsessiveness is showing.

      June 7, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  15. True Story

    "Nun Crackdown" would be a good name for a p.ron!

    June 7, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  16. WHY?

    In another case of the Bible god letting anger and hatred get the best of him is Jeremiah 8:17 – "For, behold, I will send serpents, co-ckatrices among you, which will not be charmed, and they shall bite you, saith the Lord." A co-ckatrice, is another mythological creature. It is supposed to be a serpent that can kill just by looking at someone. Guess what – they're not real. And neither is the Bible – thank God!

    June 7, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Z

      The Bible is not real? Excuse me? I think it is, seeing that I have one sitting over on my bookshelf...let's see....yep, still there, real as can be. Sorry.

      June 8, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • yougottobekiddingme

      all you have is a book you can file in you fiction section.

      June 8, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
  17. Kindness

    For you.
    A thought to consider without a typical ego response

    Accept Jesus christ as your lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Transcend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
    The world denounces truth....

    Accepting Jesus Christ (for me) resulted in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.

    Also... much the world arranges "surrounding dark matter into something to be debated" in such a way that protects/inflates the ego.

    The key is be present and transcend our own desire to physically see evidence. We don't know anyways by defending our own perception of dark matter.

    Currently.... most of us are constructing our own path that suits our sin lifestyle. Were all sinners. Knowing that we are is often an issue. But both christians and non are sinners.

    We don't like to Let go and let god. We want control to some degree. This is what Jesus asks us to do. "Follow me".
    It's the hardest thing to do... but is done by letting the truth of scripture lead you (redemptive revelation)... as I said .

    Try reading corinthians and see if it makes sense to you. Try it without a pre conceived notion of it being a fairy tale.
    See the truth...
    do we do what it says in todays society... is it relevant... so many have not recently read and only hinge their philosophy on what they have heard from som other person...which may have been full of arogance pride or vanity..

    Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .

    Trancsend the temporal world.

    Just think if you can find any truth you can take with you ....in any of these things. When you die your riches go to someone who will spend away your life..... You will be forgotten.... history will repeat iteslf.... the greatest minds knowledge fade or are eventually plagerzed..... your good deeds will be forgotten and only give you a fleeting temporary reward . your learned teachings are forgotten or mutated..... your gold is transfered back to the rullers that rule you through deception. Your grave will grow over . This is truth .

    Trancsend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Understand you are a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent.... Repent means knowing (to change) The Holy spirit (within) will convict you beyond what you think you can do by yourself. Grace is given to those who renounce the world. That are" in" the world but not "of " the world.

    Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith above reason in Jesus Christ.

    Faith comes by Reading or Hearing the word of god from the bible . Ask Jesus in faith for dicernment and start reading the new testament... You will be shocked when you lay down your preconceived notions and ....see and hear truth ... see how christ sets an example ... feel the truth....

    Read Ecclesiastes. Read corinthians.

    You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth in Christ.

    Sell all your cleverness and purchase true bewilderment. You don't get what you want ....you get what you are in christ.

    I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .

    Think of what you really have to lose. ...your ego?

    Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive.

    once you do . you too will have the wisdom of God that comes only through the Holy Spirit. Saved By grace through Faith. Just like seeing a new colour.... can't explain it to a transient caught in the matrix of worldly deception.
    You will also see how the world suppresses this information and distorts it

    You're all smart people . I tell the truth. Its hard to think out of the box when earthly thinking is the box.
    I'ts a personal free experience you can do it free anytime . Don't wait till you are about to die.. START PUTTING YOUR TREASURES WHERE THEY REALLY MATTER >
    Its awsome and It's just between you and Jesus

    my testimony

    June 7, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • WHY?

      And for you kindness!

      "The Calvinist, who damns children of a span long to hell to burn forever for the glory of God (and this is called Christianity), and the Universalist who preaches that all shall be saved and none shall be damned (and this also is called Christianity), boasts alike of their holy [reveled] religion and their Christian faith.

      "Something more therefore is necessary than mere cry and wholesale assertion, and that something is TRUTH; and as inquiry is the road to truth, he that is opposed to inquiry is not a friend to truth. "The God of truth is not the God of fables; when, therefore, any book is introduced into the world as the "Word of God", and made a groundwork for religion, it ought to be scrutinized more than other books to see if it bear evidence of being what it is called. Our reverence to God demands that we do this, lest we ascribe to God what is not His, and our duty to ourselves demands it lest we take fable for fact, and rest our hope of salvation on a false foundation called "the bible"

      June 7, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • Squishy

      Try to use fewer words and say more.

      June 8, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • yougottobekiddingme


      June 8, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • lostboy

      If I see this ridiculous post one more time I'm gonna hit abuse every damn time.

      June 10, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • mothernature

      @Why–please try not speaking Bulls*it like your intelligence is far superior to others. Speak so everyone can understand you and your nonsense clearer. Less bulls*it more understanding.

      June 11, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • mothernature

      @Kindness, please come up with something new, you post this garbage everyday !

      June 11, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • BOO HOO

      @kindness....and a BIG YAWN, to you.

      June 12, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  18. why?

    Leviticus 25:44-46 reads, "Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids. Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession. And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession!!

    Children being bought as slaves??

    No matter how you look at it, ITS WRONG!!!


    June 7, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • mothernature

      here we go gain. >:P

      June 11, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • mothernature

      These are obvious words of man, most likely owners of slaves themselves, unwilling to give them up, so they said, god said It was ok, to justify and carry it out. Religion can't have it both ways, although they twist, sensationalize, edit and lie to suit their wants, needs, and desires. Why would god deny a slave the same rights and lavish life given the master? Quite cleaver to convince another human that their suffering, tortured, starving, miserable life, used to enhance another to a easy, rich, fulfilled life, will ultimately lead to eternal life and happiness, and all their heart desires. Horsehockey, rubbish at it's best.

      June 11, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  19. Possessor



    Jesus said, "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren,and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."
    This sets people up to be victims of cults in addition to the cult of Christianity by belittling their gift from God "life itself" including their own life! It sets up a mindset of hating your own life in order to please the religious guru. That is sick and very unnatural and ungodly.
    Saint Teresa of Avila once said, no is lost without knowing it, no one is deceived without wanting to be.

    June 7, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • why?

      That does not address the issue of "TREASON" that you claimed in your previous comments!

      You're talking in circles. But I guess when youre backed in a corner, its all you have left!

      June 7, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  20. Possessor



    Jesus said, "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren,and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."
    This sets people up to be victims of cults in addition to the cult of Christianity by belittling their gift from God "life itself" including their own life! It sets up a mindset of hating your own life in order to please the religious guru. That is sick and very unnatural and ungodly.
    Christ Jesus is preparing ourselves for the original intent, purpose for the human race. To replace the 1/3 of the Angelic Host that got thrown out of Heaven ( at the speed of light which broke the sound barrier, which caused A really big bang ) in the VERY beginning.

    June 7, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • why?

      So it's like a heavenly turnover rate!! As angels get cast out, dead earthlings are then invited?


      June 7, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • ElmerGantry

      Raising the religious equivalent of technobabble to new heights (lows).

      June 8, 2012 at 6:49 am |
    • yougottobekiddingme

      You are just so pityful, you feel the need to continue living, forever.... You just can't accept the fact that you are NOTHING special, no more important than any other living thing on this planet. You really think god is up there smashing planets into each other and making some stars die out and some fall to earth, playing with lighting, and causing hurricanes? Letting babies starve to death and people dying a low painful death from disease? These things just happen ! When we die it's just over, so get over it. Your worm feed, nothing more. You spend your whole life trying to get into heaven, and forget about living..THAT"S SO SAD !!

      June 8, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
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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.