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. TC

    If you are not a Catholic or at least been educated in the Catholic faith and have an understadning of the nuns' plight then you don't have a dog in the fight.

    June 13, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • Primewonk

      Very well.

      In that case, since the hierarchy of the catholic church has no life experience in same sèx marriage, or contraception, or abortion, I expect that you will speak up and tell them to but out of what they do not understand.

      June 13, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • TC

      I agree church has no say on same gender civil unions. Contraception and abortion casues many problems and church is very aware of that and does need to be invovled.

      June 13, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • Barff

      @TLC I was raised Roman Catholic but am now Atheist. and you are wrong. Everyone has the right to express their opinion, it is NOT exclusive to just believers. The second you try to exclude someone from the same right you practice, You become the minority.

      June 13, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • TC

      Anyone can express their opinions but again, if one is not knowledgeable and educated on the subject or issue then it is invalid. MOst atheists have never been Catholic or bothered to study it.

      June 13, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • ZoeyJ

      "a dog in the fight" ?????
      How catholic of you........

      June 13, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • JustaNormalPerson

      So you are saying I should have no concern that priests molest children and the pope and bishops actively try to cover it up? And these same individuals are then trying to influence laws that hurts others, especially women. Invalid statement on your part.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  2. shoos

    Have to say the Vatican has got some ridiculous huge blinders on and the pope must be surrounded by idiot yes men. Guess what pope and old men cardinals, people don't believe in YOU. So stamp your feet and pretend power, it isn't there, you are not worthy of dictating anything.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:48 am |
  3. Pete

    The Pope misinterprets his own metaphor – what good is pruning if the trunk of the tree is rotted?

    June 13, 2012 at 7:48 am |
  4. maxbianco

    and just think....
    a few hundred years ago they would simply toss the nuns into the open flames, or maybe let them spend some time on the rack.
    and for those of you who think the church of rome is coming to an end.... Think again. how do you think over half of the US supreme court are roman catholic????
    this is noly the beginning

    June 13, 2012 at 6:29 am |
    • Andsobeit

      As long as they keep their beliefs out of their decisions. no problem

      June 13, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • Deb

      And 18 of out founding fathers and early presidents were Atheists Providing your right to worship as you choose. As long as the church keeps it's UGLY head out of government we can move on.

      June 13, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  5. nunya

    Well, I beilive that the Catholic Churches Days are NUMBERED.... Just Sayin... they have lost the message... Thou shalt not worship false gods.

    June 12, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  6. red

    Does the Vatican really think all their priests and nuns don't masterbate????

    June 12, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
    • Deb

      or secretively have S*X comm on they have desires and beliefs of their own

      June 13, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • Deb

      Or secretively have S*X they are only human, they to have desires and beliefs of their own

      June 13, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  7. Steve

    Religion has, and always will be, a means of controlling the masses. The Catholic Church, without blushing, self righteously condemns thinking outside the boundries of the church.
    Faith is not the church and the church is not faith.

    June 12, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
  8. Andsobeit

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUyJfzJB-kA....do yourself a favor.....The most brilliant people in the world agree...

    June 12, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • mothernature

      @ Br. John French CRAP–She has the right to comment on anything whether believing or not, or like the church do you believe we all must think as you do? She indeed is exercising the same right afforded you !

      June 13, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  9. Andsobeit

    I have been to both sides in 58 years, did my studies, questioned over and over, held discussions, talked to heads of church, made a choice....I am not spending one more second on Religion !!!

    June 12, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • Br. John French, OSB

      Then why are you here commenting?

      June 12, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
    • joe

      To let the rest of the world know it's ok to not believe in fairytales. The cursades are over. Religion does horrible things to young people's minds. The nost outspoken critics of the catholic church are former members. The church made us this way. We woke up and saw the light and eventually the brave will too. You can keep the sheep. You'll need the wool to keep warm when the church lights go out.

      June 13, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • Deb

      @John because I have the right to be on here and comment same as you, like it or not.

      June 13, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  10. gary

    pope and his RCC needs to be shut down. Sick cult for the benefit of a few men.

    June 12, 2012 at 7:20 am |
    • Barff


      June 12, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Ruby Gumshoe

      ...and it's so easy to bring them down! Look at what happened during the Reformation; in one fell swoop the Church lost northern Europe! All that re\mains now is for the oppresses parishoners to refrain from putting money on the collection plate! It's soo easy, if only they'l have the will to do it!

      Wake up, people!! and face the unpleasant truth that the first preacher was the first rogue who met the first fool!

      June 12, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  11. mamanas

    Another second when I wondered why I remain in a religion which men have turned upside down and made so ugly.

    June 11, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • Barff

      You don't need religion to make you have a purpose and know right from wrong. You can be one with your own beliefs weather religious or non-believer, weather god or no god.

      June 12, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Steve

      Amazing, isn't it? Yet people around the world continue to give this church their love, their faith, their hope, their lives.

      June 12, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • Barff

      @Steve, YES they do want our faith, love hope and lives, BUT their top priority is your money !!

      June 13, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  12. Jim

    So, bottom line, psuedo-sisters, is this: we’re coming after you now, and we intend to root out every last rotten apple — which might be the significant majority. But then, this is God’s work — and we know who wins in the end.

    June 11, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • Deb

      @jim...how about the men of god start right in their own closets. They have many more hidden skeletons than the nuns. let's get the pedop*iles first, than worry that the nuns are spending to much time helping the poor !

      June 12, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • lordelfin

      @Jim...yeah lets bring back the Inquistiion and see if they float or give them the comfey chair lolol!

      June 12, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  13. Kindness

    For you.
    A thought to consider without an 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

    Romans 10:9

    "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."

    June 11, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • mothernature

      Why do yo continue to post this every day? it sucked the first time and it still sucks the 30th time.

      June 11, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • Barff

      @Kindness The only EGO here is YOURS. This blog is worthless and without thought, why do you keep re-posting it so many time.

      June 11, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • ElmerGantry

      It's called the "big lie".

      The bigger the lie and the more often it is repeated, the more people will believe it.
      That technique was described in Mein Kamph and is still used by today by the religious and religiously motivated politicians.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:04 am |
    • Barff

      OK lets say this post is fabulous...can't you come up with something else on your own, sounds like you copied this and don't have another single thought !

      June 13, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Barff

      @Elmer G. I never thought of that but your a hit the nail dead on !

      June 13, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  14. mothernature

    I would like someone of belief to answer these questions: Why didn't god start off by telling humans all this stuff, rules, laws. goods and evils, blah, blah, blah, in the beginning?(and don't try the old Adam & Eve switch-a-roo. I'm talking (cavemen who have been proven to lived) How do you know he didn't, and if he did, wouldn't that make you wrong? How can anyone possibly know which god is the only god? What if, let's say the American Indian, is right and everyone else is wrong, how do you know? The people we know who lived pre Christianity, where are they? The pope decided to do away with limbo and purgatory in his daily meeting with god, so, are they burning in hell for lack of knowledge, or in heaven on a get-out-of-jail free pass? and if their either, is that fair? I'm pretty sure if anyone answers these questions, it will make me convert, immediately.

    June 11, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Vance

      Psssst, there is no Santa clause

      June 12, 2012 at 4:03 am |
    • Barff

      You probably won't get many shakers or takers, and if you do they will sing and dance until your totally confused and the question remains unanswered.

      June 12, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • ScienceSoma

      Allow me to attempt some apologetics to save you the trouble:
      "The Bible says.. [insert cherry picked subjectively interpreted perceived relevant Bible verse here]"
      "The Lord works in mysterious ways.."
      "Who are you to judge God's will" / "guess the mind of God.."
      "I am sorry for you, if you just open your heart to Jesus Christ you will understand that these questions / thoughts / feelings will pass because he will show you his love / plan for you..."
      I think that about covers it, feel free to add your favorites. Now here comes someone to pray for me (aka, the Christian middle finger..).

      June 13, 2012 at 2:35 am |
    • maxbianco

      Heres a few question for you....
      Please explain to me how and why the DNA code came into existence thru "random processes"
      also, why are there over 7,000 different languages in use on this planet and why.

      take all the time you need

      June 13, 2012 at 6:24 am |
    • joe

      Explain to me why a tadpole turns into a frog.

      June 13, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • Barff

      @Max if you don't know the answers to those SIMPLE questions already, no one will make you understand

      June 13, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Barff

      Because was just joking when he made the tadpole and decided to turn it up a notch.....EVOLUTION understand it.

      June 13, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  15. Mary Deely

    God Bless the Catholic nuns who take care of the sick, feed the poor and teach us to love everyone as God has wished us to do. It is a shame they are being attacted for doing the work of God. It is also a shame that people feel the need to attack the blessed mother as a model of the church. All she did was say yes to God's wish that she bear him his son,, Jesus. She is a model of what a Christian should be. She said yes to God, without reservation. That is what us Christians strive to do. We are supposed to be Jesus hands and feet in this world. We do not worship Mary, we honor her and ask her to pray for us. Most of the nuns represent the best in humanity, we need to appreciate that. Mary

    June 11, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • Christina

      Well Said!!

      June 11, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • mothernature

      It's so sad in this day and age, that full grown adults still think Mary was a virgin.

      June 12, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • crowing

      It demonstrates that the male hierarchy is becoming scared that the "all men's club" may be disbanded and the Church of the true believers will no longer put up with the mortal sins of its leaders.

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

      i agree but i they are promoting abortion and feminism, I am glad that the vatican is addressing it. Unfortunaely there will be those that try to falsely lead others. My heart breaks that these nuns would do such a thing.

      June 12, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • Barff

      @Josephine they are NOT supporting abortion or feminism. Teaching masturbation and saying it's ok, is before abortion, prpbably saving millions of babies. And feminism, GET REAL women have always been 2nd class to men, and you want to tag it feminism because some women are not satisfied with being treated less. OLD SCHOOL is for OLD PEOPLE.

      June 13, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  16. W.G.

    The Vatican says it´s against acts of umm... lets call it" punishing the POPE" and ummm...
    being a member of the "Rainbow Club" But when these incedents accur they just tranfer
    the priest to another Parish and hopes no one sues ! Talk about double standerds ! The Vatican
    doesn´t want you to read the Bible on your own lest you discover that "Marion Worship " and praying
    to saints are BLASPHEMOUS ! I left the catholic church years ago and became a REAL CHRISTIAN .

    June 11, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  17. Love Rhino

    Omg why does ANYONE listen to those zealots. They're against whacking oneself off but gagging young boys with baby batter if just fine...

    June 11, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  18. Seda Sombra

    Start seasoning that firewood now. In a couple of years the Vatican will be buying all it can get to burn witches. The truth is, the Church never recovered for St. Paul and his hatred of women. If nothing else, the Catholic clergy should realize that all humans have mothers and it's to the advantage of ALL cultures to understand the problems of women and to treat them well. After all, those children they love to abuse have to come from somewhere.

    June 11, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • Deb

      @Seda very well spoken.

      June 11, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Spoken like someone who hasn't a clue about the Church's teaching on the value of women.

      June 11, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • Deb

      @ Bill Decon Value? women? Where in the bible does God show the value of women? A wh*re, a deceiver & liar(Eve), a pillar of salt, a scared so-called-virgin, the wife of a significant man, the daughter of a significant man etc !! Where are the significant women??? Surely God could have thought a woman could handle a burning bush, gathering animals, (since they already were part of a herd), or just to deliver Gods telegrams. If the Bible was followed to the letter of the law, women today, would still be suffering tremendously, at the hands of men. Well, God does have a lot of women for Angels, maybe that's a little value, to you. I think it's just a mans view of controlling women.

      June 12, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  19. David R. Scott


    June 11, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      I haven't heard a nun so that but if you type it in capitals it must be true

      June 11, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • Barff

      Me thinks maybe Bill Deacon has a secret.

      June 13, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  20. David R. Scott



    June 11, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Well at least you're willing to have a reasonable discussion of the facts

      June 11, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • ElmerGantry

      See Internet law number 10; overuse of exclamation marks and the caps key.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:56 am |
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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.