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. blam0h1@gmail.com

    This just in – Old men controlling women in the name of God.

    June 5, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • StandupforTruth

      People being held accountable for their actions and ideas that are not in "Accordance with the Whole"

      June 5, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  2. Paul "Barry" Karn

    How about intensifying crackdowns on child molesters?

    June 5, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  3. bam

    the Vatican and the GOP are on the same page....

    June 5, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  4. J.Charles

    Discover who you really are in the awesome and amazing book "GODgoogledMe" on Amazon.

    June 5, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  5. mttrailboss

    Boy.., her book now, is really going to sell on Amazon. The Pope is out of order, the church is out of order, the whole darn thing or mess, is out of order. I am beginning to believe the American nuns, that the church, especially at the top, are way behind times and NOT in touch with their parishioners' and clergy. Their ALL out of order. There is one thing, that I learned as a boy and a young man, do NOT mess around with nuns.. Pope.., your in for a fight. Mike in Montana

    June 5, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • derp

      book is sold out on Amazon, and rising up the NYT best seller list.

      June 5, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • StandupforTruth

      filth sells

      June 5, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
  6. Reality

    Skipping the Vatican and its obvious problems in dealing with se-x in the 21st century:


    The reality of se-x, contraception and STD control: – from a guy who enjoys intelligent se-x-
    Note: Some words hyphenated to defeat an obvious word filter. ...

    The Brutal Effects of Stupidity:

    : The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill ( 8.7% actual failure rate) and male con-dom (17.4% actual failure rate) have led to the large rate of abortions and S-TDs in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or co-ndoms properly and/or use safer methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.- Failure rate statistics provided by the Gut-tmacher Inst-itute. Unfortunately they do not give the statistics for doubling up i.e. using a combination of the Pill and a condom.

    Added information before making your next move:

    from the CDC-2006

    "Se-xually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain S-TDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psy-ch-ological consequences of S-TDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs as-sociated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars."

    And from:

    Consumer Reports, January, 2012

    "Yes, or-al se-x is se-x, and it can boost cancer risk-

    Here's a crucial message for teens (and all se-xually active "post-teeners": Or-al se-x carries many of the same risks as va-ginal se-x, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of or-al cancers in America in people under age 50.

    "Adolescents don’t think or-al se-x is something to worry about," said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. "They view it as a way to have intimacy without having 's-ex.'" (It should be called the Bill Clinton Syndrome !!)

    Obviously, political leaders in both parties, Planned Parenthood, parents, the "stupid part of the USA" and the educational system have failed miserably on many fronts.

    The most effective forms of contraception, ranked by "Perfect use":

    1a. (Abstinence, 0% failure rate)
    1b. (Masturbation, mono or mutual, 0% failure rate)

    Followed by:

    One-month injectable and Implant (both at 0.05 percent)
    Vasectomy and IUD (Mirena) (both at 0.1 percent)
    The Pill, Three-month injectable, and the Patch (all at 0.3 percent)
    Tubal sterilization (at 0.5 percent)
    IUD (Copper-T) (0.6 percent)
    Periodic abstinence (Post-ovulation) (1.0 percent)
    Periodic abstinence (Symptothermal) and Male condom (both at 2.0 percent)
    Periodic abstinence (Ovulation method) (3.0 percent)

    Every other method ranks below these, including Withdrawal (4.0), Female condom (5.0), Diaphragm (6.0), Periodic abstinence (calendar) (9.0), the Sponge (9.0-20.0, depending on whether the woman using it has had a child in the past), Cervical cap (9.0-26.0, with the same caveat as the Sponge), and Spermicides (18.0).

    June 5, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • ruwacky

      ...WOW....I'm in awe, one of the first "REALLY" intelligent posts on here...Glad to see many men are sticking up for the women finally...Now if we can get support from the Hippocrates who think their seat in heaven is set in stone..

      June 7, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  7. bp

    Truly the Catholic Church has been the greatest single organized cause of evil in human history. This is only a continuation of a pattern of intolerance towards anything it perceives as a threat. Everything the Church does, from protecting pedophiles to inciting war, is intended to increase its power.

    "It is necessary for salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff." – Pope Boniface VII

    June 5, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Bill

      Unlike many successful doctrines, theirs is stagnant instead of a living doctrine that is adaptable to the times. The Vatican is desperately grasping at straws in an attempt to stay alive. Their parishioners are plummeting in numbers and they don't know what to do in this modern age.

      June 5, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • StandupforTruth

      dwindlind church attendance is an issue even in the 33,000 denominations.

      June 5, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • moira613

      "It is necessary for salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff." – Pope Boniface VII

      Abomination! The Catholic clergy of today are the Pharisees and Saducees in Jesus' time. Remember how Christ was vehemently opposed to ORGANIZED RELIGION? The bible clearly states that SALVATION is by grace through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). I pray for all Catholic people that their spiritual eyes may be open and may leave the BLASPHEMOUS Roman Catholic Church.

      June 5, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • ruwacky

      ..... KUDOS....intelligence

      June 7, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  8. Liqmaticus

    Real simple formula here whether you are a Protestant or Catholic: Compare any writings or actions to what Jesus teaches. If it does not equate, it's not Christian. Always use Christ's teachings as the ruler to measure by and not man. You can still love a person, but hate their actions. Pray for the Pope, he is just as much a sinner as the rest of us and so goes it for the nuns as well. We all need Christ.

    June 5, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Rick James

      If prayer worked and made the pope purge out the pedos that work for him, I would try it. Unfortunately, it doesn't.

      June 5, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • bp

      Wrong – looking at the Westboro Church as well as the gay-hating church in Indiana, following Christ's teachings is not necessary to call yourself or be considered a Christian. All that is necessary is that you justify your hatred and bigotry as being sanctioned by Christ. Hate away and be saved.

      June 5, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • ruwacky

      ..Even as a Atheists, I know that Jesus lived, but just as a man, no different no more special, than any man alive today who preaches goodness...No one knows for sure what exactly he preached as it was written, edited, manipulated, and sensationalized many many years after his death.. We all have experienced such actions in the form of gossip, jealously, and facts changed to improve or disprove real facts. It happens all the time, all cult leaders like Jim Jones or Mansion had his devout followers, who thought he was a messiah, it didn't last only because he did not have enough followers. Jesus was not special, why do we use the cross to symbolize him, when thousands of people were tortured this way before he even existed....

      June 7, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  9. Bill W

    The Roman Catholic Church, as exemplified by the "leaders" in the Vatican, hide the crimes of the pedophile priests then chastise a respected nun for condoning masturbation. Kinda like "do as I say, not as I do". The Pope and the Vatican are a bunch of hypocrites. All they want to do is to control their "flock" and keep the money coming in. IDIOTS!

    June 5, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • theo

      That's what Jesus said, "do as they say, not as they do"

      June 5, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  10. Bob

    One Europes biggest mosques is being built within eyesight of the Vatican. Perhaps priorities need to readjusted.

    June 5, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  11. Rick James

    The Catholic Church is imploding as we speak. I'll have my popcorn ready. Cracking down on dissenters is so USSR....

    June 5, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • theo

      It appeared that all that Jesu did and said was imploding when they crucified Him.

      June 5, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  12. ME II

    Seems to me they ought to be more worried about pedophilia than hom.ophilia (ok, that's not a world). Perhaps they could give Farley's book, condoning masturbation, to Priests that might abuse children?

    June 5, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • StandupforTruth

      You must be a physician

      June 5, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  13. Barry G.

    Shouldn't the Vatican crack down on abusive priests, rather than nuns?

    And shouldn't they crack down on those who have enabled them and concealed their crimes?

    June 5, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • effelbee

      But those priests are all men-as are the Vatican leaders. Pedophilia and its protectors share a common gender. Whereas, most people I know stood in fear and respect if they were looked after by nuns.

      June 5, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      You do know that the incident of priestly abuse is statistically lower in the Catholic Church than in many other churchs and public school systems right? Should we stop teaching math and science in high school until all the pedophile teachers are caught?

      June 5, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • J.W

      Bill which churches have a higher rate of abuse?

      June 5, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Admittedly not scientific research I have dome shows that pedophile rates in the Catholic clergy run from 1-3 %. Jewish communities 3-5%. The public sector as much as 5-9%. So the fact is that your child is three times as likely to be molested by his coach or her girl scout leader as by a priest. But it makes delicious journalism when your agenda is the destruction of the Church. I am not minimizing the impact of the disasters with the Church. I am merely stating that the world at large is being victimized by evil doers in all forms. I

      June 5, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • J.W

      But the priest is supposed to be a man of God. The rate in the church should be 0%, and even if its not the culprits should be punished.

      June 5, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • StandupforTruth

      JW, so if a sports coach abuses your children it is acceptable because he is not a cleric, but you hold priests to a higher standard. What a double standard, explain that one to your child. So do you hold Catholicism with reverence too?

      June 5, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  14. delresa

    So the vatican is after the nuns? hahaha but the priests are ok molesting kids.

    June 5, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • Bill

      The Vatican is desperately grasping at straws in an attempt to stay alive. Their parishioners are plummeting in numbers and they don't know what to do in this modern age. Unlike many successful doctrines, theirs is stagnant instead of a living doctrine that is adaptable to the times.

      June 5, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • just sayin

      The Catholic Church is to the point of being in a coma...we just need to pull the plug.

      June 5, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  15. BigRed

    I guess everyone on earth including the Pope is gravely disordered.

    June 5, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • StandupforTruth

      Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

      June 5, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • counturskeletons1st

      standforthetruth, "YOU" seem to be the one casting judgement on everyone else...Guess your pretty darn sure theres a spot on the heaven plane for you...

      June 7, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  16. Marrion Sweeney

    An old woman once said to me, in my youth, men follow Christianity and women follow Jesus. I am not 70 years old and can see some truth in that statement.

    June 5, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  17. Honey Badger Dont Care

    “Masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action,”

    Only if you're doing it right. LOL!

    June 5, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • Apatheist

      FleshLight? lol

      June 5, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  18. Tell me why

    Why is religion tax exempt but influences politics. Wait till mormons control the whie house

    June 5, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • counturskeletons1st

      All religions and churches need to pay up....They need to pay taxes to, this willl slow down the radical religions who only use religion s a cover-up. The government has to put an end to church and state immediately...I am an Atheist and I don't want to pick up the tab for the slackers, anymore.

      June 7, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • counturskeletons1st

      All religions and churches need to pay up....They need to pay taxes to, this willl slow down the radical religions who use religion as a cover-up. The government has to put an end to church and state immediately...I'm Atheist Ex.Catholic, and I don't want to pick up the tab for the liars, anymore.

      June 7, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  19. Reality

    Tis the RCC that is in "quickly crumbling/cracking" mode from the Vatican, to the cardinals, to the bishops, to the priests and to the nuns as the "pew peasants" have had it with the coverups and the flawed history and theology!!!- a former "pew peasant.

    June 5, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • rdeleys

      The bible can be used to justify anything you want. It's useless.

      June 5, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • theo

      Jesus said, "will there be faith on earth when the son of God returns?' If you are correct the world is getting better and better and Jesus statement makes no sense. If the Catholic Church is right, the Gates of Hell will not prevail against her.
      Only one Church has been around for 2000 years with one teaching.

      June 5, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • Reality

      "will there be faith on earth when the son of God returns?' i.e. Luke 18: 8 is a single attestation found no where else in the scriptures therefore making it historically untenable. See also Professor Gerd Ludemann's comments in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 375.


      June 5, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
    • wilypagan

      Theo, the Eastern Orthodox church predated the RCC and thus has been around for longer. The scriptures were written in Greek, not Latin.

      June 6, 2012 at 1:58 am |
  20. independent

    Over-pruing kills.

    June 5, 2012 at 4:51 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.