Nun’s Vatican-condemned book on sexuality shoots up bestseller list

Courtesy Yale Divinity School Margaret Farley . Wow, that’s some powerful PR. Twenty-four hours ago news broke that the Vatican … Continued

Courtesy Yale Divinity School

Margaret Farley .

Wow, that’s some powerful PR.

Twenty-four hours ago news broke that the Vatican had condemned the book “Just Love:A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics,” a publication by a prominent nun-theologian that disagrees with church teaching on same-sex marriage, masturbation and remarrying after divorce. Monday morning, the book’s reported ranking on Amazon: 142,982

Tuesday afternoon, after a day of furious news coverage of the Vatican censure: It’s at #16.

Sister Margaret Farley, a longtime Yale scholar who recently retired, barely surfaced Monday, except to issue a statement saying she knows her views go against official teaching but is trying as a theologian to raise the “possibility of development in sexual ethics.” The positions of church leaders have shifted over history on subjects from usury to slavery to religious liberty, but issues related to the definition of human life remain in a different and less open stratosphere.

The censure by the Vatican’s doctrine-enforcing arm, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is rare, but did not include any penalty for Farley, who is past president of both the Society of Christian Ethics and the Catholic Theological Society of America.



A building in Silver Spring, which houses the office for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The leader of a group of U.S. Catholic nuns on April 21, rejected condemnation from a Vatican report that said it defied Church doctrine. “We haven’t violated any teaching,” Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby, told AFP, insisting the group would not stop “caring for the least among us on the margins of society.”

Regardless, the Farley censure piled on other news that has divided American Catholics this year: U.S. bishops declaring their top priority opposing a White House mandate for employer-backed coverage of contraception and the Vatican’s announcement last month that it would overhaul the country’s largest group of nuns due to what an official report called ”radical feminism.”

Many will be watching next week when two leaders of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious — whose members represent the vast majority of U.S. nuns — head to Rome to meet on the proposed overhaul. The women surprised even supporters on Friday when they issued a statement saying the Vatican report caused “scandal and pain” among already-polarized Catholics.

Farley’s book resonates as a debate point because it embodies the core divisions among Catholics: Whether their faith calls them to obey their hierarchy or question it, and whether one can be a good and devout Catholic while also rejecting bishops’ views on everything from abortion to Obama. Some Catholic theologians said the Vatican censure pushed the question of what is the role of a theologian. Is it to be something akin to a lawyer for the pope, coming up with ever-better arguments in line with church leaders? Or an independent Catholic, holding oneself responsible to the tradition, but to call for revisions if they seem necessary?

View Photo Gallery: In light of the Vatican’s action, a list of nuns who have become known in the broader world. Two of the Americans listed have been canonized. 

The book argues in the face of church teaching on several topics, concluding that, for example, it’s more in line with Christian ethics to allow, for example, same-sex marriage, since it can “be important in transforming the hatred, rejection and stigmatization of gays and lesbians that is still being reinforced by teachings of ‘unnatural’ sex, disordered desire, and dangerous love.”

On same-sex relationships, Farley writes: “My own view… is that same-sex relationships and activities can be justified according to the same sexual ethic as heterosexual relationships and activities. Therefore, same-sex oriented persons as well as their activities can and should be respected whether or not they have a choice to be otherwise”

Masturbation, she writes, “usually does not raise any moral questions at all. … It is surely the case that many women… have found great good in self-pleasuring – perhaps especially in the discovery of their own possibilities for pleasure – something many had not experienced or even known about in their ordinary sexual relations with husbands or lovers. In this way, it could be said that masturbation actually serves relationships rather than hindering them.”

On point after point, the Congregation’s “notification” was clear. This statement does not conform to Catholic teaching. This opinion is not acceptable. This opinion is in contradiction to Catholic teaching. The notification aims to “warn the faithful” that the book “cannot be used as a valid expression of Catholic teaching, either in counseling and formation, or in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.”

Some conservatives were pleased to see the Vatican take up the writing of such a prominent theologian and clarify where she parted ways with official teaching. Her order, the Maryland-based Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, issued a long list of supportive quotes from theologians, Catholic and otherwise, as did Yale University School of Divinity.

Cathleen Kaveny, a University of Notre Dame professor of theology and law who studied with Farley at Yale, said the sister is the product of the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, when church leaders instructed Catholics to open the church up to the world.

“Margaret is trying to engage this broader culture and say something helpful. You can give people Catholic teaching, but what if they say, ‘no’? Is there anything else you can say to them? You can present all of Catholic sexual morality and many people will look at you as if you’re coming from another world,” Kaveny said. “Margaret isn’t a rebellious person, she loves the church but thinks she’s doing her job by thinking as best she can.”

Meanwhile, the Vatican process reflects the measured pace of Rome; the book came out in 2006.

Via Google Books, read sections of Farley’s book, embedded below.

  • momohund

    I never really understood why people want to be Catholic, but each to his own. However, love this: “overhaul the country’s largest group of nuns due to what an official report called ”radical feminism.”

    More like radical chauvimism to me.

  • momohund

    It’s pretty apparent that there is nor moral crisis in that church. What they are going through is a battle of the sexes.

  • wolfmandd73

    this one can hold my hands….. we are in a new world. the old can change, they just dont want to….. some butt pie they are….

  • usapdx

    momohund,.. Most are baptized RC without their free will and or full consent as a baby. Then in school, they receive RC indoctrination for 12 years and the guilt complex seeking forgiveness. For short, control by the RCC. Mean while the Protestants are happy with peace of mind as many RCs lose faith in their church account of this BEN16 administration of what they have done and fail to do. From the sexual abuse crimes of children, the cover up of sexual abuse crimes of children, get the nuns, the butler leaks, new leaks, banking problems, backing people that have enter a nation unlawfully, political speaking out as a church, etc. there is a need for new correct change by a new pope & Vatican 3. Just to leave the RCC is a weak answer but to change it is a better answer and it will be change or it will sink.

  • mm14

    The bishops should get their house in order before waging a political attack on Obama under the nonsense guise of “religious liberty”. The issues are not so clear-cut and there are competing and opposing viewpoints within their own religious ranks.

  • Natasha1989

    Catholics around the world don’t want your American anti-family values in the Church.

  • Natasha1989

    What exactly do you mean?

  • Natasha1989

    You obviously are not a Catholic and ther are hundreds of millions of Catholics outside the US that want no part of this patronizing American anti family vaules you all have going on.

  • msthomps

    What the heck is that ridiculous photo of habited nuns doing on this story? It is totally irrelevant, and simply perpetuates caricature-like stereotypes. STOP IT!

  • momohund

    hahahah… you guys are funny. Well, hope it works out for you.

  • ermiwe

    Interesting story – but why would any sexual active human look for guidance on sex from nuns or priests who aren’t supposed to be getting any? Thank you, but I’ll take my sex advice from the experienced.

  • mm14

    What exactly do you mean?

  • castellina

    Well, “Sister” Farley is getting her thirty pieces of silver– Satan always rewards his followers. So much for her vows of obedience, poverty and chastity. Thank God these heretical nuns are aging and will soon stop being a thorn in the side of the true Catholic Church. Their orders have no new vocations and are dying, unlike the traditional ones who are faithful to the teachings of the Church.

  • amelia45

    Sister Margaret Farley invites a dialogue on a subject that badly needs discussion. Catholic teaching on contraceptives, gay people, a place for divorced Catholics at the table, the whole idea of the Church about what place sex has in our lives – needs a new evaluation. The old view is just not accepted by the living, breathing, thinking Catholic pew sitters any more. In fact, the teaching a birth control has been rejected, almost world wide at this point.

    We need the thinking of theologians these days to help the magisterium of the Church understand how far out of touch they are with the people of the Church.

  • sellingpencils

    and you’re a Catholic? terribly bitter and meanspirited i’d say.

  • sellingpencils

    Natasha doesn’t have a clue what she means. She’s just nasty.


    Typical catholic. You don’t agree with them and you’re Satan.

  • fraudbust2011

    Whatever those teachings are, they aren’t in any way Christian or Catholic. Why don’t the authors just admit that they aren’t Christians, and are offering alternatives to Christianity?

  • Catken1

    Then don’t force your anti-family, anti-life Catholic values on America.

    Yes, anti-family. It is anti-family to attack gay people’s families because they violate your religious taboos. It is anti-family to tell heterosexual married couples that they must either deny themselves healthy married sexuality, or bear more children than her body or their family can support.

    And it is anti-life to treat adult human women as though they were property who OWED nine months’ service as an incubating machine, with no concern for our well-being or wishes, to any fetus who implants inside us, even via rape, and may not even prevent such implantation by any means other than lifelong celibacy. (The rhythm method is allowed primarily because it does not work. ) It is anti-life to deny a woman a near-certain chance to save her life with an abortion, because her fetus MIGHT have a one-in-a-million, or one-in-a-thousand to survive if she dies. (And even if the fetus cannot survive, I believe Catholic policy is STILL to refuse an abortion to save the woman’s life.)

    When you stop trying to enforce these policies with American civil law, we will let your church alone to believe all the anti-family, anti-woman, anti-life dogma it wants. Though we do not, and will not, give up our freedom of speech, either, and reserve the right to speak out for OUR beliefs as well.

  • BobRN

    As usual, the media gets it wrong. Is it ignorance again? Or is it wilful distortion of the facts again? Maybe it’s a bit of both. No matter. Readers as ignorant of things Catholic as Ms. Boorstein apparently is will lap it up as the gospel truth (pun intended).

    “The Vatican” did not “condemn” Sr. Farley’s book. Rather, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sent out a notification that the content of Sr. Farley’s book on sexual morality is not consistent with Catholic teaching on faith and morals, so it may not be used to teach Catholic faith and morals.

    Being that Sr. Farley is a member of a Catholic congregation of women religious (not a nun), and being that she is a Catholic theologian, and being that the book presents itself as a treatise on Christian sexual ethics, the CDF apparently considered that some people might think the book presents Catholic teaching on sexual morality. I know, I know — what a ludicrious conclusion! I mean, who would possibly make that mistake?

    The purpose of the notification was to inform Catholics that Sr. Farley’s book presents a vision of sexual ethics that, in fact, is not consistent with Catholic teaching no faith and morals and, therefore, may not be used to teach Catholic faith and morals. Wow! What a stunner! The congregation responsible for oversight on Catholic doctrine determines that a book is inconsistent with Catholic doctrine, so it may not be used to teach Catholic doctrine. Dog bites man … and WaPo calls it news.

    So the media creates a sensation out of thin air, Amazon makes a minor, brief killing, and a lot of books are going to collect a lot of dust sitting unread on bookshelves.

  • cricket44

    Awesome! The Church Lady lives! Isn’t that special?

  • BobRN

    Why do we need a discussion on the matter when it’s obvious you’ve already decided that the “old view” doesn’t cut it. Usually, when people say they want “dialog” what they really mean is, “I don’t like the way things are. Do it my way!”

    Being “in touch” is not the role of the magisterium of the Church. Proclaiming faithfully the truth revealed by God is.

    When Jesus preached, “Eat my Body, drink my Blood,” many of His disciples turned away and left, unable to accept such a teaching. Did Jesus call after them, insisting that they had misunderstood? Did he offer to re-evaluate the question, because He was obviously out of touch with the people? No.

    Speak the truth, faithfully and with passion. Those who regard God’s truth as primary over their own preferences will commit themselves to God’s truth.

  • BobRN

    This is just ignorant bigotry.

  • Senjata

    A Catholic Dr. Ruth! Dig it!

  • verbummilitant

    One must be sure that one’s conscience is well formed. Take your concerns before the Blessed Sacrament and listen silently for the Truth.

  • JJK33

    I’ll pray for her. The sound bites I get from this article sound divisive to the church.

  • Natasha1989

    Galileo wasn’t condemned for his science New York Times reader. He was condemned for his theology. Google Saint Robert Bellarmine.

  • Natasha1989

    The Pope didn’t review this book personally. The Vatican has departments like your executive branch does. The Congration of the Doctrine of Faith reviewed it and has been looking into this and working with Sister Farley.

  • Natasha1989

    It is anti-family to tell heterosexual married couples that they must either deny themselves healthy married sexuality, or bear more children than her body or their family can support.
    There have been more children killed in the US by their mothers than there were people were killed during the entire second World War. I am for the family 100%. I at least acknowledge there is a responsibility that comes with sex. Let alone the fact that the World Health Organization lists birth control in the same class of carcinogen as asbestos and if you start a child on birth control at age 12 by the time she is 28 her reproductive system functions like a 45 year old woman.


    “The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”

    You mean The Inquisition, right?

  • Secular1

    “Galileo wasn’t condemned for his science New York Times reader. He was condemned for his theology. Google Saint Robert Bellarmine.” Oh! really? What was his errant theology? Tha fact of the matter is theology itself as (all theology) as a knowledge domain is ERRANT. Perhaps it takes a back seat to Astrology & Al Chemistry as far as being considered as any kind of knowledge. Theologian is that idiot, who cannot even come close to establishing that there is a super-natural being exists. But waxes eloquence about its intentions, thoughts, and preferences. What a bunch of hooey. Then we have the clowns in gowns, appropriating all rights to the mythical beings’ views on every stupid thing.


    The best papal ban is when pope Pius X banned the saxaphone in 1903.

    “It’s UNHOLY!”

  • Catken1

    “There have been more children killed in the US by their mothers than there were people were killed during the entire second World War.”

    That does not change the fact that unlike the people killed during WWII, the fetuses killed by abortion were living inside and using another human being’s body parts, and that she was entitled to say no to such use if she deemed it appropriate and necessary. How many children and adults have been killed because we have refused to treat compatible humans as property, and taken their blood, bone marrow, or organs without their consent? Why is it not murder for someone to deny me a cheap and easily-donated pint of blood – even my own mother – but murder for a pregnant woman to deny her fetus nine months of inhabiting her internal organs and having every physical system in her body co-opted for that fetus’s good, at far greater cost to her?

    “I at least acknowledge there is a responsibility that comes with sex. ”

    Nine months’ service as a subhuman incubating machine, with the legal status of a piece of property, without concern for your wishes, feelings, or safety? Even if the pregnancy goes horribly wrong? Even if the sex was not consensual?

    And the Church even denies women the right to PREVENT pregnancy, too, meaning that women have only the choice of virgin or incubator, never a sexually active full adult human, not even within marriage.

    As for the dangers of birth control, try the dangers of pregnancy at 12. (Most of us don’t start birth control at 12, anyway.) Try the dangers of continued pregnancy from onset of sexual activity to menopause. (I would point out that traditionally, onset of sexual activity in girls has been late teens to early 20s, throughout much of human history. Sometimes earlier.) Yes, modern sanitary and medical practices have made childbirth safer – but it is still a major drain on the body, and too many pregnancies too close together will still badly damage or even kill a woman, in far too many cases. (And part

  • Catken1

    “You obviously are not a Catholic and ther are hundreds of millions of Catholics outside the US that want no part of this patronizing American anti family vaules you all have going on. ”

    That’s fine. Live by your values.
    Stop forcing yours on Americans.
    I want no part of the patronizing un-American theocracy you have going on.

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