Sister Margaret Farley

The Vatican has described a book about sexual ethics by renowned nun and academic Sister Margaret Farley as being un-Catholic, warning that it could pose “grave harm to the faithful”.

Farley, professor emeritus of Christian ethics at Yale Divinity School, published Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics in 2006, but the Church has only now issued its official stance on the book after an investigation that began in 2010.

In the book, Farley, who is a member of the Sisters of Mercy religious order, argues that there should be no moral concerns when it comes to issues such as homosexuality and masturbation.

The Catholic Church, however, made it clear that it does not agree with her point of view, in a notification issued in Rome on Monday.

The Vatican said that, contrary to the book’s position, “masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.”

It also stated that homosexual acts are in fact “acts of grave depravity” and that they “are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law.”

The Church further insisted that supporting same-sex marriage would mean “approval of deviant behaviour” that would “obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity.”

The notification concludes by warning that Just Love “is not in conformity with the teaching of the Church” and “cannot be used as a valid expression of Catholic teaching, either in counselling and formation, or in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.”

In a statement, Farley said she never intended the book to reflect current Catholic teaching but that “it suggests the importance of moving from what frequently functions as a taboo morality to a morality and sexual ethics based on the discernment of what counts as wise, truthful, and recognisably just loves.”

The Vatican’s response to Farley’s book is part of a crackdown on liberal viewpoints among Catholic nuns in the U.S.

In April, it ordered a five-year-long overhaul of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which represents 80% of America’s 57,000 Catholic nuns.

The Church criticised the organisation for its “radical feminist themes”, saying that it has not taken a strong enough stand against same-sex marriage and abortion, among other issues.

“The timing of this intervention is incredibly and ironically bad,” commented Lisa Cahill, Professor in the Department of Theology at Boston College.” The U.S. bishops, and at their instigation the Vatican, are already attracting an enormous amount of negative press over their prosecution of American nuns. They have just thrown another log on the fire.

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