Sin, Sex, and the Vatican

A friend of mine quipped, “why would you go to a nun for advice about sex in the first place.”  It was his dry wit responding to the latest Vatican salvo against American sisters.  Although he recognized the book criticized by the Vatican, Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics is not a how-to-manual, implied in his gentle sarcasm was the question why celibate, sexually inexperienced men have an inordinate focus on the sex act.  The book, authored by Sister Margaret A. Farley has skyrocketed on since the Vatican made public its criticism in early June.

As reported by Nancy Frazier O’Brien of the Catholic News Service, U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada wrote in a letter, approved by the Pope, that the book does not reflect Catholic teaching.  He noted, for example, that contrary to the Sister Margaret’s conclusions “masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.”  Homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to the natural law.”  Highly respected medical associations throughout the world disagree.

Cardinal Levada added that Sister Margaret failed to appreciate “the role of the church’s magisterium as the teaching authority of the bishops united with the successor of Peter” and had “a defective understanding of the objective nature of the natural moral law.”  This seems more about men fearing challenge from strong, self-confident women than anything else.  History should be a reminder that women with well-reasoned opinions could find themselves accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake by the Church.

In her June 4, 2012 response, Sister Farley said “the book was not intended to be an expression of current official Catholic teaching, nor was it aimed specifically against this teaching. It is of a different genre altogether.”

The book “offers contemporary interpretations of traditional meanings for the human body, gender, and sexuality.  It aims to take account of both traditional and present-day scientific, philosophical, theological, and biblical resources.”  Reminding the Vatican of her credentials, Sister Margaret wrote that “Growing out of my work as a professor of Christian Ethics at Yale University Divinity School, this book was designed to help people, especially Christians but also others, to think through their questions about human sexuality.”

Sister Margaret has attempted to elevate the discussion of human sexuality from a boyish sophomoric focus on the sex act to a spiritually mature, emotionally healthy discussion about human intimacy manifested in different ways.  She has invited those who participate in certain aspects of the human experience to make thoughtful, intelligent choices that respect themselves and others.  Sister Margaret encourages sojourners to ask questions that enable individuals to be true to the beauty of their Creation and to the Creation of others.  Very young men in old bodies continue to be an obstacle.


Paul Jesep is author of Crucifying Jesus and Secularizing America – the Republic of Faith Without Wisdom.

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