More on those "radical" nuns: Vatican Intensifying Crackdown on American Nuns
By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
(CNN) ‚Äď 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‚Äôs leaders think America‚Äôs 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 ‚Äúradical feminism‚ÄĚ while neglecting teachings against homosexuality and abortion.
‚ÄúThe Vatican believes that there is a climate of dissent in some quarters of the women‚Äôs religious life in America,‚ÄĚ said John Allen, CNN‚Äôs Vatican analyst. ‚ÄúThey are trying to deal with that, and both these developments speak to that.‚ÄĚ
In its reprimand of Farley, the church focused on her book ‚ÄúJust Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics,‚ÄĚ which it said condones masturbation and homosexuality.
‚ÄúMasturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action,‚ÄĚ the church said in a statement Monday that characterized ‚Äúhomosexual acts‚ÄĚ as ‚Äúacts of grave depravity.‚ÄĚ
The reprimand warned church officials not to use Farley‚Äôs book, raising eyebrows in Catholic circles because she is one of the country‚Äôs most respected female Catholic theologians.
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 ‚Äúradical feminism‚ÄĚ at an annual gathering of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The group represents about 80% of American nuns.
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‚Äôs names are ‚Äúmetaphors that do not apply to the reality of God within the traditional Catholic understanding.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúIn the last 12 months you‚Äôve seen two of America‚Äôs leading Catholic nuns who are theologians in the cross hairs,‚ÄĚ Allen said. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm not sure there‚Äôs anyone left of their stature to go after.‚ÄĚ
Many parts of the American nuns‚Äô 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 ‚Äúmisrepresents (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.‚ÄĚ
On Friday, the leaders of the American nuns whom the Vatican had criticized said the Holy See‚Äôs report was ‚Äúbased on unsubstantiated accusations and (was) the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency‚ÄĚ and that the report had ‚Äúcaused scandal and pain throughout the church community.‚ÄĚ
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‚Äôs 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 ‚Äď 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‚Äôs actions.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs one thing when the Vatican goes after a theologian, because most rank-and-file Catholics don‚Äôt know any theologians,‚ÄĚ Allen said. ‚ÄúBut 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, ‚ÄúWhen there‚Äôs a perception that sisters are under fire, there‚Äôs a tendency to support them.‚ÄĚ
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.
‚Äď CNN's Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report.
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