More on those "radical" nuns: Vatican Intensifying Crackdown on American Nuns
By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
(CNN) â€“ 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 Churchâ€™s leaders think Americaâ€™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 â€śradical feminismâ€ť while neglecting teachings against homosexuality and abortion.
â€śThe Vatican believes that there is a climate of dissent in some quarters of the womenâ€™s religious life in America,â€ť said John Allen, CNNâ€™s Vatican analyst. â€śThey are trying to deal with that, and both these developments speak to that.â€ť
In its reprimand of Farley, the church focused on her book â€śJust Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics,â€ť which it said condones masturbation and homosexuality.
â€śMasturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action,â€ť the church said in a statement Monday that characterized â€śhomosexual actsâ€ť as â€śacts of grave depravity.â€ť
The reprimand warned church officials not to use Farleyâ€™s book, raising eyebrows in Catholic circles because she is one of the countryâ€™s 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 â€śradical feminismâ€ť 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 Churchâ€™s names are â€śmetaphors that do not apply to the reality of God within the traditional Catholic understanding.â€ť
â€śIn the last 12 months youâ€™ve seen two of Americaâ€™s leading Catholic nuns who are theologians in the cross hairs,â€ť Allen said. â€śIâ€™m not sure thereâ€™s anyone left of their stature to go after.â€ť
Many parts of the American nunsâ€™ 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 â€śmisrepresents (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.â€ť
On Friday, the leaders of the American nuns whom the Vatican had criticized said the Holy Seeâ€™s report was â€śbased on unsubstantiated accusations and (was) the result of a flawed process that lacked transparencyâ€ť and that the report had â€ścaused scandal and pain throughout the church community.â€ť
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 Vaticanâ€™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 â€“ 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 Vaticanâ€™s actions.
â€śItâ€™s one thing when the Vatican goes after a theologian, because most rank-and-file Catholics donâ€™t know any theologians,â€ť Allen said. â€śBut 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, â€śWhen thereâ€™s a perception that sisters are under fire, thereâ€™s a tendency to support them.â€ť
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.
â€“ CNN's Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report.
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