A Sister of Mercy writing about the Kama Sutra, sexual desire and “our yearnings for pleasure.”
Or the Vatican getting so hot and bothered about the academic treatise
on sexuality that the pope censures it, causing it to shoot from
obscurity to the top tier of Amazon.com’s best-seller list six years
after it was published.
Just the latest chapter in the Vatican’s thuggish crusade to push
American nuns — and all Catholic women — back into moldy subservience.
Even for a church that moves glacially, this was classic. “Just Love: a
Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics,” by Sister Margaret Farley — a
77-year-old professor emeritus at Yale’s Divinity School, a past
president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and an
award-winning scholar — came out in 2006.
The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, which seems as
hostile to women as the Saudi Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and
the Prevention of Vice, spent years pondering it, then censured it on
March 30 but didn’t publicly release the statement until Monday.
The denunciation of Sister Farley’s book is based on the fact that she
deals with the modern world as it is. She refuses to fall in line with a
Vatican rigidly clinging to an inbred, illusory world where men rule
with no backtalk from women, gays are deviants, the divorced can’t
remarry, men and women can’t use contraception, masturbation is a grave
disorder and celibacy is enshrined, even as a global pedophilia scandal
In old-fashioned prose steeped in historical and global perspective,
Sister Farley’s main argument is that justice needs to govern
relationships. In the interest of justice to oneself, she contends that
“self-pleasuring” needs “to be moved out of the realm of taboo
Immanuel Kant, who considered masturbation “below the level of animals,”
must give way to Alfred Kinsey. “It is surely the case that many women,
following the ‘our bodies our selves’ movement in the fourth quarter of
the twentieth century, 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,” she writes.
“In this way, it could be said that masturbation actually serves
relationships rather than hindering them.”
A breath of fresh air in the stultifying church, she makes the case for
same-sex relationships and remarriage after divorce. “When it truly
becomes impossible to sustain a marriage relationship, the obligation to
do so is released,” she writes, adding, “as when in the Middle Ages a
broken leg made it impossible to continue on a pilgrimage to which one
had committed oneself.”
Taking on the Council of Trent and a church that has taken a stand
against pleasure, Sister Farley asserts that procreation is not the only
reason couples should have sex. Fruitfulness need not “refer only to
the conceiving of children,” she writes. “It can refer to multiple forms
of fruitfulness in love of others, care for others, making the world a
better place for others” rather than just succumbing to “an égoisme à
The Vatican showed no mercy to the Sister of Mercy, proclaiming that
“the deliberate use of the sexual faculty” outside of marriage or
procreation, or on one’s own, is wrong; that homosexual sex acts are
“deviant,” and that marriages are by and large indissoluble. Sister
Farley issued a statement that she did not intend for the book to be an
expression or criticism of current official Catholic teaching, and
academics and the head of her order rushed to her defense.
This latest ignoble fight with a noble nun adds to the picture of a
Catholic Church in a permanent defensive crouch, steeped in Borgia-like
corruption and sexual scandals, lashing out at anyone who notes the
obvious: They have lost track of right and wrong.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York blasted The New
York Times after Laurie Goodstein wrote that, as the archbishop of
Milwaukee in 2003, he authorized payments of up to $20,000 to sexually
abusive priests “as an incentive for them to agree to dismissal from the
Cardinal Dolan insisted through a spokesman that it was “charity,” not
“payoffs.” But if you were the parent of a boy abused by a priest who
went away with 20,000 bucks, maybe “charity” is not the word that would
come to mind.
Its crisis has made the church cruel. The hierarchy should read Sister
Farley’s opprobrium against adults harming vulnerable children and
adolescents by sexually exploiting them; respect for the individual and
requirement of free consent, she says, mean that rape, violence and
pedophilia against unwilling victims are never justified.
“Seduction and manipulation of persons who have limited capacity for
choice because of immaturity, special dependency, or loss of ordinary
power, are ruled out,” she writes.
If only the church could muster that kind of clarity, rather than Dolan-style “charity.”