CAIRO - A popular book on Christian sexual ethics that gives a theological rationale for homosexuality and gay marriage has put the Vatican and American nuns on the course of collision.
The book was not consistent with authentic Catholic theology, the Vatican's doctrinal department, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said in a statement cited by The New York Times on Tuesday, June 5.
The statement said the book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics by Sister Margaret A. Farley, should not be used by Roman Catholics.
Published in 2006, Farley's book seeks to find moral and theological justification for same-sex relationships and gay marriage.
Farley writes that "same-sex oriented persons as well as their activities can and should be respected".
She argues that same-sex relationships and activities can be justified according to the same sexual ethic as heterosexual relationships and activities.
But this argument is rejected by the Vatican.
This opinion is not acceptable, the Vatican statement said.
It said homosexual acts are acts of grave depravity that are intrinsically disordered and contrary to the natural law.
Farley also writes that homosexual marriage can help reduce hatred, rejection and stigmatization of gays, an argument rejected by the Vatican.
The US nun also describes masturbation as an issue that does not raise any moral questions at all.
The Vatican said the Church teaches that masturbation is "an intrinsically and gravely disordered action".
The Vatican said Farley's positions "are in direct contradiction with Catholic teaching in the field of sexual morality".
It said her writings manifest a defective understanding of the objective nature of natural moral law and pose grave harm to the faithful.
The Vatican warned the faithful that her book "is not in conformity with the teaching of the Church".
But the Vatican criticism has invited a storm of anger from American Catholic nuns.
I do not dispute the judgment that some of the positions contained within it are not in accord with current official Catholic teaching, Sister Farley said in a statement.
I can only clarify that 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 former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America argued that the book offers contemporary interpretations of justice and fairness in human sexual relations, moving away from a taboo morality and drawing on present-day scientific, philosophical, theological, and biblical resources.
"The fact that Christians (and others) have achieved new knowledge and deeper understanding of human embodiment and sexuality seems to require that we at least examine the possibility of development in sexual ethics.
Several Roman Catholic theologians also issued statements describing Farley as a serious scholar and insightful theologian.
I deeply regret that church officials have failed to appreciate the important contribution Farley has made, said David Hollenbach, a theologian at Boston College.
Sister Patricia McDermott, president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, also expressed profound regret at the Vatican's action.
The criticism comes two months after the Vatican issued a stinging report saying the umbrella body representing most American Catholic nuns promoted radical feminist ideas.
The report said the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), whose 1,500 members represent some 80 percent of about 57,000 American nuns, had "serious doctrinal problems" and promoted "radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith".The report, which also criticized the LCWR for sometimes challenging bishops, shocked most American nuns and led to an outpouring of popular and editorial support for them and their work among the poor, and in schools and hospitals.