Last week an obscure 2006 book on sexual ethics by a nun, a retired Yale Divinity School theologian, rocketed to number 13 on Amazon’s bestseller list.
Its dazzling success came courtesy of the Vatican, which sparked readers’ interest with its stern warning that Sister Margaret Farley’s “Just Love’’ contradicted Catholic teaching. Using justice as a framework for sexual ethics, Farley had written that masturbation, gay marriage, and divorce could be seen as morally acceptable.
The church’s edict was the latest crackdown by the Vatican and US bishops on American nuns who as scholars, activists, and institutional leaders push the boundaries of Catholic doctrine.
But, as leaders of a group of nuns arrive in Rome on Tuesday to meet with Vatican officials over recent sanctions, their supporters say the hierarchy’s actions have widened the chasm between the church’s male overseers and ordinary Catholics. Sisters have long been the face of the church to many of its people through their work in education, health care, and social justice.
“The people in the pew are somewhere between completely confused and hopping mad at this point, because these are people you just don’t go after,’’ said Paul Lakeland, director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University. “It doesn’t matter if you are a moderate or conservative or a liberal Catholic - we all love our nuns.’’
The church hierarchy says it is simply acting to preserve the purity of the church.The last two years have seen a remarkable number of sanctions against American nuns, who numbered 56,000 in 2011, down from nearly 180,000 in 1965. In 2010, a sister in Arizona was excommunicated for her role in allowing an abortion to be performed in a Catholic hospital. (The patient was a 27-year-old mother of four whose pregnancy doctors deemed life-threatening.)
Last year, US bishops condemned a book by Sister Elizabeth Johnson, a theologian at Fordham University, that the bishops found to contain numerous “misrepresentations, ambiguities, and errors’’ about church teaching.
And in April, in its most significant move thus far, the Vatican issued a stern rebuke of the largest leadership organization of American nuns, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and assigned the bishop of Seattle to oversee its activities.The Vatican criticized the Leadership Conference for spending too little time promoting the church’s teachings against abortion and gay marriage, failing to correct unacceptable statements by speakers at its annual conventions, and opposing church teaching on the ordination of women.“The Vatican’s view is this: If we foster a purer, more orthodox church, it will be naturally more attractive to people, and one way to create a purer church is, in part, to enforce these doctrinal rules,’’
said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and culture editor of America magazine.
Representatives of the Leadership Conference, who called the Vatican’s criticism unsubstantiated and said it had “caused scandal and pain throughout the church community,’’ will meet Tuesday with Cardinal William Levada, the former bishop of San Francisco and the prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. A Vatican spokesman said Monday that church officials hoped to achieve “a reciprocal understanding’’ of the Vatican’s actions.More at the source
. (There's an interesting paragraph in there about how the nuns' increased outspokenness started when Pope Pius XII encouraged them to get university degrees so as to better serve the church.)tl;dr: Nuns are awesome and can stay, everyone else in the Catholic church hierarchy can gtfo.