Photo by Luca Bruno/AFP/GettyImages.
UPDATE: When the Vatican condemned an American nun's book on sexuality and faith on Monday, the holy authority forgot the first lesson of public relations: all press is good press.
The Washington Post points out that before news of the Vatican’s objections to the book spread online, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics sat at No. 142,982 on Amazon.com’s bestselling-books list. By Tuesday afternoon, it had soared to No. 16. Not bad for a book that's been in print for more than half a decade.
The book, by Margaret Farley, a recently retired religious academic at Yale, was first published in 2006 but came under investigation from the Vatican four years later for its conciliatory views on masturbation, homosexuality and remarriage after divorce. The Vatican's official critique urged that the book not "be used as a valid expression of Catholic teaching, either in counseling and formation, or in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue."
The Vatican's statement, which declared that Farley's book presented a "defective understanding" of church teaching, sparked widespread interest in the obscure text; online sales then followed. For her part, Farley said Monday that her book was never intended to parrot official Catholic teachings on sexuality and instead sought to help them evolve, as with official views on usury and slavery.
The Post notes that the controversy recalled a decree from the Vatican last month that the largest group of American nuns overhaul their organization because of "radical feminism."
Monday, June 4: A prominent American nun's bid to offer some "contemporary interpretations" of Catholic teaching on human sexuality isn't going over so well with the Vatican.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church's official orthodoxy office, issued a statement on Monday declaring that Sister Margaret Farley’s book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, presents a "defective understanding" of Catholic theology and should not be used by Roman Catholics, the New York Times reports.
Farley, an award-winning ethicist who taught Christian ethics at Yale Divinity School, published the book in 2006, and it came under Vatican investigation four years later. The church cites Farley's views of masturbation as positive, homosexuality as respectable, and remarriage after divorce as acceptable as proof that her book is irreconcilable with Catholic teaching.
Despite the Vatican's opposition, more than a dozen theological scholars have since offered their support for Farley.*
In her own written response, Farley defended her book, saying that by writing it she sought only to offer "contemporary interpretations of traditional meanings for the human body, gender, and sexuality," and that she concedes that some of its views "are not in accord with current official Catholic teaching." She added: "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."
*Correction: An earlier version of this post mistakenly listed the Leadership Conference of Women Religious among those who had criticized the Vatican for opposing the Farley's book. That LCWR statement, however, was in response to an unrelated church investigation into the organization itself, and not the censure of Farley.